Women who have sex so frequently that it may cause them problems — sometimes referred to as being "hypersexual" — seem to be characterized more by their high rates of masturbation and pornography use, rather than passive forms of sexual behavior, such as having fantasies, as previous studies had suggested, according to new research.
Hypersexuality is a highly debated topic among psychiatrists and sexual medicine researchers, who have different opinions about whether "too much" sexual activity is truly a disorder, for either sex. But perhaps more controversial are the views on hypersexuality in women, a group usually ignored in most studies of hypersexuality.
"A high number of myths concerning female hypersexuality still exist," the authors of the new study said. [ Hot Stuff? 10 Unusual Sexual Fixations ]
To get a better idea of what hypersexual women actually do, the researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 women in Germany — mostly college students — and asked them how frequently they masturbated or watched porn, and how many sexual partners they'd had.
The researchers also assessed hypersexual behavior in the participants using a questionnaire called Hypersexual Behavior Inventory, which includes 19 questions about how often a person uses sex to cope with emotional problems, whether engaging in sexual activity is outside one's control and whether this sexual activity interferes with one's work or school. Scoring high on this questionnaire could suggest that a person may potentially need therapy, according to previous research. In the new study, about 3 percent of the participants were classified as hypersexual based on their scores on the questionnaire.
The results showed that the more frequently women masturbated or watched porn, the more likely they were to score high on the hypersexuality questionnaire. A higher number of sexual partners was also linked with high hypersexuality scores, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in June.
"The results of the current study do not support the idea of previous research that hypersexual women are typically engaged in more passive forms of sexual behavior, and contradict the assumption that hypersexual women only use sexual behavior to control and influence interpersonal relationships," the researchers wrote in the study.
Is hypersexuality different in women?
It is not clear how common hypersexual behavior is in women, compared to in men. Because most studies have focused on men, there's an impression that the phenomenon is associated with being male, the researchers said. Another reason for the lack of knowledge about female hypersexuality may be due to cultural biases that keep women from publicly acting out on their desires or admitting to their sexual activities.
"In many cases, it's much more permissible for men to engage in hypersexuality as opposed to women," said Rory Reid, an assistant professor and research psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study. "Men would be often just characterized as 'men being men,'" whereas women sometimes would be labeled with derogatory terms if they engaged in hypersexual behaviors, Reid added.
The behavioral patterns the new study found in hypersexual women resemble behaviors previously identified in hypersexual men. These behaviors include pornography dependence, excessive masturbation and promiscuity.
Reid said the findings are not surprising. In his own studies, he's found more similarities than differences when comparing hypersexual women with their male counterparts.
However, the new study found that hypersexual women were more likely to be bisexual than were the rest of the participants. In contrast, hypersexual men tend to be heterosexual, Reid told Live Science.
Is hypersexuality something to worry about?
There have been debates about whether hypersexual behavior is a disorder — similar, in some ways, to addiction — or just a variation of sexual behavior in people. In the fifth (and most recent) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association decided against including "sex addiction" as a disorder, saying there is not enough evidence to show hypersexuality is a mental-health problem.
Still, although it may not be possible to delineate how much sex is too much, experts say hypersexual behavior can become a problem for some people, when it causes stress or shame, or results in negative consequences in a person's life — for example, the loss of a job.
"It is still a challenge for [researchers] to identify individuals who may require treatment, without falsely stigmatizing others and their 'normal' (or nonpathological) sexual behavior," the researchers said.
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