New research from The Netherlands provides preliminary evidence that one thing differentiating problematic from non-problematic hypersexuality is using sex to deal with feelings of shame. The new study has been published in the journal Sexes.
“I wrote a PhD thesis on problematic hypersexuality and am interested in this because I want to establish what differentiates non-problematic hypersexuality from problematic hypersexuality,” said study author Piet van Tuijl, a PhD student at Open University. “Research seems to address only the problematic side and seems to ignore that people can have a lot of sex without experiencing any problems with that. But if you ignore that positive aspect, you will not find, I think, what actually can make hypersexuality problematic (because then all hypersexuality will be problematic, which I don’t think is the case).”
In the study, 154 participants were asked to complete 10 questionnaires per day for one week. The questionnaires included brief assessments of shame, self-esteem, sexual desire, and sexual activity. This design allowed the researchers to examine how fluctuations in these variables interacted over time.
The sample included 10 men classified as having non-problematic hypersexuality and 11 men classified as having problematic hypersexuality. Hypersexuality was defined as watching pornography more than twice a week, while the classification of problematic vs. non-problematic was based on the Compulsive Use of Internet Scale. The scale asks participants to respond to questions such as “How often do you not get enough sleep because of watching porn?”
In general, experiencing heightened sexual desire was associated with contemporaneously experiencing higher levels of self-esteem. But for men with problematic hypersexuality, this positive association was not observed.
The researchers had expected to find that increases in sexual desire led to subsequent increases in feelings of shame among men with problematic hypersexuality. Instead, they found that experiencing shame was associated with increases in sexual desire one to two hours later among these men. “This association was absent for the general population sample as well as for men who watch porn frequently but do not experience problematic hypersexuality,” the researchers said.
“If feeling ashamed triggers a need for sex for you, but sex does not give you the pleasure that it used to, then you might start to reflect on what has changed for you and if you should do something about it. Having a lot of sex, or being occupied by sex a lot, might then have become problematic for you,” van Tuijl told PsyPost.
The study provides some clues as to what differentiates problematic from non-problematic hypersexuality. But the findings should not be taken as definitive at this point.
“The sample size of hypersexual participants (problematic or non-problematic) was small and the results have been presented as exploratory findings accordingly,” van Tuijl explained. “Furthermore, it is not clear if shame is the most important emotion here; we might investigate feelings of guilt in the same manner for instance (but have not done so yet, due to limited time and resources).”
“I’m setting up follow-up research relative to the present study,” the researcher added. “The method used in our research, completion of 10 little surveys per day, is intensive but might also be rewarding as participants can be presented, if they want, with their own ’emotion structure’ and the way emotions influence their sexual feelings and behavior.”
The study, “Associations between Fluctuating Shame, Self-Esteem, and Sexual Desire: Comparing Frequent Porn Users and a General Population Sample“, was authored by Piet van Tuijl, Peter Verboon, and Jacques J. D. M. van Lankveld.