The disorder, in which sufferers have relentless sexual urges that feel out of their control, is even being considered for inclusion in America’s ‘bible’ that lists all mental conditions – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
However, until now researchers have been struggling to define what hypersexual disorder - as sex addiction is formally known - actually is.
According to study researcher Rory Reid from University of California, Los Angeles, under one proposed definition a person who simply has frequent sex would not be diagnosed with it.
But a person whose sexual activities are excessive, frequently used to cope with stress and interfere with their ability to function in daily life may meet the criteria for the disorder.
In a new study from the university, the researchers emphasised that they are not trying to turn common behaviours like having a lot of sex, or watching pornography into disorders.
Instead, people with hypersexual disorder report feeling out of control, and act on their sexual urges, disregarding the repercussions.
“They might consider the consequences momentarily, but somehow feel their need for sex is more important, and choose sex even in situations where such choices might cause significant problems or harm, such as job loss, relationship problems or financial difficulties,” the Daily Mail quoted him as telling the website MyHealthNewsDaily.
In the UCLA study, hypersexual disorder was defined as “recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behaviour,” lasting at least six months.
To be diagnosed with the disorder, these sexual fantasies, urges and behaviours cause the patient distress, or interfere with some aspect of the patient’s life like job or social life.
They must not be brought on by drugs or alcohol, or another mental disorder.
The conclusions were drawn after the researchers interviewed more than 200 people who had been referred to a mental health clinic, without knowing the reasons for their referral.
Of them, 150 were thought to have sexual behaviour problems; the others had problems such as substance abuse.
Using the definitions above, 134 of the patients referred for sexual problems were diagnosed with hypersexual disorder, and in 92 percent of cases, the professionals agreed on who should be diagnosed with the condition.
Doctors also asked patients to report which behaviours were most problematic for them, including masturbation, pornography viewing, sex with consenting adults, cybersex, telephone sex and frequenting strip clubs.
The majority who were diagnosed with hypersexual disorder said masturbation and pornography viewing were problematic.
Some patients reported losing jobs because they could not refrain from these behaviours at work, the study found.
“Having a disorder didn’t help them avoid consequences, such as divorce, but it is advantageous for them when they want to get help and change,” Dr Reid said.
The study had been published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.