Editor’s Note and Trigger Warning: This piece contains descriptions of sexual trauma, abuse, and hypersexuality. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, harassment, violence, or want more resources on sexual assault, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center by going to nsvrc.org.
My understanding of sexual trauma took root far earlier than any child or adult should reckon with.
Beginning with grooming and evolving into childhood sexual abuse, my experiences of sexual violence began at age 7. As a result, my sexuality grew from a warped foundation. I had zero understanding of what sexual acts were but they were happening to me.
As puberty kicked off, I hyper-fixated on sex to an extreme degree. Conversations I participated in inevitably diverted to sexual discussions, no topic was too taboo for me. My sense of humor took a dark turn, consumed by inappropriate jokes about trauma and abuse.
In the bedroom, my sex drive always outstripped any of my partner’s desires and I became incapable of connecting sexual intimacy with any emotion. Sexual acts were a performance, detached entirely from emotions.
It took a whole lot of therapy before I found a name to describe these behaviors: hypersexuality.
What is hypersexuality?
“Hypersexuality is when you’re sexually compulsive,” said U.K.-based psychologist Charlotte Fox Weber. “It can show up as undiscriminating eroticization of anything in sight.”
In other words, hypersexuality is an excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors. At times, it is difficult to control, can cause mental distress, and negatively impact various parts of a person’s life, including the ability to maintain romantic relationships or focus on work or educational pursuits.
Hypersexuality, which is sometimes referred to as a disorder or an addiction, can develop in anyone but sexual trauma is often an associated trigger. Some people who experience sexual trauma develop an aversion to sex, while others hyper-fixate on it.
“In a way, it’s trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” explains Weber. “It might bring feelings of euphoria and empowerment, but in a thrilling, temporary way. The enthrallment can be as transient as any high.”
As I wrestled with being a victim of childhood sexual abuse and later, harassment, assault, and rape, hyper-fixating on sex became an escape. It manifested as inappropriate humor, a hyper fixation on sex, obsessive masturbation, and an undiminishable sex drive.
My sex obsession felt like a physical anti-depressant, suppressing my real feelings of trauma and forming a protective barrier against my reality.
How can it affect a person?
The impact of hypersexuality is impossible to quantify succinctly because it affects people in wildly different ways, however, a unifying factor is the feeling of shame.
If people did not know about my experiences, they labeled me a slut without dignity. People dismissed my personhood because of it.
Those who did know about my history of sexual violence were confused. Many looked down on my choices, some expressed pity, and countless others questioned me relentlessly. Why was I so into sex if I was really an abuse survivor? Was I telling the truth? What was wrong with me?
The associated shame nearly overwhelmed me.
“We need to normalize the way we respond to horrific sexual experiences,” says Weber. “It’s frequently held against victims and survivors, whatever behavior comes next when I see it as part of the whole thing.”
Another side effect was the way hypersexuality interacted with my trauma responses, making me vulnerable to further abuse. Unable to connect sex with emotion and with no concept of consent, I was hopeless at recognizing if sexual partners were healthy or safe to be around.
While engaging in therapy and finally meeting a healthy partner or two, my hypersexuality did ease over time. However, it always reared its head again whenever I experienced additional sexual trauma.
It was as though further trauma lit a fuse connected to my sexuality. I would defuse the bomb, start clambering up the mountain towards a healthier peak of sexual interaction, then the fuse would be ignited by another violent experience.
I would try to extinguish it before the behaviors could be triggered, but the explosion would launch an avalanche before I could reach it.
For the longest time, just like I thought the abuse was my fault, I blamed the hypersexual behavior on myself too.
It was my body and my mind, so it must have been my fault too. I may have been leaning into the behavior as a form of self-sabotage, but I was not to blame, as Weber explains.
“Acting out is so often a trauma response and when that trauma hasn’t been understood, there’s likely to be repetitions and re-enactments,” she explains. “It can be self-sabotage and we need to be more compassionate to ourselves and others.”
However, fixing it was my responsibility.
I was using hypersexuality to feel something, anything except the trauma I had worked so hard to bury under a veneer of easygoing sexuality.
It was a steel shield that prevented any genuine sexual or emotional connection from forming. Why bother when I was clearly so toxic?
It infected relationships and friendships and made me doubt my own memories of abuse. Incapable of setting, let alone asserting, boundaries, my sex life was a high-risk mess. Afraid to feel anything, hypersexuality was my last defense. I had to tear its influence to shreds.
Recognizing the problem
Identifying the issue was the first step toward recovery. I had buried it under mountains of denial and rifling through the rubble took time–and a very patient therapist.
Once she finally got enough visibility to recognize the issue, she handed me the word that would act as a shovel for digging out the problem one tendril at a time.
With a descriptor in hand, I could no longer run away from this “unidentifiable” problem. I had to face up to it and begin the process of deconstructing the associated shame.
This stage began with the most difficult part of all: self-forgiveness, which Weber explains is a powerful tool.
“I am all in favor of self-compassion and curiosity rather than judgment,” she says. “The shame and fear of judgment from others can be brutal and I think self-care asks for kindness, both from others and from within.”
Applying gentleness and compassion to others who had experienced similar things was easy. However, I could not apply the same treatment to my own recovery.
Finding the right therapist was transformative. After dating a few, I found one that had the right combination of expertise in treating sexual trauma, genuine compassion, and the ability to (gently) push me to take responsibility for my own recovery.
She encouraged me to journal as a method of healing. Ejecting thoughts from my head onto a page where I could read and reflect played a huge role in healing my hypersexuality.
The journal was a safe place where I could speak freely without shame overwhelming the words. I even took passages to therapy when some thoughts were too scary to verbalize.
Accepting the root cause and moving forward
Alongside accepting that there is a problem to deal with, facing up to the root cause also took a central role in my healing journey.
Years of using dissociation and emotional detachment as coping mechanisms meant that I was afraid to look at the root causes of my hypersexuality. Each time I experienced a new trauma, it joined the others in a lockbox.
I had to get deeply introspective to understand what the abuse’s roots had grown into.
“Be curious about why this is happening in your life right now, and look for clues in your history,” advises Weber. “But also think about the way it leaves you feeling — is it about vitality? Excitement? Connection? Consider other ways of getting these things. Underneath any compulsive desire is a bigger longing that is worth considering.”
The repeated incidents of sexual violence I experienced were the initial trigger for my hypersexuality, however, they had evolved beyond simple cause and effect. My trauma responses were the ultimate culprit.
In a twisted way, I saw hypersexuality as a way to heal my relationship with sex. I leaned into it to reclaim my bodily autonomy. It felt as though the more I wanted it, the more I could prove that I wasn’t damaged or unfixable.
Instead, these behaviors deepened the initial wounds, salving them with toxins and elongating my healing journey by years.
So I rewound even further to suck all the poison out and rebuild a sexual foundation built on trust, safety, and consent. It’s still an ongoing process but hypersexuality no longer dominates my approach to sex.
I still thrive on sexual and intimate connection but it’s no longer shrouded in shame or dictated by hypersexuality. Sex is now a safe place to explore my desires and I am working every single day to make sure it stays that way.