What Is Nymphomania?

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Nymphomania is an outdated term previously used to describe excessive sexual desire in women. Today, healthcare providers refer to hypersexual behavior as hypersexuality disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, or sex addiction.

This article discusses the characteristics, causes, and treatment for nymphomania, or hypersexuality.

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Nymphomania

Nymphomania is a term dating back to the 19th century. Then, society considered women with insatiable sexual desires to be delinquent, and physicians viewed nymphomania as a medical condition.

Over time, research on sexual behavior has led to changes in the nomenclature (language) used to describe hypersexual behavior to terms like hypersexuality disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, and sex addiction.

Still, hypersexuality disorder, or compulsive sexual behavior, is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Identifying, treating, and researching hypersexual behavior can be challenging without a formalized list of symptoms and criteria.

Some healthcare providers see hypersexual behavior as a compulsive or impulse control issue, while others approach it like an addiction. Either way, there are common characteristics among people with hypersexual behavior. 

Characteristics

Generally, compulsive sexual behavior is characterized by excessive sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors, as well as the impulse to act on them with consenting individuals.

Characteristics include:

  • Intrusive and repetitive thoughts or desires
  • Difficulty reducing or stopping behaviors
  • Engaging in fantasies, urges, or behaviors as a means of escaping or coping with challenging emotions or stressful situations
  • Multiple sexual partners 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt and shame 
  • Continued engagement in behaviors without regard for harm to self or others
  • Preoccupation with or spending excessive amounts of time thinking about or having sexual encounters

While hypersexual behavior is more prevalent in men, women struggle with these behaviors as well. Research has identified masturbation, pornography use, cybersex, and having indiscriminate sexual encounters as sexual behaviors women are most likely to employ.

These characteristics are often disruptive and can significantly affect a person’s psychological health, physical health, and home, work, and school environments.

Other complications can include the risk of sexually transmitted infections and diminished social support. In some cases, a person may experience suicidal thoughts.

Help Is Available

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Causes

There is no clear cause for nymphomania or compulsive sexual behavior. Every individual case is unique. However, research has shed some light on factors that may contribute to hypersexual behavior, including:

  • Stressful life events
  • Trauma, including sexual abuse
  • Imbalance in brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters
  • Environmental triggers
  • Neurological conditions and medications used to treat them, such as Parkinson’s disease

Some research implicates traits such as poor judgment, impulsivity, and preoccupation with or engagement in excessive sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors.

Additionally, hypersexual behavior may occur alongside symptoms of mental health conditions. For instance, an individual may become hypersexual and have risky sexual encounters during a manic episode of bipolar disorder.

Identifying Nymphomania

Healthcare providers can get a sense of their patients' concerns by discussing their past and present experiences with sexual urges, fantasies, and behaviors, as well as the impact and consequences of those behaviors.

They will also review a person's medical history to rule out other conditions that may contribute to sexual behavior, as well as psychological, and family history.

Healthcare providers can also use instruments such as the Hypersexual Disorder Screening Inventory to assess hypersexual behavior.

Treatment

Treatment for hypersexual behavior can involve a variety of methods.

For example, psychoeducation can be beneficial for teaching patients about hypersexuality and reducing the shame and stigma associated with the topic. When patients can have open conversations in a safe and non-judgmental setting, they can explore healthy and maladaptive (negative) behaviors with a mental health professional.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a method used to treat compulsive sexual behavior. Therapists work with patients to identify triggers, thinking patterns related to themselves and their behavior, coping skills, and lifestyle changes to support healthy behaviors.

A healthcare provider may prescribe medication to treat mental health symptoms or conditions related to compulsive sexual behavior. For instance, a psychiatrist may prescribe anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants to treat anxiety and depression. Patients with bipolar disorder or other conditions may take mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. 

A thorough assessment with a healthcare provider can help identify symptoms that may require treatment and determine the best medication regimen, if needed. 

Couples and Family Therapy

A person can damage trust and communication in their relationships due to hypersexual behavior. Couples or family therapy can supplement individual CBT. In these forms of treatment, patients learn tools to enhance communication, improve relationships, and discuss and deepen intimacy. 

Coping

Using strategies to enhance well-being are essential to day-to-day life and recovery. Ways to cope with hypersexual behavior through self-care can include:

  • Establishing and maintaining a self-care routine that supports daily functioning 
  • Getting regular sleep
  • Eating well-balanced meals
  • Connecting with a support network
  • Being open and honest about thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • Seeking professional help
  • Being consistent with treatment
  • Being aware of triggers 
  • Attending support groups

If You're Struggling

If you or a loved one are struggling with hypersexual behavior, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Summary

Nymphomania is a term previously used to describe hypersexual behavior in women. It is now known as hypersexuality disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, or sex addiction, which can affect anyone. Hypersexual behavior can be treated with therapy, personal coping strategies, and, in some cases, medication.

A Word From Verywell

Historically, nymphomania has been used to describe excessive sexual desire in women. However, hypersexual behavior can occur in anyone. Feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression may arise due to sexual urges and behavior. Ultimately, no one dealing with compulsive sexual behavior is alone. Being honest about your experiences and seeking professional support can help you cope with your desires and behavior.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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