Sex addiction may affect 10% of men, survey finds

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Is sex addiction real? Researchers say it may be, or at least something close to it, and might be more common than anyone thought, writes Maggie Fox for NBC News. Researchers report that 1% of men and 7% of women say they have significant levels of stress and dysfunction because of their sexual thoughts or behaviours.

A national survey of more than 2,000 adults found on average, more than 8% of them reported symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior disorder — a persistent pattern of failure in controlling intense sexual urges that leads to distress and social impairment.

It’s definitely controversial, Janna Dickenson of the University of Minnesota and colleagues wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open.

“From Tiger Woods to Harvey Weinstein, news articles have conjectured that ‘sex addiction’ is a growing and heretofore unrecognized ‘epidemic,’ while the scientific community debates whether such a problem even exists,” they wrote.

But it’s not that hard to define, they said: “failing to control one’s sexual feelings and behaviors in a way that causes substantial distress and/or impairment in functioning.” It’s the impairment part that matters — people must feel like the thoughts or behaviors interfere with normal life in some way.

They used data from a large national questionnaire, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, to see how common sexual behavior problems might be. It asks a range of questions, including:

  • How often have you had trouble controlling your sexual urges?
  • How often have you felt unable to control sexual behavior?
  • How often have you made pledges or promises to change or alter your sexual behavior?
  • How often have your sexual thoughts or behaviors interfered with relationships?

“Distress and impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behavior were measured using the Compulsive Sexual Behavior Inventory,” Dickenson and colleagues wrote.

“A score of 35 or higher on a scale of 0 to 65 indicated clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment.”

A surprising number of people scored that high, and 40% of them were women, Dickenson’s team wrote. Overall, just under 9% of people met the cutoff.

“Gender differences were smaller than previously theorized, with 10.3% of men and 7% of women endorsing clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behavior,” they wrote.

That would make compulsive sexual behavior problems more common than major depression, which affects 5% of people. Doctors may want to keep an eye out for the problem, they said.

“Health care professionals should be alert to the high number of people who are distressed about their sexual behavior, carefully assess the nature of the problem within its sociocultural context, and find appropriate treatments for both men and women,” they wrote.

It’s possible the problem is exaggerated, and it could be the questionnaire labeled people with mild problems as having a disorder, they said. Psychiatrists have disagreed on whether it’s a true disorder. They debated whether to include sex addiction as a diagnosis in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), and opted not to.

And many agree people who claim they have a psychological problem with their sexual feelings are just making excuses for bad behavior.

“I am not sure when being a selfish, misogynistic jerk became a medical disorder,” David J. Ley, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the author of “The Myth of Sex Addiction”, told NBC News in 2017.

“This is a concept that has been used to explain selfish, powerful, wealthy men engaging in irresponsible impulsive sexual behavior for a long time,” Ley said.

Prevalence of Distress Associated with Difficulty Controlling Sexual Urges, Feelings, and Behaviors in the United States

Question

What is the prevalence among US men and women of the primary feature of compulsive sexual behavior disorder, distress and impairment associated with having difficulty controlling one’s sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors?

Findings

In this survey study, we found that 8.6% of the nationally representative sample (7.0% of women and 10.3% of men) endorsed clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors.

Meaning

The high prevalence of such symptoms has major public health relevance as a sociocultural problem and indicates a significant clinical problem that should be recognized by health care professionals.

Abstract

The veracity, nomenclature, and conceptualizations of sex addiction, out-of-control sexual behavior, hypersexual behavior, and impulsive or compulsive sexual behavior are widely debated. Despite such variation in conceptualization, all models concur on the prominent feature: failing to control one’s sexual feelings and behaviors in a way that causes substantial distress and/or impairment in functioning. However, the prevalence of the issue in the United States is unknown.

Objective

To assess the prevalence of distress and impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors among a nationally representative sample in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This survey study used National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior data to assess the prevalence of distress and impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors and determined how prevalence varied across sociodemographic variables. Participants between the ages of 18 and 50 years were randomly sampled from all 50 US states in November 2016.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Distress and impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behavior were measured using the Compulsive Sexual Behavior Inventory–13. A score of 35 or higher on a scale of 0 to 65 indicated clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment.

Results

Of 2325 adults (1174 [50.5%] female; mean [SD] age, 34.0 [9.3] years), 201 [8.6%] met the clinical screen cut point of a score of 35 or higher on the Compulsive Sexual Behavior Inventory. Gender differences were smaller than previously theorized, with 10.3% of men and 7.0% of women endorsing clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behavior.

Conclusions and Relevance

The high prevalence of this prominent feature associated with compulsive sexual behavior disorder has important implications for health care professionals and society. Health care professionals should be alert to the high number of people who are distressed about their sexual behavior, carefully assess the nature of the problem within its sociocultural context, and find appropriate treatments for both men and women.

Authors

Janna A. Dickenson, PhDNeil Gleason, MAEli Coleman, PhD; et al, and Michael H. Miner, PhD

Sex addiction may affect 10% of men, survey finds
Prevalence of Distress Associated with Difficulty Controlling Sexual Urges, Feelings, and Behaviors in the United States

 


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