The Future of Nymphomania

"Nymphomania" has fallen out of favor as a legit diagnosis among psychologists. But the hunger for sex is about to be classified as a new mental disorder: "hypersexuality." If you think about sex a lot, you might be sick.

Every few years, a team of mental health experts in the United States revise the encyclopedia of known psychological disorders, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). They propose revisions based on new data or cultural shifts (such as the shift that removed "homosexuality" from the DSM). Nymphomania was removed from the DSM many years ago, after new sexual research in the 1960s and 70s revealed that "normal" sexual desire might include regular masturbation and frequent sexy thoughts.

Now, however, the Task Force of the DSM wants to bring nymphomania back, under the less offensive name "hypersexual disorder."

The definition of hypersexual disorder, according to the DSM committees' proposal, would be defined largely in this way:

Over a period of at least six months, recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior in association with four or more of the following five criteria:

(1) A great deal of time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.

(2) Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).

(3) Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.

(4) Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.

(5) Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others.

So by this definition, somebody might be diagnosed as mentally ill if they feel kind of depressed that they are thinking about sex all the time but not getting laid. Certainly "disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others" is a problem, but in many contexts, not just sexual. Anyone who thinks the U.S. is edging toward more liberal attitudes about sex might consider the fact that our medical establishment is busily redefining horniness as insanity.

Interestingly, you can't escape the long arm of mental disorders if you aren't interested in sex. The same task force that proposes creating the "hypersexuality" diagnosis is also trying to include two other new diagnoses: Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder in Women and Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder in Men, which are for people who spend more than 6 months not having sex or not showing any interest in it.

So you'd better not think about sex too much, but you'd better not forget about it either.

These proposed amendments to the DSM are currently in a review period, where they'll be under scrutiny from mental health professionals and the public. So there's time to change the future of nymphomania. Think it's a bad idea to pathologize people with strong sexual urges and fantasies? Or a great idea to acknowledge that sexual desire can be an illness? You can comment on the proposed DMS revisions via the DSM's website.