Hypersexuality: Label me not

Don't brand someone as hypersexual simply because they seem to want sex more often than their partners

Vinita's husband accused her of being hypersexual…a nymphomaniac. “What should I do? Am I abnormal to have sexual urges?” she asked us in despair.

A detailed probe into her personality and her marital relationship revealed that she was a physically and emotionally healthy sexual being. Her husband was incorrectly labelling her as hypersexual.

He put a lot of physical and emotional energy into his profession and therefore wanted to be the one to choose and decide when to engage in physical intimacy as per his work schedule.

This left no room for spontaneity between them, and also no space for her to initiate intimacy based on her natural urges. When she initiated sex, he would not respond and in fact label her as a nymphomaniac so that she resigned to having sex when he chose to.

Vinita was depressed as she was in an intrapersonal conflict between what she wanted [i.e. to go by her normal and natural urges] and what she was made to believe she ought to do [i.e. to go by the urges of her husband as he labelled her needs as abnormal].

Women like Vinita need to be empowered in counselling to accept their body-mind as sexual beings because often the environment shames them for what is an existential and normal urge.

Men have always been intimidated and overwhelmed by the thought of women playing an active role in sex. They fear not being able to perform or satiate them.

Women have been made to believe that they must be ‘ladylike’ and not initiate sex. Fearing being termed as ‘unladylike’, ‘nymphomaniac’ or worse of ‘loose character’, many women suppress their entity as sexual beings and get depressed due to the inner conflict.

Men have used shame and humiliation of women to alleviate their own performance anxieties, or to humour their own selfish lifestyles.

Sex and self worth

A large number of women carry within them feelings of inadequacy from their past. They feel unloved or unlovable due to childhood experiences and/or dynamics with parents.

Such women seek constant reassurance that they are loved. One of the most common ways in which they seek this validation is by initiating intimacy often, and expecting a response each time.

In such cases, the woman may come across as hypersexual to the man who does not understand that it is her way of seeking validation. Sex for her is the reassurance that she is loved. Such women can feel spurned and rejected and are extremely touchy about the lack of responsiveness from the sexual partner.

Therefore, for their extremely ‘needy’ mind, there is no scope for the partner to decline intimacy on any occasion. The sexual partner in such cases feels overwhelmed and cannot get himself to cater to such a woman's extreme emotional neediness through sex.

Such women need to be made aware through counselling that their coming across as a ‘bottomless pit’, sexually, has its roots in feelings of inadequacy. They need to be helped to experience self-love to overcome their neediness so that they have a more liberated and normal sexual life.

Ruchi was the youngest of four sisters and had a gnawing feeling that she was unwanted by her parents. She tried to justify her place in the family by overachieving academically. Her hungry eyes and ears looked for that one nod of approval or one word of praise from her parents.

After marriage, the ‘emotional child’ in her craved the same approval from her husband, and she was addicted to this approval through his positive response in sex whenever she initiated it.

If her husband ever refused, all hell would break loose, with Ruchi accusing him of having an extra-marital affair, or not loving her anymore.

This drama would put him off and he would withdraw in annoyance, which only served to reinforce her insecurities and the feelings of inadequacy deeply entrenched in her.

It was a vicious cycle till they came for couple counselling for what her husband termed as hyper-sexuality but which was anything but that. She was helped in her journey of self-love and their marriage was rescued.

Addiction to the act

Some women are molested as kids. It has been done in such a way that the molester has engaged in a gentle sexual seduction, making it pleasurable for the girls' premature bodies and leaving them feeling like a willing participant.

They feel confused as their bodies like it at the same time they feel that something is wrong at the gut level. Such victims of sexual abuse have often described a life of promiscuity and hyper-sexuality, where they feel as if they have absolutely no control over their body and mind. They live a life of sexual addiction.

Sapna was a sexual abuse victim as she was abused at a very young age. As an adult, she had multiple sexual affairs as she was addicted to the power she could exercise with elder, successful and socially powerful men.

After marriage her sexual addiction posed a problem as it manifested in hyper-sexuality and the threat of promiscuity.

A social worker engaged in rehabilitation of commercial sex workers once shared with us that some sex workers get angry during rehabilitation as they have cravings for sex, and opt to go back to the same profession. There is an element of sex addiction in such cases.

Such cases can be treated through psychotherapy with the active participation of the affected person. Such a person has to be made aware of the addiction with its roots in the abuse.

She herself has to want to systematically self-exorcise the addiction from its roots through a prolonged and painful healing process of the body-mind.

Sex – a stress buster?

Many men and women use sex as a stress-buster. However, the number of men using sex for this purpose is much more. This can manifest as hyper-sexuality if one does it with a sexual partner.

However, at times, it is in the form of masturbation/self-pleasuring. Often, this leads to disastrous results. Manish has grown used to masturbating watching porn sites on his frequent professional trips abroad.

He soon turned to sex chats, first using text and later using a web camera. Soon, he started pressurising his wife to participate in similar activities with him. Normal sex with his wife now seemed non-stimulating, and his addiction for perverse forms of sex, took a toll on their marriage.

What began as a stress-buster for him turned into a nightmare for his wife, and a disaster for their marriage.

Blame it on the chemicals

Sometimes a mood disorder such as bi-polar disorder could manifest as hypersexuality when the patient is in the manic/euphoric phase.

Rohini was diagnosed as bi-polar. She had a history of swinging from manic phases to depressive phases. In every manic phase, she would get hypersexual—she would dance seductively at discos and flirt with strange men.

She even had to undergo two abortions for conception during her one-night stands in this phase. Just the opposite would happen in her depressive phase when sex was farthest from her mind.

Hypersexuality is also a term used loosely sometimes when there is a normal variation of sexual appetites or when the timing of sexual urges between two people doesn't match.

It is therefore important to know the history of a person, both sexual and psychological, before labelling him/her as hypersexual.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.

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