Nymphomania and hypersexuality in women and men

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Nymphomania and hypersexuality in women and men. Crowd of naked men and women hugging and kissing. Concept of polygamy, polyamory, open intimate romantic and sexual relationship, free love.

Nymphomania has traditionally been defined as an increased and, therefore, disturbing sexual drive. Nymphomania was thought of as a serious medical condition particularly affecting women, who were often given damaging treatments to cure them. These days, the concept has morphed into the term hypersexuality. How and why did this happen?

Nymphomania and hypersexuality in women and men

Alfred Charles Kinsey once said that a nymphomaniac is “someone who has more sex than you do,” and Kinsey was a man who knew what he was talking about.


Having collected data on human sexuality for over a decade, he released a book called ‘Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female’ in 1953. Among other things, Kinsey claimed that female masturbation was normal, that vaginal orgasms were not the norm, and that women were as capable of sexual desire as a man; all claims that went against accepted medical lore at the time. 


His book soon became a bestseller, but not everyone was a fan. Margaret Mead claimed that Kinsey had so medicalized sex that the book “suggests no way of choosing between a woman and a sheep,” and the ensuing public outrage ended Kinsey’s research.

Nymphomania in women: the causes, signs and treatments

Kinsey may have been making light of nymphomania, but a century earlier, it was considered a serious medical disorder. The word nymphomania was first printed in English in 1802, and at the time, it was recognized as a fairly common female disorder. This is why there is a prevalence of terms such as nympho woman, nymphomaniac woman, female nymphomaniac, and woman nympho throughout literature. 

Originating from Latin, nymphomania literally means ‘nymph madness.’ It was understood by both doctors and patients that strong sexual desire in a woman for her husband or, more worryingly, for a man to whom she was not married could be indicative of disease. A woman suffering from nymphomania could expect to find herself sliding into madness, organ failure, and even death. 


Causes for nymphomania varied. As women were considered to be at the mercy of their bodies, nymphomania could be due to drinking brandy, reading too many books, feeling desire for another woman, being inspected by a speculum, divorce, and even frigidity. Treatment for nymphomania included cold enemas and baths, bland food, bleeding, leeches, and even drastic and irreversible surgical options.

Super sex cap merpatiherbal capsules sachet for women only to enhance female sexual function
Super sex cap merpati herbal capsules sachet for women intended to enhance female sexual function.  | © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum ​​ Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence

Satyriasis: the male equivalent of nymphomaniac

While nymphomania was a gendered disorder, men were not immune. The male equivalent of nymphomaniac, satyriasis, had been around since ancient Greece. It was also known as Don Juan syndrome in the 1900s.


Through the ages, it was accepted that excessive sexual desire by a male, or ‘love madness,’ existed. Still, by the Victorian era, it had morphed into an entirely different sort of beast.


While men were expected to have a strong sex drive and were allowed outlets for that drive, it was believed that excessive sexual behavior would diminish a man mentally and morally.


Masculinity became synonymous with self-control, and a man who was unable to do so was considered effeminate, weak, and lazy. In serious cases, satyriasis could lead to rape, murder, or the death of the patient. Jack the Ripper was believed to be motivated by satyriasis.

"The male equivalent of nymphomaniac, satyriasis, had been around since ancient Greece. It was also known as Don Juan syndrome in the 1900s."

How nymphomania evolved into hypersexuality

Prior to the 18th century, nymphomania was a virtually unknown disorder. This may have been because men's and women’s bodies were thought of quite differently. For most of human history, men and women were considered to share the one body (with a woman being an inverted version of the man), so it didn’t seem strange to anyone that a woman could be as lusty as a man.


In ancient Greece, the prophet Tiresias even claimed that women were able to experience pleasure nine times greater than a man!


By the time of Charles Darwin in 1871, things had changed dramatically. Now it was believed that natural selection had made it so the only things a woman lusted after was a respectable marriage and babies.


Another consequence of the changing nature of female sexuality was the rise of rape and ravishment in romantic literature from the 1700s. Rape had always been present in literature, but for a long time, it was presented as a crime of passion, with the victims of rape secretly enjoying their violation.


As the female libido slowly disappeared from society, attitudes toward rape also had to change. Instead of being a mutually enjoyable event, rape became a shortcut to love, the means for a woman to overcome her own natural inhibitions to tame an uncivilized man.


These ‘forced seduction’ romantic stories remained common until the 1980s, when they eventually, and rightly so, fell out of favor. In contemporary works such as ‘Troy’ and ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ you still see similar themes of the dominant male and reluctant female.


Nymphomania also fell out of favor in the 20th century, with people such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Marie Stopes, and Masters and Johnson claiming that female sexual desire was a normal part of human sexuality.

"Female sexual desire is a normal part of human sexuality"

Hypersexuality and sex addiction

As a sexual disorder, nymphomania was finally removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980.


These days we don’t talk about nymphomania or satyriasis. Instead, we speak of sex addiction or hypersexuality.


Over the last decade, many politicians, and celebrities, such as Russell Brand and David Duchovny, have sought treatment for sex addiction. Yet while hypersexual disorder (hypersexuality) has been considered for inclusion in the DSM, many medical professionals and scientists doubt the disorder really exists. 


So while sexual addiction and hypersexuality are not included in the DSM-5, the WHO's ICD-11 recognizes it as a compulsive sexual disorder. So if a person engages in sexual behaviors that cause distress or affect their daily life, including their job and social life, specialized counseling is available.

This article is republished from the Wellcome Collection under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)

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Article by
Taryn Cain

Taryn Cain, the author of Nymphomania and hypersexuality in women and men, is a visitor experience assistant at Wellcome Collection.

Caption:

Alfred Charles Kinsey once said that a nymphomaniac is “someone who has more sex than you do,” and Kinsey was a man who knew what he was talking about. | ©Good Studio / Adobe Stock

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