Sex addiction is more common than thought affecting a tenth of men and a twelfth of women, a study found.
The allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein and the rise of the Me too Movement suggested sex addiction has become an epidemic within society.
Yet despite media coverage following high profile sexual scandals, there was no accurate estimate of how prevalent it was.
Now a new US study suggests while men have more trouble controlling their urges, the gender gap is closing as more women are also experiencing sex addiction.
This could be down to changing sexual mores, sexual liberation and the rise of internet porn and apps such as Tinder that allow for commitment free hook-ups.
And those with lower education, those with very high or very low income, and racial, ethnic and sexual minorities are more prone to it.
Fellow Dr Janna Dickenson at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, explained: “From Tiger Woods to Harvey Weinstein, news articles have conjectured that ‘sex addiction’ is a growing and heretofore unrecognised ‘epidemic,’ while the scientific community debates whether such a problem even exists.
Although psychiatry has a long history of attempting to characterise hypersexuality, researchers and clinicians have disparate views regarding whether it represents a true psychiatric disorder or is merely indicative of a larger sociocultural problem- labelled as out-of-control sexual behaviour.”
However how to define and label this also divides the experts but a new recognised classification of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder or CSBD was used.
Dr Dickenson added: “Specifically, CSBD is characterised by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual urges, which results in repetitive sexual behaviour that causes marked distress or social impairment.
Such distress and impairment includes neglecting social activities or personal health, repeatedly attempting to control sexual behaviour unsuccessfully, and continuing to engage in sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences or even when the individual derives minimal pleasure from his or her sexual activities.”
Yet previous studies found most were in denial and relatively few individuals perceived their sexual behaviour as problematic.
Previous estimates for the US suggested prevalence ranged from one to six per cent in adults, with an expected male to female ratio from 2:1 to 5:1.
So the new study set out to get an accurate estimate of the prevalence of CSBD by questioning 2,325 adults aged 18 and 50 taking part in the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviour in November 2016.
Of these 50.5 per cent were women and the mean age was 34.
Distress and impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviour were measured using the Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Inventory.
A score of 35 or higher on a scale of 0 to 65 indicated clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment.
The study found that 8.6 per cent of the nationally representative sample – seven per cent of women and 10.3 per cent of men – endorsed clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviours.
Dr Dickenson said the gender difference was much smaller than hypothesised.
She said: “Explanations justifying the hypothesis that CSBD may be much more common among men than women have been vague, although some researchers have pointed to differences in male sexuality with regard to intrinsic sexual motivation, ease of arousal, and more permissive attitudes toward casual sex.
“Such explanations tap into the sociosexual culture that underlies conceptualisations of masculine ideology, in that male sexuality as ‘irrepressible,’ and suggest that when men get more access to sexual ‘outlets,’ they may be more prone to developing compulsive sexual behaviour.
This is in contrast to feminine ideology that marks women as the ‘sexual gatekeepers.’ who are expected to keep sexual urges in check and, thus, would be less likely to develop compulsive sexual behaviour.
“Given recent cultural shifts toward becoming more permissive of female sexual expression and the proliferation in accessibility to sexual imagery and casual sex through the internet, software applications, and social media, one possible explanation for the smaller gender differences found in our study is that the prevalence of difficulty controlling sexual behaviours among women may be increasing.”
Dr Dickenson concluded: “The high prevalence of this sexual symptom has major public health relevance as a sociocultural problem and indicates a significant clinical problem that warrants attention from health care professionals.
“Moreover, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and income differences suggest potential health disparities, point to the salience of sociocultural context of CSBD, and argue for a treatment approach that accounts for minority health, gender ideology, and sociocultural norms and values surrounding sexuality and gender.
“Health care professionals should be alert to the high number of people who are distressed about their sexual behaviour, carefully assess the nature of the problem, and find appropriate treatments for both men and women.”