Sex addict. Nympho. You’ve likely heard these words used for a person with hypersexuality, but what exactly is this condition? Is hypersexuality really a symptom of a mental disorder or is it just a super high libido? Where does one draw the line between liking (or loving) sex and being hypersexual? Is it similar to a drug addiction? Or a binge eating disorder?
Join Gabe and Jackie as they tackle this often misunderstood topic and hear Gabe’s own personal experiences with hypersexuality as a debilitating symptom of his bipolar disorder.
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Sex Addiction” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer-generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Jackie: Hello and welcome to this week’s Not Crazy. I would like to introduce my co-host, Gabe, who you may not know also twilights as a Santa Claus.
Gabe: And I would like to introduce my co-host, Jackie Zimmerman, who I just realized had multiple sclerosis. She always said that she had M.S. and I just assumed that it stood for Microsoft by the way she described it as horrible.
Jackie: Oh, that was terrible.
Gabe: I think it’s like a “dad joke.”
Gabe: Right. No,
Gabe: No, you don’t like it.
Gabe: I mean, it’s a little bit funny.
Jackie: It’s really not that funny. But you know what? We’ll go with it. And both of us forgot to say, you are bipolar. I have depression. So we’ll just throw that one out there as well.
Gabe: Yeah. Yeah. And to be fair, I am bipolar and you are depression.
Jackie: I am depression. I am. I am a little rain cloud with eyeballs wandering around, raining on people
Gabe: I love it.
Jackie: This week. Gabe, we’re talking about sex.
Gabe: Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you
Jackie: That was my first concert.
Gabe: And me.
Jackie: For the record, I was eight.
Gabe: Really? Salt-N-Pepa?
Jackie: That is not Salt-N-Pepa.
Gabe: Yeah, it is.
Jackie: I’m thinking of somebody else.
Gabe: Wow. Wow.
Jackie: We probably should cut that.
Gabe: No, no, no, we’re leaving it. We’re leaving it in.
Gabe: That’s in hard. Actually, that just became the outtake.
Jackie: I was thinking of I Want To Sex You Up, Color Me Badd.
Gabe: Oh, my God. You went from a group of strong, powerful black women to an awful group that nobody remembers.
Jackie: I remember them.
Gabe: You’re pushing it. You’re pushing it good.
Jackie: Ah, push it. Anyway. OK. This week we are talking about sex.
Gabe: And specifically hypersexuality. And there is this notion that sex and hypersexuality are the same thing and they are. I mean, they have things in common, but it’s a little bit like describing like a late spring rain and a hurricane as the same thing. There’s a world of difference and I don’t think people really understand that.
Jackie: I think that I don’t understand that. I will be candid that this is not a thing that I have experienced, and honestly, all that I know is these celebrities in the news who get caught cheating on their wives and they claim hypersexuality. And I don’t know. Is that true? Like, at what point do you claim, like, I’m a terrible person who’s cheating on my wife and or I have this actual addiction to sex?
Gabe: So there’s a couple of things that I want to point out there. First, this is where it gets really tough, right, to say to somebody, I don’t believe you. When they say that they have an addiction or a mental illness, like that’s dangerous, right? It’s just dangerous. I don’t know that I want to live in a world where when somebody says I’m having a mental health crisis or I’m addicted and I need help, we want to say, oh, bullshit, you just got caught and now you’re trying to weasel out of it.
Jackie: Ok, so let’s talk about this, let’s help me understand this, but also maybe help some people out there who are feeling maybe that they are living in the hypersexuality realm, but don’t know it or don’t know what to do about it. How do you know you have like an addiction to sex and you’re not just somebody who really enjoys sex?
Gabe: So full disclosure, I’ve had hypersexuality, I had hypersexuality for a long period of time. I’m also somebody with a high sex drive who enjoys having a lot of sex. And let me tell you what the biggest difference is between those two things. Wanting to have a lot of sex is very enjoyable. Sex is nice. We should just say it like it is. Sex is nice. I like having sex. People like having sex. Hypersexuality is not nice. It’s horrific. It’s an addiction. It’s a compulsion. You have to do it. There is no choice. It has to be done. It has to be done. Enjoying it is not even a factor in hypersexuality. It’s all about completing the act. The end.
Jackie: That is a sincere move because it sounds like it takes this really fun thing and makes it really un-fun, and I would imagine that can have some pretty negative effects on your life.
Gabe: It can have very negative effects on everything around you, right? Let’s go back to your celebrity example. One of the things that we noticed, like in the celebrities who get caught and then they have the addiction or they’ve had hypersexuality is one, they’re always men. We’ve never heard about females having hypersexuality or addiction in the public space. And that’s not realistic. Women do, in fact, suffer from hypersexuality. That’s like thing number one, right. Thing number two, after they get caught, you look back at their pattern and it’s always like high end scotch. Right. It’s a little bit difficult to be addicted to alcohol when somebody offers you a beer and you’re like, no, no, no, no. Oh, wait. I’m going to wait for the high end scotch. And then when you get caught drinking the high end scotch, like, oh, my God, I’m an addict. Well, but you went days at a time without drinking while pursuing high end scotch. And then when you found high end scotch, yeah, you locked yourself in the bar for the weekend, but then you were cool for another couple of weeks. Like this is a pattern that like doesn’t jive in addiction circles, but we’re kind of accepting it as the examples of hypersexuality. And these are some things that we have to be careful of. Right. Because if we tend to think of hypersexuality as having a lot of like really good sex. This is where I’m going to burst your bubble and freak everybody out. Hypersexuality often looks like chronic masturbation.
Jackie: Wow, I’m learning so much about you, Gabe.
Gabe: It’s a thing. It’s uncomfortable, right? But, Jackie, be honest and I’m not trying to put you on the spot until this moment. Did you honestly believe that I didn’t masturbate? Is that something that you think about the world when you look out at the world? Are you so naive that you’re like, no, nobody masturbates? We only make love to our partners and dedicated? No, nobody believes this. Nobody believes this yet, for whatever reason. Everybody thinks this is true, even though they know that it’s not true. And that’s sort of where hypersexuality causes a lot of problems. It butts up against what we actually know and what we’ve convinced ourselves is true. What we actually know is that people like sex. People have a lot of sex, that people desire sex. What we want to believe is that sex is only done in a committed and loving relationship and only for the purposes of procreation and putting another beautiful child into the world. It’s nonsense. It’s all nonsense. But it persists and it makes people who suffer from hypersexuality feel awful.
Jackie: So as someone who has not experienced this, I find this all to be fascinating and I have so many questions about it and what it means in your life, in your relationship and all of these things. So can I just like rapid fire questions at you?
Gabe: Hit me, hit me. We have a podcast, you know that right?
Jackie: Ok, so someone who is experiencing hypersexuality, are we talking like daily, hourly? What would quench the hypersexuality thirst?
Gabe: Nothing. Nothing. It’s going to be a little bit different for everybody. So for me at 27 times in one day didn’t do it. And those 27 times were comprised of partners, sex workers and masturbation. And at the end of the day, I did sleep like I was able to fall asleep. But when I woke up the next day, some, you know, 12, 13, 14 hours later, I don’t quite remember how long I slept. Yeah, I was right back at it.
Jackie: But is this like other addictions, whether it be to like drugs or food, even where it is all you think about you’re planning the day you’re having a fix, you’re planning your next one. Like you were saying, it is all encompassing, consuming all of your thoughts.
Gabe: Yes. Yes. It is the reason that you are alive and you are willing to do anything to meet the need. While I was in the act of satisfying hypersexuality, I was thinking about how I was gonna do it again while I was having sex. I was trying to figure out who I was going to have sex with next. I would masturbate on the way to having sex with somebody. It was uncontrollable. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money. My wife left me because I had a symptom of an illness. And that’s something that’s worthy of talking about too, like, isn’t it? You know, in sickness and in health. Like, could you imagine if I had cancer and she left me because of a cancer symptom? But back to the celebrities. People think that it’s bullshit and there’s no test. I can’t prove it. I can’t be like, no, no, no. I cheated on you because I had hypersexuality. Look, here’s the bloodwork. It sounds like an excuse. And I want to be very clear. I don’t blame my first wife for leaving me at all. I’d have left me, too. It’s that misunderstood. But I do want to focus the audience on it is a symptom. It’s an addiction. It’s a compulsion. It’s this horrible thing that’s happening to you. And as soon as it becomes public, the response from everybody around you is to call you a bad person and leave. Which means they’re probably not showing up with any help.
Jackie: Well, I would argue that’s the general response to any addiction. Honestly, I mean, not many people handle those situations very well. So in this scenario, with your first wife or with anybody, anybody in your life, really, how do you explain this to people?
Gabe: It’s very difficult to explain something that you don’t fully understand in the throes of hypersexuality. I didn’t know I completely agreed with my wife. I was a bad person who cheated on her. The end.
Jackie: Is this something that you talked to like a therapist about or is this self-diagnosed?
Gabe: I think that all illnesses are originally self diagnosed, right? There’s a reason that you go to the doctor. You think something is wrong and then you ask the doctor to fix it. You know, when we’re talking about like physical things, it’s a little easier. I’m having a headache. I’m too tired. I have this rash. I want to go away in mental health. We’re trained by society to deal with it ourselves. I’m sad. Man up. I’m anxious. Don’t be a wuss. I’m manic. Calm down. Why are you acting this way? When I was having all of this sex. This is my favorite line in this whole podcast. I’m telling you right now, I wasn’t just having a lot of sex. No, no, no, no, no. I was sowing my wild oats.
Jackie: Oh, barf.
Gabe: And that’s what I believed too. I believed that eventually I would get my shit together and stop. Also, not for nothing, young, manic Gabe, who felt like he was king of the world, having a lot of sex, especially with a lot of different women. Yeah. It made me feel powerful and mania made me feel powerful. It’s weird. Even me who knows the horrors of hypersexuality still thinks man, I wish I could get a fraction of that back. Middle age blows and this is where it’s uncomfortable, right? Because some of it seems like a talent that I like want to be a man and brag up. But most of it is is a horror show. It’s exactly like addiction where you feel so awful until you feed that addiction and then you momentarily feel better until you feel awful again. That’s what hypersexuality is like.
Jackie: You’re bipolar, we’ve talked about being manic and these things kind of going hand-in-hand. Is this a common symptom? Is it a symptom of being bipolar?
Gabe: Hypersexuality is a symptom of bipolar disorder. It’s also something that’s not uncommon in mania. Mental illness is all about something normal taken to an extreme right. Sadness is normal. Depression and feeling like you want to die. That’s an extreme and it’s an offshoot of sadness. But it also comes with garbled thoughts. Right? Like defining depression is just sadness is not really fair because sadness is normal. Mania is an offshoot of happiness. Like we want people to feel joy and elation and happiness. But obviously thinking that you are invincible and that you’re a God and that you can’t be hurt and king of the world, all of that is way too far. And, now think of sex. Wanting to have a lot of sex that could just be libido and everybody’s got a different libido. You know, some people want to have sex a couple of times a day. Some people want to have sex a couple of times a month. There’s no reason to put a label on or to declare who is right or who is wrong. You know, when you’re horny, have sex, have consensual sex or pleasure yourself, that is all really, really normal. Where it becomes dangerous is when you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I wasn’t having sex to experience the pleasures of sex. I was having sex to feed the beast. I was having sex because if I didn’t, I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything else. It was the only thing that I cared about. I would have ran a bus load of nuns off the road to get to that fix. And that’s not okay. That is not okay. And it’s incredibly dangerous. It’s incredibly dangerous.
Jackie: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe: And we’re back discussing hypersexuality.
Jackie: So is this like when you talk about times where you’ve been manic and you’re sort of just running full speed ahead? And then when it’s over, you realize you have to deal with the things that you did? Right. Like you have to maybe apologize or return a bunch of things you bought or whatever happens, you have to kind of rectify those situations. I would imagine in this situation, you probably have people in your life you need to talk to. But also, I’m assuming you’re not practicing like safe sex when this is happening. So what about the aftermath of those kinds of things?
Gabe: So there’s a few good discussion points. The thing that you said is I imagine you’re not practicing safe sex when you’re doing these things. For me personally, I was I was absolutely, unequivocally practicing safe sex because I was terrified of getting somebody pregnant and I was terrified of catching a venereal disease. Like apparently these don’t get anybody pregnant and don’t get an STD were lessons that were really pushed hard into me. And the example that I use is just because you experience psychosis doesn’t mean that you lose all of the talents that you have. People with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, people in psychosis, people in major depression episodes. If you’re a scientist and you have major depression, you still have all of that science knowledge. So even though I was hypersexual, the risks that I took, Gabe Howard, personally were minimized.
Jackie: Right. But equating it to like, let’s say somebody who is on the streets and doing heroin or something, at some point the risk of what happens if you share a needle goes out the window and you’re like, doesn’t matter, I just need to do this. So I didn’t know if at some point the risk all goes out the window based on the compulsion or if you can rationalize through it.
Gabe: That’s a really difficult question to answer. And I want to be like really, really fair here. As a man, I have a lot of control in that I can use a condom right where, you know, sometimes women don’t have as much control because it it’s tougher for women. I don’t want to speak on behalf of all women, but it’s you know, you can take birth control pills, but that doesn’t do anything for STDs. So a lot of the women that I’ve spoken to that have had hypersexuality, they’ve been so desperate that they’ll show up somewhere, the dude won’t have a condom and they’ll think, well, hell with it, I’m on the pill. But that’s only half of the equation, right, that, you know, women who want to have a lot of sex need to carry condoms because dudes suck. They just absolutely suck. But then we push up against the whole sexual debate in our country. Well, a woman who carries around condoms is a slut. That’s just wholly unfair and unreasonable. But these are the things that adds all of these layers to hypersexuality. For me, I always made sure that I had protection and this helped me a lot. There is also, again, the masturbation aspect. Fifty percent of this is not with a partner. It’s just not. And then finally, we can’t ignore the fact that I had privilege. I had money. I did hire sex workers, but they were high end sex workers. And I hate to say that I do. I’m not trying to discriminate against anybody, but I hired sex workers who owned cars, had agencies, drove their cars to my house. It’s that that’s just it is different and it’s not fair, but it’s different.
Jackie: Ok, so going back in time, you are in this spell of hypersexuality, will say, two questions. How does it end and how do you prevent it from happening again? Or do you want to prevent it from happening again?
Gabe: Those are two really, really good questions. I’m going to answer the second one first. Yes, you absolutely want to prevent it from happening again, because when you’re having regular sex, sex with an engaged partner, sex that you want to have it. It’s so good. Sex is good. I can’t be more clear that sex is a wonderful thing. I’m trying desperately not to say that sex is a beautiful act between two people who love each other because it conjures up
Jackie: But it is. It is.
Gabe: But, I don’t want people to think that I’m talking about lights off missionary sex. No, you can have any kind of sex you want with a consenting adult. And what you and your partner like, especially when you’ve discussed it and you’re sexually compatible, like that’s amazing. And it’s one of the best parts of the world. This is not the kind of sex that people with hypersexuality get, just like in binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder for most people is not going to a five star French restaurant with all of the servers who wear the tuxedos. No, it’s going to the buffet. The low quality buffet, all you can eat for five dollars and shoveling as much food as humanly possible into your mouth until you vomit. That’s what binge eating disorder looks like. So anybody that said, well, isn’t binge eating disorder great? You get to have all the food that you want? Yeah, we would all acknowledge that that person’s a moron. So anybody that says, well, isn’t hypersexuality great? You get to have all of the sex that you want. Yeah. Yeah. It’s the $5 buffet. It’s not quality. It’s
Gabe: Not good. And it doesn’t make you feel good. And eventually you probably throw up.
Jackie: Too much of anything is bad. Literally across the board. I would argue too much of anything is bad.
Gabe: This applies to almost anything, and the first question is how does it end, like so many things with mental illness and especially with bipolar disorder? It ends because you cycle out of it like everything with mental illness and bipolar disorder on that spectrum, you just end up in a different place and you look back and you’re just like, oh, my God, how did this happen? Who do I have to call? What ex-girlfriend did I call up? How much money did I spend? And when I say how much money did I spend? There’s all kinds of ways to spend money surrounding sex, going to bars and buying drinks, buying people drugs is a real popular way to get laid. It’s the underbelly of bipolar, I guess. But I had money and resources, so I kept a group of basically sycophants around me who were willing to mooch off of me and occasionally have sex with me. That all makes you feel really awful. It’s just not good. It’s not what you want. It’s not the type of reflection on your weekend that you want to have. It’s just not. And in some cases, I’ve lost jobs over this. I’ve lost friendships because, you know, if my buddy’s girlfriend consents, I’m not going to talk her out of its end. These are real realities and problems. And I think that anybody who’s dated a lot has people in their lives that they really just need to cut off because they’re toxic and calling that person because you know, that they’re a quote unquote, sure thing. That’s a way to bring that toxicity back into your life and to remove all of the boundaries that you’ve created. And finally, it just feels awful. It’s awful. It takes a good thing and destroys it. And it has real ramifications for the rest of your life. My first wife left because of hypersexuality, and I don’t begrudge her for it at all. But I lost an entire marriage due to this symptom and other symptoms. But this symptom was a big one.
Jackie: Gabe, you mentioned anyone who can consent as somebody who is a candidate when you were hypersexual. Is there some aspect of people who are not consenting, who are sort of victims of people who are using hypersexuality as the causation of what happened?
Gabe: This is another one of those areas where it’s really, really tough, right? Because if you look at legal defenses, sometimes the perpetrator will say it’s not my fault. I was hypersexual and that’s what led to the inappropriate sexual behavior or the sexual assault. One, this is another one of those areas where data is hard to find. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of sexual assaults. And when I say sexual assault, I’m talking rape that occurs because of hyper sexuality. You don’t lose your morals because you’re hypersexual. I can’t say unequivocally that hypersexuality has never led to a sexual assault. I can’t. And I’m not trying to say that. But what I can say is that Gabe Howard unequivocally never had issues with this with hypersexuality in all of the years that I had it, because again, even though I was hypersexual, I still understood consent. I looked for strong yeses. I was very, very careful that I didn’t abuse anybody because that is a value of mine and that is important to me.
Jackie: Gabe, can you give any tips or advice for somebody who may be experiencing hypersexuality right now, like what can they do to make this better, make this go away or just get through it or lock themselves in the room and board up the windows? Like, how do you make it through this safely, but also without blowing up your whole life?
Gabe: Go to a doctor, go to the emergency room if you have to, go to your general practitioner, tell somebody immediately. You kept using the example of other addictions. Yeah, that that’s how it works, right? If you are addicted to drugs and alcohol, if you are addicted to food, if you are addicted to sex, you have to get help. This whole mind over matter idea is not going to work. I know that there are, you know, sex addicts anonymous groups and I’ve heard good things about them. Therapy is something that can help. For me, getting diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder helped tremendously. Now that I have a solid, solid supports and treatment for bipolar disorder, hypersexuality is completely gone. It is a thing of the complete past. It is just a symptom that I watch out for. And now I can enjoy sex like a regular person. That’s like the pay rate. But yeah, you’d need to tell somebody. We have to get over this idea that every medical thing that happens to us we can solve on our own. Stop it. Stop it. Ask for help. Period. Ask for help now before you do real damage to your life.
Jackie: If this episode has spoken to you, if you are experiencing this, know, that one, you’re not alone in this. Obviously, Gabe can relate to this, can give you some good advice. But take that first step. Talk to a doctor or seek treatment. Get this out of your system in a healthy way and continue to work through this. To get to a point in your life where maybe this is no longer something you have to worry about.
Gabe: And the bonus is you get to enjoy sex again. I cannot be more clear how much this has changed my life getting treated for this symptom, and I cannot be more clear that while it was going on, I didn’t know it was going on. So if you suspect it. Get it checked out.
Jackie: Thanks, everybody, for tuning in, here’s what I’d like you to do. Subscribe to the podcast. Like the podcast. Share the podcast. Rate the podcast. Review the podcast. Do all the things that tell us that you like what we’re doing. And don’t forget to stick around to the end of this whole shindig because there is an outtake. I’m just gonna say this week’s probably gonna be a good one.
Gabe: See ya.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Not Crazy from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. To work with Jackie, go to JackieZimmerman.co. Not Crazy travels well. Have Gabe and Jackie record an episode live at your next event. E-mail [email protected] for details.