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Researchers Road-Test New "Sex Addiction" Criteria

"Hypersexual disorder" moves a step closer to being legitimized by the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic bible.

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By Chrisanne Grise

10/22/12

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Experts have long debated whether "sex addiction" is real. But a new study moves one interpretation of it closer to inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association's upcoming DSM-5 diagnostic manual. A team of UCLA psychologists has tested criteria to define “hypersexual disorder” as a mental health condition. Symptoms compiled by a DSM work group include: recurring sexual fantasies, a pattern of sexual activity in response to depression, using sex to cope with stress, and urges and behaviors lasting at least six months that aren't caused by other issues, like substance abuse or other medical conditions.

Researchers conducted psychological tests and interviews with 207 patients around the US, all of whom were seeking help for out-of-control sexual behavior, a substance-abuse disorder, or another psychiatric condition like depression. The results, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, indicate that the proposed criteria accurately fit 88% of hypersexual patients, and identified negative results 93% of the time. “Our study showed increased hypersexual behavior was related to greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and an inability to manage stress,” says lead researcher Professor Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior.”

Despite the study's small sample size, other experts feel it's a good place to start. Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and addictions, likes that the study emphasizes the "disorder" aspect of the issue. "I think that particularly with self-destructive pathological behaviors, moving away from the description of them as an 'addiction,' defining them as 'disorders,' is a more realistic and beneficial way to go," he tells The Fix. Hokemeyer says that whether or not this study helps get hypersexual disorder in the DSM-5, it will still help doctors to start dialogues with their patients about troublesome sexual behaviors. "Everybody wants to quantify. They want to know 'How many drinks do I have to have a day before I’m an alcoholic?" he says. "Or how many sexual partners do I need to have? How many hours do I need to spend on the Internet to determine whether or not I have an addiction? They want to quantify it but it’s really a qualitative issue. What impact is it having on your life? How is it effecting your quality of life? What control does it have over you?"

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