"I've found the perfect woman. Who could ask for more? She's deaf and dumb, and oversexed--and owns a liquor store."

-Sign in a rural South Carolina diner

Well, you have to admit this poem is kind of cute in its obvious appeal to the baser of male instincts. Most self-respecting men do not really want such a woman, except for perhaps the "oversexed" part. What a dream come true--a woman who wants it all the time!

The allure of the insatiable female has tantalized men's fantasies since the beginning of time, as it's a well-known fact that men tend to have higher libidos than the average woman.

However, what of the woman who is technically considered a "nymphomaniac"? Is hers really a life of exciting rendezvous and erotic fantasies come true? A whirlwind of hedonistic thrills and physical ecstasy? And what exactly IS a nymphomaniac anyway? Since every woman differs, every woman’s sex drive is different, and a very high sex drive is no longer cause for concern.

Or is it?

Let's see what the "psychoanalysts" say.

What is Nymphomania?

First, the term nymphomania simply means female sexual addiction. Therefore, "they" (meaning the psychologists, etc.) prefer to use the term "sexual addiction," which affects both men and women. Whereas a male sex addict might be considered a "pervert," a modern female sex addict is often glorified as a "nymphomaniac." The interesting thing is that they both suffer from the same compulsive disorder.

In fact, these individuals have an addiction similar to those of alcohol and drug addiction, or of compulsive gambling. What happens is the sexually addicted individual becomes addicted to the neuro-chemical changes that take place in the body during sexual behavior. Though acting out sexually can temporarily relieve addicts' anxieties, they still find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time in obsession and fantasy.  By fantasizing, the addict can maintain an almost constant level of arousal. Just as our bodies generate endorphins (natural antidepressants) during vigorous exercise, our bodies naturally release peptides when sexually aroused. The molecular construction of these peptides parallels that of opiates like heroin or morphine, but are many times more powerful, and result in the "fix" that sex addicts constantly crave.

Keep in mind that the physical pleasure and overall positive psychological qualities of sexual activity in the majority of the population is NOT by any means considered an addiction.

What sets the addict apart, however, is that a woman with this disorder has learned to rely on sex for comfort from pain, for nurturing, for stress relief, to avoid boredom, or for escapism of any sort--similar to the reasons alcoholics abuse alcohol. Sex can also serve as a substitute for a social life or as a release for anger or fear. Like alcoholics, sex addicts may find their addiction interfering with relationships, job performance, concentration, etc. Due to deep-rooted issues, the sex addict pursues sex despite harmful effects on her life, not to enhance or to add intimacy to her life.

One of the hallmarks of sexual addiction is a preoccupation with sexual arousal and release which often has little to do with who the object of arousal is, and requires no relationship. It's the image that provides the thrill--whether it's a stranger, stimulating body parts, an erotic picture, or the addict's own fantasy.

Many sexually addicted women fantasize about sexual abuse, degradation or objectification. The thought of being forced to have sex or watching others being forced to have sex triggers arousal. While these fantasies seem to portray a loss of the woman's power, often the arousal comes from the perceived power of being so irresistible or innocent that rapists or authority figures cannot control themselves around the woman.

In fact, sexual addiction in the form of sexual control of traditionally "stronger" individuals can feel very powerful for women, since cultural messages tell us a woman's core worth in the world is her sexuality. In advertising, sex is used to sell just about everything. Additionally, female sex addicts often use their sexuality to their advantage to gain leverage in a male-dominated work force, increasing their feelings of power and control.

Despite accompanying feelings of shame for their behavior, many female sex addicts trade sex for money, drugs, social access, power, or other favors. Less shame is reported about trading sex for friendship, approval, or security; since many mistake these for love and therefore feel their behavior is romantic or "acceptable. "

Additionally, most female sex addicts have fantasies about both genders, often while masturbating and sometimes while having sex with their partners. Exhibitionism is another common aspect of sexual addiction. In more extreme forms, some female sex addicts report having exchanged sex for pain in order to heighten the sexual excitement, whether through anal sex, hot wax, burning matches, sadism, masochism, or bondage.

What Causes Sexual Addiction in Women?

Sexual addiction usually begins in adolescence or childhood, often in homes that are chaotic, hostile or neglectful, or where affection is rarely expressed. While masturbation can be a normal and natural part of childhood, for the lonely, abused or rejected child it can become something to turn to in order to hide or cope with inner pain. Gradually, sex becomes a replacement for other things, a convenient act to deal with any kind of need-- to calm anxiety, escape boredom, or to ease insomnia.

Or, instead of normal childhood sexual experimentation, a child might be subjected to pedophilia, or experiences (with an older sibling, cousin or babysitter, etc.) where there is often a combination of natural curiosity and pleasurable feelings intermingled with fear and shame. This may set a precedent where throughout the child's life she is turned on by similar experiences that re-create the arousal and fear and shame of the past.

Abandonment also sets the stage for potential sexual addiction.  Nearly all sex addicts endured some form of childhood abandonment. There is physical abandonment through death or the absence of a parent. Sexual abandonment and/or neglect occurs when parents fail to display appropriate affection to or around their children, or when they fail to tell the children basic information about their sexuality. Spiritual abandonment can occur when parents fail to meet their children's spiritual needs. These kinds of experiences produce some very unhealthy core beliefs that pave the way for the addictive process.

One basic belief of sexual addicts is: "No one will meet my needs." For the child who experiences abandonment, the people that she should be able to trust and depend on are not there for her. Another belief is: "Sex is my most important need." When a child is sexualized at an early age and experiences all the confusion around that abuse, she inappropriately sexualizes love, touch, nurturing and affection. Everything really important in life becomes sexualized. Finally, sex addicts believe that "If you really knew me, you would leave me." They feel they need to present a front to the world in order to be accepted by others.

What Constitutes Sexual Addiction?

This is a subjective topic and there is a lot of gray area in regards to what is "too much" preoccupation with sex vs. normal sexual desires. However, the following should raise red flags as to the possibility of sexual addiction:

-Frequently having more sex and with more partners than intended.
-Being preoccupied with or persistently craving sex, wanting to cut down and unable to limit sexual activity.
-Thinking of sex excessively, to the detriment of other activities or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop.
-Spending considerable time in sex-related activities, such as cruising for partners or spending hours online visiting pornographic Web sites.
-Neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex.
-Continually engaging in sexual behavior despite negative consequences, such as broken relationships or potential health risks.
-Escalating scope or frequency of sexual activity to achieve the desired effect.
-Feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired behavior.

Some Characteristics of Sexual Addiction:

-Secrecy: often outwardly leading an exemplary lifestyle yet secretly engaging regularly in sexual acts that might be considered shocking to those who know her.
-Possible abuse: toward others (such as children) in violating their desires or manipulating their trust, or abusing power over them; or toward the sex addict herself, such as masturbating to the point of physical injury or deliberately harming herself for sexual arousal.

The Cycle of Sexual Addiction:

-Addiction can be to primarily one behavior or to a variety of sexual behaviors.
-It's progressive, with habitual behaviors becoming more frequent, varied and extreme over time.
-Often there are periods of control after sexual release, but inevitably the control breaks down and the behaviors recur despite good intentions.
-Often guilt and remorse follow release.
-This is a cycle that is constantly, viciously repeating itself.

Some Forms of Sexual Addiction:

-Compulsive masturbation
-Compulsive sex with prostitutes
-Anonymous sex with multiple partners with no established relationship
-Multiple affairs outside a committed relationship, or serial relationships
-Frequent patronizing of strip clubs, sexually oriented tanning salons, massage parlors, adult bookstores or Internet sex sites
-Habitual exhibitionism or voyeurism
-Inappropriate sexual touching
-Sexual abuse of children

Some Negative Consequences of Sexual Addiction:

-Unplanned pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, or terror resulting from unprotected sex
-Shame about behaviors that conflict with individual values
-Possible tension or decreased productivity at work due to sexual behaviors with co-workers, complications or dramas due to secret relationships
-Depression or despair about inability to change sexual patterns
-Potential violence in relationships
-Other consequential problems such as unhealthy weight fluctuations, chemical or other behavioral addictions aimed at medicating feelings stemming from sexual behaviors or relationships, beginning new sexual relationships, or engaging in a sexual occupation such as stripping, exotic dancing, phone sex, or cybersex.

How Does One Treat Sexual Addiction?

Although sounding like a trite cliché, the old saying "The first step in seeking help is to admit there's a problem" is crucial here. However, fear of resulting consequences keeps many sexual addicts from seeking help. For sex addicts trying to regain control of their lives, there are many sources of help that can provide information, support, and assistance. These include inpatient and outpatient treatment, professional associations, self-help groups, and aftercare support groups.

Unlike recovering alcoholics who must abstain from drinking for life, sexual addicts are led back into a normal, healthy sex life much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns. However, like other types of addicts, some sexual addicts may never be "cured." Sexual addicts achieve a state of recovery, but maintaining that recovery can be a lifelong, day-by-day process.

Additionally, co-addict partners of sexual addicts can also benefit from counseling and support groups.  Normally these partners are codependents, and they also suffer from the extreme adverse effects of their partner's addiction. Inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling, and support groups are all available to them, also, to help them regain control of their lives and support the recovery of their partner.

In certain cultures and even in our own culture's past, nymphomaniacs have been scorned as "sick" and "perverted" individuals. Now, in our increasingly permissive society, nymphomania is often glorified as the hallmark of a free-spirited, liberated and sensuous woman happily reveling in uninhibited sexual exploits. Current evidence shows neither of these assumptions to be true. While nothing to be ashamed of, if this compulsion is adversely affecting someone's life, the sex addict should take measures to overcome this disorder and learn to live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle--sexually and otherwise.


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