Bipolar disorder can cause a person to experience extreme mood swings. When someone is in the middle of an emotional high like mania or hypomania, their behavior can dramatically shift. Most people have changes in energy, becoming much more active or talkative. Feelings of euphoria are also extremely common, leading to increases in confidence and a feeling of invincibility.
Along with these other effects, mania and hypomania can affect a person’s sexuality. Even someone who previously had a low sex drive may have huge spikes in libido. They may begin to have pervasive sexual thoughts and seek sexual gratification more often, either through a relationship with another person or masturbation. Their libido can even impact their decision-making. It’s common for people in the manic stage of bipolar disorder to look at porn publically, develop habitual exhibitionism or voyeurism, commit infidelity, or take other sexual risks that they would typically avoid.
Experts have referred to these changes in sexuality by many names over the years, including “nymphomania,” “compulsive sexual behavior,” “sexual mania,” “sexual addiction,” and “erotomania.” Today these changes in sexuality, which can be just as dangerous as any substance addiction, are now widely known as “hypersexuality.”
How Common Is Bipolar Disorder?
Research shows that around four percent of adults will experience bipolar disorder. Of this population, over 80 percent show signs of serious impairment due to their condition. Thanks to many studies, we know that certain groups of people are more likely to develop bipolar disorder. This includes individuals with a family history of the condition, especially first-degree relatives like a parent or sibling. People who undergo a period of high stress, like the death of a loved one, are also more at risk. Finally, drug and alcohol abuse appear to have an impact on your risk of bipolar disorder.
The Science Behind Bipolar Disorder and Hypersexuality
Even the experts can’t seem to come to a consensus on where hypersexuality originates. Some argue that it is the result of the various hormonal and chemical changes that occur in many people with bipolar disorder. For example, during mania, the reward pathway in the brain that is responsible for reinforcement, reward-related learning, and the perception of pleasure becomes much more active. This has associations with several different addictions and dependencies, including sexual mania. Researchers have noted that bipolar disorder features many reward pathway changes and some groups even believe that the condition originates from these issues.
Mood Changes and Libido
Ultimately, the question remains: What do these hormones have to do with hypersexuality? The reward pathway is the main driving force behind human libido. A more active pathway results in a more powerful sex drive. Because bipolar disorder can involve dramatic changes in this pathway’s activity, someone can swing from having almost no libido during depressive episodes to experiencing sexual mania that causes them to compulsively think about sexual gratification.
Why Bipolar Sex Drive Can Be a Problem
When looking at the effects of hypersexuality, you may find it difficult to understand why it’s an issue. Hypersexuality is more than just an increase in libido. Some clinicians even view it as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because the impulses are too strong to ignore. Hypersexuality can significantly impact a person’s personal, social, and professional lives. They also experience internal struggles as they attempt to come to terms with feeling a loss of control.
Personal Relationships and Bipolar Sex Drive
People with bipolar disorder often experience issues in relationships because of the changes in mood and behavior. Shifts in libido further strain these connections. Partners may feel undesirable if bipolar disorder limits sex drive. On the other hand, having too powerful of a sex drive may place greater pressure on a partner.
Beyond sexual intimacy within a committed relationship, hypersexuality can also influence a person’s behavior in ways that would damage their relationships. They may feel a compulsive need to watch pornography or masturbate, sometimes during inappropriate moments. Other common behaviors include multiple affairs, anonymous sex, and frequent patronizing of sex workers. It’s important to note that because of the chemical changes in the brain, a person is often incapable of thinking about the consequences of these actions.
Other Common Problems
In addition to affecting committed relationships, hypersexual actions can have a wide range of ramifications. Health-wise, as a person takes more and more sexual risks, they become more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections or become pregnant. They may also face financial troubles after continually patronizing sex workers, visiting adult establishments, or purchasing pornography. There have even been cases of legal trouble, in which an individual’s hypersexual compulsions drove them to molest, abuse, or even rape another person.
After the Mania
People with bipolar disorder often mention feeling an extreme sense of relief and euphoria shortly after fulfilling their hypersexual desires. This is one of the results of an overactive reward pathway and it encourages further sexual actions. However, as they process their actions, they often feel intense feelings of shame or regret. This can often coincide with a shift from a manic period to a depressive one.
Is It Possible To Regulate These Moods?
Despite the intensity of the desires, it is possible to manage and control hypersexual symptoms. Because hypersexuality is a symptom of bipolar disorder, taking steps to address the disorder as a whole also limits extreme sexual compulsions. In some cases, doctors choose to prescribe medications like mood stabilizers to reduce the severity of mania and depression.
Psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy, is also a common part of many treatment paths for bipolar disorder. While the techniques can vary, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be immensely successful in helping people manage their disorders.
Because of the effects that bipolar disorder can have on relationships, many professionals will get loved ones involved in the recovery process. Especially in cases of hypersexuality, working to overcome the condition with a committed partner can help couples overcome obstacles and repair their connection.
Coping with bipolar disorder is difficult, and hypersexuality adds to the challenge. Due to social stigmas and the general lack of understanding surrounding hypersexuality, many people are hesitant to reach out for help. A real professional won’t judge you or your actions and will understand how bipolar disorder and hypersexuality can impact your life. Finding an expert who cares about your situation can be the first step toward a happier and healthier life.
If you or a loved one is struggling with hypersexuality or bipolar disorder, you don’t need to manage it alone. Contact FHE Health today to talk with an expert about how we can support you and your treatment needs.