Here’s a shocker: Men love sex. Thinking about it, watching it, doing it—your day is probably sprinkled with sexual urges. How often? Ten, 20, 50 times a day? Is once every 10 minutes a reason to start worrying? Where’s the line between having a sex addiction … and just being a living, breathing guy?
Studies have shown that as many as 1 in 25 people report an uncontrollable obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. But whether sex addiction is even a real thing is up for debate. As it’s clinically known, hypersexuality didn’t make the cut to be included in the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of diagnosing mental disorders. But if you were to ask Tiger Woods, a voracious sexual appetite is a very real thing.
And research is mounting in support of an official sex addiction diagnosis: A recent British study found that when people with self-reported sex addictions—those who had especially high levels of desire they considered uncontrollable and sometimes impairing—watched porn, it triggered brain activity similar to that prompted by drug cues in the brains of drug addicts. (Are you hooked on smut? Dive into The Debate on Porn.)
This suggests some people yearn for sex, regardless of pleasurability, like addicts crave drugs. Over time, the reward pathways in the brain of addicts are restructured, which is why they crave certain things so badly, explains sex addiction expert Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.
But it’s not all learned behavior. Some people are just naturally aroused easier: In a 2013 study, UCLA researchers found that when people who identified as sex addicts were asked to look at provocative images, their brain’s response was linked more with their sexual yearning than their self-reported level of addiction.
“People with a high sexual desire probably have a predisposition to seek out sex because it feels better to them neurologically,” says study author Nicole Prause, Ph.D., researcher in UCLA’s department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. Even the ability to orgasm can be genetic, she adds. (For more climax acts, check out these 45 Sex Positions Every Couple Should Try.)
So does an insatiable libido, whether natural or not, mean you have a clinical problem? Not necessarily. Hypersexuality is typically associated with people who feel their urges have a negative effect on those around them, or who are unable to control their needs despite trying. All researchers agree the trouble line is drawn when your desire starts to interfere with your well-being, not necessarily whether your thirst is quenchless: “Even statistically non-normal behaviors, like masturbating three times a day, may not cause distress or problems in a person’s life,” Prause adds.
So whether you’re ready to get it on once a month or three times a day, it’s not cause for concern unless it interferes with things like work, family, or relationships. And while Prause points out there’s no method of diagnosing high-frequency sexual behaviors alone and no specific treatment for sex addiction, seeing a therapist can still help, as they would with any problem behavior.
Plus, Carnes points out, a professional can help you deal with worrisome habits before they become full-blown, life-damaging problems. Look for a therapist who specializes in sexual disorders. (Psychology Today has a great, comprehensive list.)