Hypersexuality & hyposexuality imply that one’s sexual desire and/or sexual activity are uncommonly high or low. The cause for these concerns can be biological, stemming from medical conditions, medication use, hormonal imbalances, or psychological factors such as factors around the arousal system, trauma history, mental health history, or relationship issues.
What are Hypersexuality & Hyposexuality?
Understanding what hyposexuality and hypersexuality are can help people identify if they may struggle with one of these issues.
Hyposexuality can look like:
- Lack of sexual desire or sexual impulses
- Showing limited or no interest to engage in sexual activity
- Thinking about sex infrequently or not at all
- Unaroused by visual or sexual stimulation
Hyposexuality is often confused with asexuality, however, asexuality is a sexual identity that describes attraction, and hyposexuality is a clinical issue that causes distress to the person experiencing it.
Hypersexuality can look like:
- Excessive masturbation
- Preoccupation with sexual fantasies
- Excessive amounts of time spent pursuing sex
- Fixation on pornography, phone sex, or cybersex
- Engaging in high risk sexual behavior
Hypersexuality has been described as hypersexual disorder, compulsive sexual behavior disorder, out-of-control sexual behavior, and sometimes sex addiction/sexual addiction. However, it’s important to note that hypersexuality is not included in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, the diagnostic tool used by medical and mental health professionals. Hypersexuality is also separate from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) with a focus on repetitive sexual behavior.
Although common symptoms have been established, how these issues show up is unique to each individual experiencing them. When talking about hypersexuality and hyposexuality, what constitutes very low and very high sexual behavior are subjective and typically understood by the extent to which the person’s sexual urges, life, and functioning are negatively impacted by the sexual behaviors.
Therefore, identifying with characteristics of each does not in itself constitute a problem. However, when these characteristics are accompanied by significant relationship distress that individual meets the criteria for hypersexuality or hyposexuality. It is also important to note that one can experience both hypersexuality and hyposexuality at different times through different periods of one’s life dependent on various internal and external factors, such as changing hormones, experiences of trauma, or life changes. So, while some individuals may experience their symptoms for a longer period of time, for others the duration may be shorter.
Hyposexuality and Hypersexuality as a Coping Mechanism
Coping mechanisms are strategies that we employ when facing life stressors and need to manage painful or difficult emotions. For some, the way we behave sexually can stem from a type of unconscious or conscious coping mechanism to deal with life’s issues such as stress, past trauma, shame, or various mood states such as anxiety.
When someone faces one of the aforementioned issues and lacks the tools to regulate the emotions that arise from the stress in a healthy manner, there is potential for acting out behaviors to occur. Therefore, engaging in compulsive sexual behavior can be a result of a lack of healthy ways to cope with these emotions as sexual arousal can be an easier or learned way of coping. However, this way of coping, when uncontrolled, can lead to negative consequences. So learning how to cope with emotional dysregulation in healthy and controlled ways in important when hypersexuality is a cause of dysregulated emotions.
In some cases, hyposexuality is an avoidance coping mechanism resulting from trauma triggers, shame, or other anxieties around sex, particularly if one may be struggling with a sexual dysfunction. For example, if someone has experienced sexual abuse engaging in sex may be a trigger for memories associated with the trauma.
Or, if someone is experiencing a sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction or vaginismus, they may refrain from sex to avoid the anxieties that exist around having sex with these presenting issues. Understanding if hyposexuality is existing as an avoidance mechanism can allow the individual to get support in addressing the underlying issue to decrease the distress they may be causing and allow space for sexual desire to exist.
The Mental Health Impacts of Hypersexuality & Hyposexuality
Innately, our mental health and sexual health are linked and disruptions to healthy sexual functioning can be very distressing. As various mental health conditions can be precedents to hypersexuality and hyposexuality, mental health can also change as a result of experiencing these issues. As hypersexuality and hyposexuality are individual issues, the impact on one’s mental health can vary greatly depending on a number of factors mainly pertaining to how these issues appear in the person’s daily life and the extent of the relationship distress.
Some people with hypersexuality or hyposexuality may experience
- Negative impact to thoughts and feelings
- Psychological distress as a result of sexual incongruence
- Feelings of shame
- Personal and relationship problems
- Decreased well being and quality of life
- Low self esteem
- Mood disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder)
According to PsychCentral, “The idea that men are hypersexual and women are hyposexual perpetuates the shame that men with male hypoactive sexual desire disorder may feel around their lack of sexual desire and is disempowering toward women”
How You Can Navigate Struggling With Either
The presentation of symptoms amongst individuals with hypersexuality and hyposexuality vary widely, therefore, there is no singular model of treatment that can be applied. It is important to work with a medical practitioner and mental health professional to develop a unique treatment plan that works best for the individual.
Working with a mental health professional can help individuals who wish to navigate potential challenges that may arise from hypersexuality or hyposexuality. Typically, a combination of medication and/or therapy can be effective in decreasing the negative impacts of these concerns.
Talking to your medical doctor is important to rule out any potential medical explanations and determine what medication (if any) can be used as a course of treatment. Working with a mental health professional, particularly a sex therapist or sex educator can address the potential psychological causes and risk factors as well as negative impacts on one’s mental health.
For hypersexuality, a mental health professional may use treatment modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy to learn to control sexual behaviors, teach emotional regulation skills to provide healthy alternatives to coping with stress, support groups, and approaches to curb impulsive behaviors during heightened states of arousal.
For hyposexuality, a mental health professional can use cognitive behavioral therapy to address negative thoughts and behaviors around sex, mindfulness, sensate focus therapy, and understanding psychological motivators for hyposexuality.
Dealing with hypersexuality or hyposexuality can lead to feelings of shame based on what we believe healthy sexual behavior should and should not look like. However, there is no right or wrong way to experience sexuality and not everyone will experience distress as a result of low or high sexual behavior. Working with a professional can help to unpack these feelings and if applicable develop an individualized plan that addresses any distress.