Nearly 9 percent of Americans say they are distressed by having difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors, according to a new study. Interestingly, men and women almost equally share the burden, with 10 percent of men showing compulsive sexual behavior compared to 7 percent of women.
"Historically, it's been thought that compulsive sexual behaviors affect mostly men. But women are showing that they are experiencing difficulty controlling sexual urges and behavior, too," said study author Janna Dickenson in a statement.
Sexual behaviors vary widely, and a feeling of distress towards controlling ones sexual urges comes in many different forms.
"Some people might masturbate excessively so that it interferes with the ability to work, or someone might be paying for sex so much that it's damaging financially," she explained, adding that sexual behaviors become a problem when they impact a person’s life in a negative or destructive way, which can include neglecting friends and family or personal health, feeling a lack of pleasure, and participating in sexual behaviors that may result in negative consequences.
Using that definition researchers asked more than 2,300 randomly sampled people between the ages of 18 and 50 across all states to do a screening test for compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD). Those who identified as transgender were categorized according to their gender identity and sexual orientations were included. Their results were published in JAMA Open Network.
The survey asked questions about how often a person had trouble controlling sexual urges, feelings, and behaviors or how often they had “used sex to deal with problems.” Between the two sexes, researchers found 8.6 percent of those screened fit the definition of CSBD, and the gender differences were smaller than previously theorized – it was thought a significantly higher percentage of men would have issues – which researchers say could be attributed to shifting norms associated with female sexuality. But it went beyond gender differences, as well.
“With regard to demographic characteristics, we found that individuals with lower education, those with very high or very low income, racial/ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities were more likely to meet the clinical cutpoint than individuals who reported having higher education, having moderate income, and being white and heterosexual,” wrote the authors, adding its important to understand sociocultural context when it comes to sexual behaviors.
According to the researchers, this high percentage has “important implications for health care professionals and society” and can help to better inform appropriate treatment options for both men and women. However, it’s important to note that the survey used is only a screening tool and those who tested positive should be referred to someone for further evaluation. Furthermore, cultural, social, and religious beliefs and norms can affect how someone feels about sex, resulting in a wide spectrum of sexuality.
“Health care professionals should be alert to the high number of people who are distressed about their sexual behavior, carefully assess the nature of the problem, and find appropriate treatments for both men and women,” concluded the authors.