Hypersexuality: A Critical Review and Introduction to the “Sexhavior Cycle”
An empirical review of hypersexuality is timely as “compulsive sexual behavior” is being considered as an impulse control disorder for inclusion in the forthcoming International Classification of Diseases, 11th ed. Specifically, hypersexuality has been conceptualized in the literature as the inability to regulate one’s sexual behavior that is a source of significant personal distress. Various theoretical models have been posited in an attempt to understand the occurrence of hypersexuality, although disagreement about these divergent conceptualizations of the condition has made assessment and treatment of hypersexual clients more challenging. Theories of sexual compulsivity, sexual impulsivity, dual control (sexual inhibition/excitation), and sex addiction are critically examined, as are the diagnostic criteria for clinically assessing hypersexuality as a sexual disorder. Our discussion of hypersexuality covers a diversity of research and clinical perspectives. We also address various challenges associated with reliably defining, psychometrically measuring, and diagnosing hypersexuality. Furthermore, literature is reviewed that expresses concerns regarding whether hypersexuality (conceptualized as a disorder) exists, whether it is simply normophilic behavior at the extreme end of sexual functioning, or alternatively is a presenting problem that requires treatment rather than a clinical diagnosis. Following our literature review, we developed the “sexhavior cycle of hypersexuality” to potentially explain the neuropsychology and maintenance cycle of hypersexuality. The sexhavior cycle suggests that, for some hypersexual persons, high sexual arousal may temporarily and adversely impact cognitive processing (cognitive abeyance) and explain a repeated pattern of psychological distress when interpreting one’s sexual behavior (sexual incongruence). We also suggest that further research is required to validate whether hypersexuality is a behavioral disorder (such as gambling), although some presentations of the condition appear to be symptomatic of a heterogeneous psychological problem that requires treatment.