When you hear the word “hypersexuality,” you might immediately think, “sex addiction.” But this is perhaps the biggest myth surrounding hypersexuality. Although the person may feel an addiction to sex, hypersexuality and sex addiction are two separate things, and we need to stop believing they’re one and the same.
So if hypersexuality isn’t the same thing as sex addiction, what is it?
To answer this question, we turned to Dr. Tracey Marks M.D., a Georgia-based psychiatrist who specializes in treating bipolar disorder.
According to Dr. Marks, hypersexuality in bipolar disorder is an uncontrollable fixation on sexual fantasies or behaviors during a period of mania or hypomania. Sex addiction, on the other hand, is not actually a clinical addiction, but rather an unofficial term to describe compulsive sexual behavior. Although there are similarities between the two, bipolar disorder hypersexuality is typically tied to mania, while “sex addiction” is not.
“[Hypersexuality] occurs when a person becomes manic and has increased sexual drive. Because they are manic, they can use poor judgment and be impulsive in their decision-making,” Dr. Marks said.
Hypersexual behaviors often include excessive consumption of pornography, having sex multiple times a day with one or more partners, sex dominating conversation topics and experiencing pervasive sexual fantasies. Marks said people with bipolar disorder who act on hypersexual thoughts and urges often feel guilt or shame about their actions once their manic episode is over.
Though there isn’t a wealth of research on hypersexuality, researchers Frederick K. Goodwin and Kay Redfield Jamison stated 57% of patients experience hypersexuality during mania (averaged from the data from seven studies).
If you struggle with or think you might be struggling with hypersexuality, you’re not alone. Hypersexuality is common, even though it doesn’t affect everyone who experiences mania. To connect with a community that really “gets it,” post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #BipolarDisorder.
How Does Hypersexuality Manifest?
Hypersexuality is not just about having sex. For people living with bipolar disorder, a manic episode may result in poor decision-making, including engaging in risky sex. Marks said that a person experiencing hypersexuality may have sex outside their relationship. Other behaviors and symptoms may include:
- Masturbating several times per day
- Having sex with one or multiple partners
- Engaging in sexual acts you were previously morally opposed to
- Watching pornography for hours
- Experiencing pervasive sexual thoughts and fantasies that don’t go away
- Talking about sex often in conversations
Dealing with hypersexuality as part of your bipolar symptoms may feel overwhelming or exhausting. You might feel that no matter how many times you “give in” to sexual urges, you simply cannot feel satisfied. If you can relate to this, you are not alone.
Mighty contributor Jess Melancholia wrote about her experiences with mania and hypersexuality in her piece, “The Symptom of Bipolar Disorder We Don’t Talk About.” In it, she recalled a particular instance where she struggled with a manic episode that brought on hypersexual feelings.
During that time, I lost complete control of myself and acted out sexually. The worst part was nothing was ever enough. I needed more and more. Nothing would satiate me. It took over my entire brain and wouldn’t let go until the mania finally died. Despite the fact that I fought fervently against my overwhelming urges, I still was constantly unable to stop myself from falling into temptation.
When hypersexual urges and the manic episode go away, you might be left dealing with the repercussions. If you’re in a relationship, that might mean trying to repair any damage that was done to the relationship because of the hypersexual urges.
It’s important to remember that hypersexuality is an individual experience. Not everyone who experiences hypersexuality because of their bipolar mania will experience it exactly the same way, so talk to your doctor if you find that your sexual urges are interfering with your daily functioning.
In order to treat your hypersexuality, you have to look at the bigger picture: treating your bipolar disorder. It’s important to receive treatment for hypomania or mania if you want to manage your hypersexual urges. This can be done through a combination of treatments including medication, such as mood-stabilizers or antipsychotics, and therapy. You may also consider support group therapy as part of your treatment plan.
It might take some time to figure out the right treatment plan that works for you, but don’t let that discourage you from talking to your doctor about what options are available to you. Remaining in treatment is the best way to keep your bipolar disorder and hypersexuality in check.
To find a therapist, psychiatrist or support group in your area, head here. Help is available and possible.
How to Cope With Hypersexuality If It Affects Your Relationship
Hypersexuality has the potential to do serious damage if you are in a committed relationship — particularly if your hypersexual thoughts cause you to stray from your partner in thought or action.
This is something three-time Olympian and mental health advocate Suzy Favor Hamilton has experience with. In a blog post for Mental Health America, Favor Hamilton shared that before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her experience of hypersexuality was so intense that she began working as an escort in Las Vegas, a secret she kept from her husband and daughter in Wisconsin.
I suddenly craved sex. I had always been a sexual being, but this was different – way different. It was also clear to me that I was not going to get what I needed in my marriage.
So, over the next six months, I started taking lots of trips to Las Vegas and soon started paying for sex. I would have multiple rendezvous with men and women during quick trips to Las Vegas, my newfound playground that stimulated my senses. I would progressively up the ante. Threesomes. Sex in public. And soon, I was secretly having sex for money. Seeking risk, thrill and taboo, and it was never quite enough. I was insatiable. I would run a half marathon in one state in the morning and fly to Vegas that afternoon to live my secret life as an escort that evening. All the while my husband and daughter were back home in Wisconsin. Completely unfazed, I would soon become one of Vegas’ most sought-after escorts. I loved the life I had created, the rush – -and I felt it could last forever. But after a year, I was discovered, my secret life revealed to the world. My life left in ruins.
Hamilton was able to receive treatment for her bipolar disorder and her husband Mark stood by her throughout it all.
“[He] always focused on the illness, rather than the behavior,” Hamilton said. “That was crucial.”
If you are in a relationship and experience hypersexuality, it doesn’t mean your relationship is automatically “doomed.” With the help of Dr. Marks, we’ve put together a few tips to help you navigate your relationships with bipolar disorder and hypersexuality.
1. Talk to Your Partner About Your Hypersexuality
The important part of being in a relationship with someone who has any kind of illness is getting as complete of an understanding as possible. This means talking to your partner about your hypersexual thoughts and urges that come with your bipolar disorder.
It may not be an easy conversation to have, but it’s important to discuss your hypersexual feelings with your partner. If you’re not sure how to start this conversation, you can always ask your doctor or post a Question in our Mighty community using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, but The Mighty community is here for you.
2. Recognize That Your Partner May Not Be Receptive Right Away
It’s also important to be prepared that your partner might not be receptive or understanding of what you have to say regarding your hypersexuality — especially if one way your hypersexuality manifests is by having sex outside of the relationship. In some cases, they might not accept that it’s part of your bipolar diagnosis and might think it’s an intentional act meant to harm.
“This is especially the case when the behavior is repeated when the person has another episode,” Marks said. “The person affected can be very remorseful after the episode is over as if it will never happen again. Then, if they become manic and it happens again, it’s hard for their partner to believe it wasn’t deliberate.”
Give your partner time to grow in understanding about bipolar disorder. Even if your partner is not accepting right away, they might come to understand the nature of your illness in time.
3. Understand Your Partner Still Loves You Even If They Don’t Want to Have Sex as Often as You Do
Your partner may not want to or is not able to have sex all the time, and that’s OK. Remembering your partner still loves and cares about you — regardless of how many times you are having sex — is important.
4. Find an Alternative Outlet for Your Hypersexuality
Sometimes having more sex isn’t always the answer. If your partner is not in the mood for sex but you can’t shake that urge, try another endorphin-boosting activity. Mighty community member Tricia F. is a firm believer in the power of exercise.
“If you’re able, I highly recommend doing sprints or trying kickboxing,” she shared.
For more suggestions, check out these coping tips for managing hypersexual urges.
5. Prioritize Your Treatment
Being open with your doctors about the hypersexual behaviors you’re experiencing during a manic or hypomanic episode can help them better treat your bipolar.
“To keep it from destroying your relationships and changing how you feel about yourself, you have to be very vigilant about remaining in treatment for your bipolar disorder and staying on the medications recommended by your doctor,” Marks said.
Scheduling an appointment with a sex therapist may also help. You can go either by yourself or have your partner come with you so you both better understand how to manage your hypersexuality.
No matter what, it’s important to remember that hypersexual behavior is not a fair or complete reflection of who you are or your moral beliefs. It’s OK if you feel shame or guilt following a hypersexual episode, but have grace for yourself and know it is a very real symptom of bipolar disorder.
It’s worth noting that bipolar disorder can affect people in different ways, and not all people will experience hypersexuality. In fact, many may experience lowered libido. Marks told The Mighty this is especially common if someone is “coming down” from a manic episode or is in a depressive state.
If you or someone you love is experiencing hypersexuality or any other symptoms of mania, please contact your doctor. You don’t have to go through this alone.
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Author: Monique Vitche