Psychosexual Problems: Healthy and Unhealthy Sexual Appetites

By Laura Smith

There is a term in psychology that is used to define people with hyper sexuality: nymphomaniac.  The movie ‘Nymphomaniac’ is an attempt to dig deep into the psyche of women born with this so called hyper sexuality. The explicit sex scenes in the movie made it an instant hit and people in our country have watched it with excitement. But there is a serious doubt if they were able to understand it as well, especially the ones for whom understanding English language is also a challenge.

Sexual appetite is an individual matter and there is no definite parameter to gauge ‘normal’ in this area. Some people have more of a sexual appetite than others. It becomes a problem if the partners cannot match the appetite or satisfy each other.

One thing that is important to understand, especially in the context of our new found knowledge, courtesy to the book/movie ‘Nymphomaniac’, is that not all women who are dissatisfied in their marriage for lack of sexual activity are nymphomaniacs. In fact psychiatrists are reluctant to include Nymphomania or hyper sexuality in the lists of disorders. Experts have questioned whether it makes sense to discuss hyper sexuality at all, arguing that labeling sexual urges as ‘extreme’ merely stigmatizes people who do not conform to the norms of their culture or peer group.      They do not acknowledge such a pathology and instead assert that the condition merely reflects a cultural dislike of exceptional sexual behaviour.

Before we establish an argument that nymphomania is not a disorder let us look at the research available. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hypersexual as “Exhibiting unusual or excessive concern with or indulgence in sexual activity.”  Sexologists have been using the term hyper sexuality since the late 1800s, when Krafft-Ebing described several cases of extreme sexual behaviours in his seminal 1886 book, Psychopathia Sexualis. Hyper sexuality may be a primary condition, or the symptom of another medical disease or condition, for example Kluver-Bucy Syndrome or bipolar disorder. Hyper sexuality may also present as a side effect of medication such as drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Some research suggests that some cases can be linked to biochemical or physiological changes that accompany dementia. Psychological needs also complicate the biological explanation, which identifies the temporal/frontal lobe of the brain as the area for regulating libido. Persons suffering from injuries to this part of the brain are at an increased risk for aggressive behaviour and other behavioural problems including personality changes and socially inappropriate sexual behaviour such as hyper sexuality. The same symptom can occur after unilateral temporal lobotomy. There are other biological factors that are associated with hyper sexuality such as premenstrual changes.

In .our culture where sex is a taboo topic and women especially are not encouraged to discuss or even understand their own sexuality, there is a risk that they will in their minds misinterpret a healthy sexual appetite for a disorder.  Mismatched couples never explore sexuality as one of the root causes for their dysfunctional marriage. In rare cases women and in most cases men feel trapped in such marriages. Then they find solace in casual relationships outside marriage.

The sexual pleasure and the sense of adventure associated with secrecy often bring temporary relief for unhappy people and they go on a hunt for a chain of such temporary relationships. That does not make them a nymphomaniac.

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