Overlap Between Sex Addiction and Personality Disorders

Sex addiction is one of several terms used to describe an ongoing, dysfunctional and mentally distressing pattern of sex-based behaviors, thoughts or urges. Despite research findings that support its existence, this pattern has no official standing in the U.S. as a diagnosable disorder or condition. According to the results of a study published in 2013 in the journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, people affected by the symptoms associated with sex addiction have an uncommonly high tendency to also display symptoms of at least one of a group of official conditions called personality disorders.

Sex Addiction Basics

Other common terms for sex addiction include hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behavior and the gender-biased term nymphomania. Some of the people affected by this condition develop compulsive patterns of thought or behavior related to the sexual practices commonly shared by most consenting adults. Others develop compulsive patterns related to less common thoughts or behaviors that may or may not violate local laws or accepted social standards. In either case, sex-related thought or conduct lowers an affected individual’s sense of psychological well-being and ability to create or maintain a productive routine.

Between 2009 and 2012, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) considered adding a specifically defined, sex addiction-based condition—called hypersexual disorder—to the list of officially designated mental health problems that doctors can diagnose in the U.S. However, largely due to a lack of consistency in differentiating sexually healthy people from sex-addicted people, the APA ultimately decided against giving its recognition to hypersexual disorder.

Personality Disorder Basics

Personality disorders are a group of conditions that doctors diagnose according to detailed American Psychiatric Association guidelines. While each of these conditions produces its own characteristic mental health problems, they all involve longstanding, dysfunctional changes in an individual’s everyday personality (that is, the ongoing nexus of thought, emotion and behavior that makes all humans distinct from one another).

The 10 officially defined personality disorders are schizoid personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and dependent personality disorder. As a rule, each of these conditions arises in adolescence, becomes officially diagnosable in adulthood and produces mild, moderate or severe disruptions in the ability to hold a job, maintain social or intimate relationships, do well in school or meet other important personal or public obligations.

Degree of Overlap

In the study published in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, researchers from four U.S. universities sought to determine how often people with sex addictions also have one or more of the 10 personality disorders. Since sex addiction has no official definition, they used the proposed terms for hypersexual disorder to identify the presence of the condition among a group of 132 men seeking treatment for compulsive, dysfunctional sex-based thoughts, urges or behaviors. To uncover the presence of personality disorders among these men, the researchers employed a widely used questionnaire specifically designed for the diagnosis of these conditions.

After completing their assessments, the researchers found that fully 92 percent of all of the study’s participants had questionnaire results that indicated the presence of some sort of personality-based mental dysfunction. However, despite this seemingly overwhelming result, less than one-fifth of the participants (17 percent) actually had enough symptoms to qualify for the diagnosis of a full-blown personality disorder. Still, this rate of illness significantly surpasses the percentage of people affected by a personality disorder in the general adult population.

Significance and Considerations

Despite being higher than the rate found in the general public, the overlap between sex addiction and personality disorders described by the researchers in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity is substantially lower than the rate uncovered in prior studies on this topic. The authors of the current study believe that additional factors not included in their work likely explain the difference between their own findings and the findings of earlier research efforts. Still, they stand by their general conclusion that diagnosable personality disorders only overlap with sex addiction in a fairly limited number of cases.

It’s important to note that, since sex addiction (hypersexual disorder, compulsive sexual behavior, etc.) has no official definition, doctors and researchers have no consistent way to make sure that they’re describing the same types of problems when they discuss the sex-related thoughts, urges and behaviors of seemingly affected people. In fact, some experts doubt that sex addiction truly exists as a distinct mental health concern.

On March 27th, 2014, posted in: Mental Health by Tags: , ,