Lobotomies were legal in the US as recently as 1967. That might sound like a long time ago, but considering only two years later we’d put humans on the Moon, it doesn’t feel like a practice that should have persisted for so long.
And, yet, a cursory review of the most common reasons for lobotomizing a “patient” (I use quotations because the accurate word is victim, but we’re going to keep the jargon in line with research terminology) reveals a motivation as old as time: the advancement of personal morality.
Don’t worry, this isn’t an article about lobotomies. It’s about hypersexuality, a so-called condition afflicting somewhere between zero people and everyone on the planet.
I’m not being cheeky. That’s about as accurate as anyone can be because there doesn’t appear to be any consensus as to what hypersexuality is or whether it’s pathological (a medical condition).
Furthermore, even if there was a concurrence concerning the nature of hypersexuality as an actual medical condition, we’d still need a metric by which to define it and a threshold by which to diagnose it.
Stick a needle in my eye
And that’s why we needed to start things off by talking about lobotomies. Hypersexuality has been analogous to sex addiction in medical literature for decades. As far back as the early 1970s, scientists were trying to relate “hypersexuality” to any number of psychological conditions – many of which were subsequently removed from the DSM.
Per a 2015 review of historical scientific literature on hypersexuality:
“Hypersexuality, or a dramatic increase in sexual drive, has been reported in some patients after unilateral temporal lobectomy. It is defined as ‘sexual arousal and response that is clearly abnormal in frequency and intensity for a given individual.’
Blumer (1970) identified common traits in three patients, including the manifestation of hypersexuality after a “postoperative silent period” of 3–6 weeks, persistent sexual arousal, homosexual behavior, accompanying dietary changes and loss of anger or tameness.”
Let’s be clear here: early research involved observations post-lobectomy (where instead of severing the connections, they just remove a chunk of your brain instead) on how patients conducted themselves sexually.
In the time since lobotomies and lobectomies were considered treatments for everything from depression to homosexuality, the discourse hasn’t evolved much.
Scientists have essentially split into two camps, one that seeks to define hypersexuality by, essentially, the same parameters as game addiction, and another that recognizes the futility in attempting to describe a scientific metric for being too sexual.
Cross my heart and hope to die
Here’s the rub: If we define hypersexuality by the same rigor as other addictions, then we only recognize its existence in people whose lives are adversely affected by being too sexual.
But we don’t use the term “hypergambler” to describe a gambling addict. You may only gamble once a year, if doing so ruins your relationships, costs you your livelihood, and threatens your well-being then you’re likely to be considered an addict.
Conversely, a person who plays poker professionally is typically not referred to as an addict or a “hypergambler.”
The point is, a person who thinks about sex often, pursues sexual situations with a higher frequency than a baseline average, and suffers no directly-related ill effects is probably not a candidate for the label “addict.” But that person may still be hypersexual.
An increased desire to have sex can only be indirectly associated with adverse outcomes. There isn’t a scientifically-defined number of sexual thoughts or encounters a person can have before it becomes a medical condition.
Hypersexuality is almost always associated with negative outcomes such as infidelity and loss of productivity or linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
However, it’s arguable that hypersexuality isn’t pathological. Just like the desire to participate in consensual BDSM activities or power-exchange relationships isn’t necessarily indicative of self-harm tendencies, thinking about or engaging in (safe) sex at a higher-than-average rate shouldn’t inherently indicate mental illness.
This, of course, doesn’t dispute the fact that many negative outcomes can be associated with hypersexuality.
But you don’t catch hypersexuality like you do a cold. Having and acting on sexual thoughts isn’t the same as feeling a sneeze coming on and being powerless to prevent it.
It’s more like watching pornography. It involves free will. If you watch so much porn that you forget to water your flowers, feed your kids, or go to work, it might not be the pornography’s fault. Because literally hundreds of millions of people watch porn every day and manage to remain functioning.
The same goes for hypersexuality. Most people have sexual thoughts from time to time and some people have them far more often. No scientist is qualified to quantify exactly how much is acceptable.
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