Excessive thinking about or engaging in sex is poised to become a new, officially recognized mental disorder.
"Hypersexual disorder" is among the disorders being recommended for inclusion in the next edition of psychiatry's so-called "bible" of mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM.
According to a DSM work group, hypersexual disorder is "one of the more serious" but neglected psychiatric disorders of our time.
The diagnosis would capture men and women who experience "recurrent and intense" sexual fantasies, urges and behaviour for at least six months who also exhibit four or more of five criteria that include spending "excessive time" thinking about sex and engaging in these "fantasies, urges and behaviour" in response to anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability or other "dysphoric mood states."
Lane questions whether psychiatrists should be setting themselves up to regulate what they assume to be "normal" amounts of sexual desire.
"Above all," he writes in Side Effects, his Psychology Today blog, about the phrase "recurrent and intense sexual fantasies," "should it matter that the majority of men and a sizable number of women in this country, as around the world, will recognize themselves in that description?"
Bellwood's Lawson, who trained under Carnes, says sexual addiction is like any other addiction. "The face of it looks exactly the same to me. The properties are the same," she said.
"The first step is understanding one's own story, how I got here, from there. That's very often what the addict who has just come out of denial wonders, 'Why did this happen to me?' "
Part of treatment involves understanding the patterns that developed, working on "negative core beliefs," self-esteem and learning what's healthy in relationships.
"We need to raise awareness and give women an opportunity to come forward if they do identify" with sex addiction, she said.
"We want to get the word out that help is available."
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