Bipolar Breakdown: Hypersexuality

Hey everyone!

It’s been awhile and I do apologize. I was doing really well for a while and then I guess it was time to go through yucky stuff (guess I was due haha!) On top of that, I am trying to get my photography business off the ground, which seems to be going okay in my opinion. THEN I really wanted to busy my life up more by selling Thirty-One bags and Damsel In Defense. I can’t tell if this is manic thinking or if I’m just bored or something. Obviously, there is a lot going on in my head, haha. I figured sitting down and writing a little bit for the blog might help me see what’s really important in my life right now.

Also, do you know how hard it is to find a lot of recent information on hypersexuality? I went to the library to research it. I skimmed through so many books, even ones not about Bipolar Disorder to try and find any information I could. Nothing. At least, nothing that people don’t already know by just looking at the word. Well, I ended up leaving with a book about Understanding and Coping with Sex Addiction (there is controversy on if sex addiction is the same or different than hypersexuality but, we will get to that a bit later). I also looked at research papers online and found a single good one. I do believe there needs to be more studies done on topic and more work put into learning about it.

Warning: We are going to get a little too close for comfort with this topic.

Hypersexuality is one symptom of many that correlates to mania. No, it is not only in bipolar disorder, but it is most visible there. Hypersexuality IS an addiction. Just as some people are addicted to opioids or to gambling, some are addicted to pornography and sexual gratification. According to Hal Stewart, whom is the clinical director at the Center for Sexual and Relational Health, sexual addiction is also known as hypersexuality disorder, but sex addiction is more commonly used. It is a “supercharged state of sexual confidence and desire.”

As any other addiction would be, hypersexuality is an outlet to numb pain, anxiety, and depression. It can lead to emotional distance and disconnect. It is an extremely excessive preoccupation with anything of a sexual nature. Whether it is fantasies, urges, or behaviors, these are very hard to control. As always with addictions (or any excessive preoccupation to anything really), it causes distress in your life and can negatively affect your relationships, your job, and even your health. When I say anything sexual, this also means excessive masturbation, cyber or phone sex, having sexual relations with multiple partners, using pornography and paying for sexual favors.

I want to stop here and clarify if you do these things, even at least one, I am NOT calling you or someone who may have some of these symptoms hypersexual or a sex addict. I am simply stating what I have learned for the last few months about it. If you are worried about being either of those things, I highly advise seeking a medical professional’s help.

What I am focusing on is if/how these sexual pleasures completely consume your life and become your only focus. You never feel like what you do is enough, no matter what you do or how many times you do it.

The book I read, Read Hope, True Freedom, by Milton S. Magness, he states that “Abuse is the fertile soil in which addiction – in all its forms – often grows.” This means if someone is abused, they may escape using drugs, gambling, alcohol, working or spending a lot, and sexual behaviors. Hypersexuality affects 3-6% of the population in the USA, though, this is only based on who actually went and sought help.

Hypersexuality may sound funny or weird, but it is very real. As well as with other types of disorders, if it is left untreated – and you know there are a lot of people untreated – it can be damaging to parts of your life that are important to you, such as: your work, your health, your self-esteem, and your relationships.

As you know, I really like diving into the brain. I like to try to understand things from the inside-out. Luckily, I found some good information that went into addiction and the brain and it was very fascinating.

Just a few terms that might help understand some of the information I’m about to throw at you, lol. Neurogenesis is when you produce new brain cells, such as with any other body part. It happens throughout life which helps by restoring a healthy brain function and improves quality of life, which aids recovery from addiction. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections through life. Milton S. Magness, DMin states that “Pornography triggers the brain activity in sex addicts that is similar to that triggered by drugs in drug addicts.” In the book Real Hope, True Freedom, Dr. Valerie Voon conducts a study where they use MRIs to assess nineteen subjects with compulsive sexual behavior and nineteen health subjects as they viewed pornography compared to videos that were non-sexually exciting. Dr. Voon stated there are clear differences in brain activity between patients with compulsive sexual behavior and those whom are deemed healthy.

In Real Hope, True Freedom, Magness states “There is increasing evidence that the brain registers all pleasures or rewards in the same way, whether they originate with alcohol or other drugs, food, or sex.” In the brain, dopamine is released when there is a pleasurable experience. We talked about dopamine in the last post and how it is responsible for us feeling good. Well, the release of it influences the way the brain learns through rewards. So, if we used pornography as an example, people would need to view more and more in order to get a brain-reward response from it as they are already “dulled” by it. I hope that makes sense. Basically, dopamine is released when something is pleasurable. We do that thing often to get back to that “high”. The more we do it, the more our body gets used to it, which means we have to increase what we are doing to get that high. As your body builds up a tolerance, behaviors increase so that you can get your next “high”.

One part in the book that I thought was very interesting was when Magness states “As a person’s reward circuitry becomes increasingly dulled and desensitized by drugs, nothing else can compete – food, family, and friends lose their relative value, while the ability to curb the need to seek and use drugs progressively vanishes. Ironically, and perhaps cruelly, eventually even the drug loses its ability to produce pleasure, but the compromised brain leads addicted people to continue to pursue it anyway as the memory of the drug and the pleasure it no longer produces becomes more powerful than the drug itself.” The same goes for sexual gratification. After all, this is just another addiction.

Scientists are continuing to gather evidence that shows changes in the brain from drug addiction are also taking place in the brains of sex addicts. Now, obviously, this is not a pass for someone who has acted out, as they are still responsible for their own behaviors. Magness also states, “The only thing that explains such effectively insane behavior is that sex addiction has significantly changed brain functioning – including reasoning and decision-making.” and, “While classifying addiction as a brain disease may be understandably upsetting to partners of sex addicts who believe their partners may use the ‘disease card’ as an excuse for their behavior, viewing sex addiction through the lens of a disease model has important implications for the treatment approaches we use.”

Hypersexuality is a good example of a strong connection between dopamine and repeat behaviors. The need and desire to do what you can for that rush of endorphins can get very intense. So basically they aren’t really craving the sexual act as much as they are that rush of dopamine.

I found an manuscript from the Journal of Behavioral Addictions (pages 221-225, 2015) called How Should Severity be Determined for the DSM-5 Proposed Classification of Hypersexual Disorder? by Dr. Rory C. Reid who works for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California. Luckily, this has been revised. Unfortunately, it was in 2015 (it was difficult to find any source of material for this year or last year), but, it has interesting facts and thought it was important to share – not all, just what is necessary for this post.

According to the manuscript, “The proposed criteria for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, 2015), 5th addition, characterize Hypersexual Disorder (HD) as a repetitive and intense preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors, leading to adverse consequences and clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas or functioning. One defining feature of the proposed disorder includes multiple unsuccessful attempts to control or diminish the amount of time an individual engages in sexual fantasies, urges, or behavior in response to dysphoric mood states or stressful life events.” If you got bored reading that, in short it just means that you have been unsuccessful in trying to fight your urges and behaviors when you are going through a stressful time in life, as people use it to try to feel better.

The manuscript is about severity, in which Dr. Rory C. Reid defines as “something serious or causing great pain, difficulty, or damage. In this section on Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders, severity across time is also measured by reductions or increases in frequency and/or doses of substances used.”

So, some of the symptoms of Hypersexuality Disorder are:

  • Obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies that are very intense and recurrent. The urges and behaviors you experience out of your control.
  • You feel driven to engage in sexual behaviors and feel a sort of release of tension after but, the feeling of guilt and remorse is very heavy
  • Lying about their behaviors
  • Used as a way to escape other problems such as: anger, loneliness, stress, depression, or anxiety
  • Isolating to engage in sexual activity or to watch pornography
  • Inability to stop their behaviors
  • Even though there are serious consequences, you still continue to engage in sexual behaviors.
  • You have trouble starting and maintaining healthy and stable relationships.
  • Unsuccessful in trying to control their urges to engage in sexual behaviors
  • Feeling shame, guilt, or remorse after engaging in a sexual activity
  • Engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners

One thing I would like to reiterate is you are responsible for your actions, period. Mental illness is hard to live with but, we must be accountable.

For this topic, I only had 4 people tell me their stories. Understandably, it’s an embarrassing thing to talk about and share with someone, even if you know them. I want to thank the people who were able to trust me with their stories. You don’t know how many people you are helping.

“There are quite a few things that I believe play into my hypersexuality that involves unpacking some past experiences. For years I actually hated sex all together, to the point that I thought something was wrong with me. The media and porn are so easy to show us that sex should be this great, incredible thing, and that we should love doing it and that it should be an incredible experience, and I never really felt that way. I had and IUD from the years of 2016-2020. My old OB never checked my hormone levels before IUD insertion and certainly never did throughout those four years of having it. It was during this time that my sex drive all but disappeared. It was also during this time that I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder with manic tendencies. My need to be in control of the situations around me was debilitating and my mental health suffered greatly. I was to worried about controlling my social and work life that a sex life was essentially out of the question. My boyfriend at the time didn’t understand what was going, let alone me, so he had to morph and accept that sex was going to be irregular. Flash forward to 2020 when I had my hormones checked – my new OB found that the IUD had completely messed up my sexual hormones and that most of my hormone levels were that of a woman in her late 80s. We decided to remove the IUD. Literally within a month things started changing – sex actually felt good and it was like a brand new experience. However, I was going through a multitude of changes like weight loss, a new job, a new relationship. My psychiatrist and I still hadn’t figured out the right medical combination that worked for me to treat my OCD. Sex became one of the only things that felt good and that I had control over in my life. So of course, because it felt good, I clung to that as a means of feeling good. It became a way to cope. My hypersexuality really started in January of 2021 after the removal of my IUD and the leveling of my hormones. Just like my Manic Depression, it has highs and lows. When I’m low, my sex drive, while still present, is also low. But when I enter into a manic phase it’s something that I feel becomes almost unmanageable. Since I regained my sex drive it has been ever present and unchanging. It is something that allows me to feel that control I feel that I need over all situations but can’t have – meaning, while I don’t have control over a lot of situations in my life, sex is something I can control. It feels backwards saying that though! Because hypersexuality itself is a lack of control in itself. It’s a coping mechanism – when I feel bad about something, sex makes me feel good. I have been working on this in therapy. My therapist has taught me that my hypersexuality is a symptom of my diagnosis, and I’m having to learn and practice healthier coping mechanisms. It’s a daily fight to make the right choice and put my energy towards things that are actually good for me. I have an understanding partner who I have made sure is more aware of my diagnosis and the symptoms that are derived from them. It can be so hard to bring up to someone because, again, how can too much sex be a bad thing, right? Well, depending on how you use it it has the potential to not be good. Just like alcohol or drug abuse, you can abuse things that are good for you too. This isn’t something I ever thought I would be going through.”

“When I was manic I spent a lot of money, drank every day and made some bad sexual decisions. I was dating a guy and there was a girl I worked with that I was friends with. She was bisexual and one day when I was going to her house my boyfriend joked “don’t let her seduce you!” and I don’t know how but I took that as permission to sleep with her. It doesn’t make sense but I really believed it at the time. Me and the girl started sleeping together and when I told him I made him believe he gave me permission. He was confused and thought he messed up. Now that I’m not manic I feel bad for how I manipulated him even though I really didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t myself and it was all a blur. After the boyfriend broke up with me because he said I was turning into a different person I started sleeping with more people from work. Someone was sending sexual pictures of me to coworkers and I knew everyone was talking about me. It was really embarrassing and I felt really shameful once I wasn’t manic anymore. That was the last time I was manic and I’ve never done anything like that since.”

“I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for a little while now but, I had no idea that hypersexuality was even a thing. I believe I had it while in high school but, decided it was just hormones. I knew something was wrong with me. I also felt “attractive” and good when someone was interested in me, even if they only wanted one thing. I would chase that feeling and it would get me into trouble.”

“It feels like it started when I was child or preteen. Exhibiting weird behaviors and a fascination for underwear. I then joined a church where any sexual behavior was frowned upon. I gave in to my desire to be with someone and was cast out of the church. My 20s became a time of figuring out what was normal and what was excessive. It has caused strife with my spouse of course. We have learned to live together as best as we can and it has gotten better over the years, but I always wonder if life would be smoother if I wasn’t the hypersexual one.”

This is a very interesting topic. It’s important not to judge what other people have gone through. Sometimes it’s the only way they know how to cope. Mental illness is never easy to live with but, you all are not alone on this journey. Thank you all for reading! Happy Holidays. 🙂

-Bipolar Weirdo

****Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional. My blog is used to discuss mental health in a way that is easier for people to understand. My information comes from a wide variety of books by trustworthy authors, my personal healthcare providers, and reputable online sources. If you have mental health related questions, I highly recommend you seek a healthcare professional.*****

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