Are You Over-Sexed or Under-Sexed?

How sexually active you are is not just a matter of biology. It has a lot to do with how you were taught to relate to your own sexuality as well as what you believe about sex. In this post I will explore the psychology of both extremes, over-sexed and under-sexed, with the assumption being that the so called ‘normal’ sex drive is somewhere in the middle.

Let’s start with the over-sexed person. This is someone who has sex on his or her mind all the time. Sex is the way he or she relates to others. For some over-sexed people, sex is an addiction like any other. We know this by the way their extreme sexual focus makes their lives unmanageable.

Relationships for the over-sexed person are usually temporary or concurrent. Temporary meaning relationships exist for the purpose of ‘getting off’ and are easily substitutable. Concurrent relationships are all going on at the same time and all focused on sex. Apart from a biology on overdrive, what is going on psychologically in a person living an over-sexed lifestyle?

For some people, sex is used like an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication. It keeps at bay unwanted thoughts and feelings. And sex can be such a consuming preoccupation for the over-sexed person that the experience of finding a partner, having sex, and moving on to another dominates everything he or she thinks, feels, and does.

There are younger periods in life where the emphasis is largely on procuring pleasure. Relationships are often short lived, experimental, with sexual attractiveness controlling consciousness. When a person is over-sexed, he or she experiences this period in life more intensely than most and for a longer period of time. Reducing such a person’s preoccupation with sex runs the risk of exposing him or her to emotional experiences they believe they can’t handle.

If an over-sexed person is able to risk the experience of looking inside, one of the rewards will eventually be better sexual experiences freed of the burdensome imposition of psychological pressures and problems. Eventually the over-sexed person should mature into a focus on relationship, or at least they’re supposed to. Sex for sex sake takes a backseat to relationship. Notice I said ‘backseat’ and not out of the car. The idea is not to stop having sex and experiencing pleasure. The idea is to make your sexual experience deeper and more meaningful by having it in an intimate love relationship.

You see over-sexed sexuality can only bring but so much pleasure and gratification. The reason for this inherent limitation is the absence of intimacy. The kind of intimacy I’m talking about is only possible in a love relationship. Most of the over-sexed people I’ve treated struggled with intimacy. For one reason or another, their past negative experiences of intimacy interfered with this progression from over-sexuality to relationship. Once the underlying intimacy conflicts were dealt with, sex was freed to remain a pleasurable interpersonal activity without having to also function as an obsessive compulsive distraction.

As for the under-sexed person, the natural need for sexual pleasure is being interfered with by what was learned in the family of origin and/or institutions whose purpose is to teach morality. The under-sexed person is reacting to his or her psychological issues by diminishing or in some cases eradicating their attraction to and interest in sex. The outcome is similar to the over-sexed person in the area of emotional intimacy. The decrease or absence of sexual activity often signals an increased distance from others and a decrease in emotional intimacy.

Throughout history, human beings have struggled with conflicts about sex. Sexual experience, being such a powerful motivator of human activity, has been a common focus of all kinds of psychological and physical control. For the most part, sexual freedom has usually been associated with a loss of control and illness. What is missing is a broadly acceptable conception of a mature and sexually free human being.

Regardless, the loss of sexual interest that can occur when sex is viewed with prohibitions, suspicion, or disgust, is a common source of unhappiness and depression. The family of origin can discourage sexual activity for reasons beyond those that support individual maturation. For example, sex can be viewed as a dangerous activity because it has the power to challenge family bonds. If the family of origin is not prepared to emotionally and perhaps physically separate from its offspring, sexual prohibitions are one way to discourage and delay this progression.

The problem is, this isn’t very healthy. It basically falls in the category called stunting the emotional health of your children. Another common example is teaching women that their bodies are not theirs in someway. That someone else or something else, like familial, governmental, or religious institutions, have the right to control what a woman can or cannot do with their own bodies.

When these external inhibitors are working well you have an accompanying suppression of sexual interest. When they do not, you can have over-sexed reactions to the loss of personal freedom. Isn’t the cure for under-sexuality is more sex? Simple enough, right? Sorry. The fail-safe that the inhibitors put in is the toxic guilt feelings that occur when an under-sexed person strays from the under-sexed path.

Guilt is a particularly difficult psychological phenomena to extinguish. You see, guilt is not just guilt, it’s the relationship you have in your head with the person or institution you are  attached to. The guilt feeling it only the surface phenomena telling you you’ve strayed and tormenting you for it. It’s what people do to themselves after the guilt shows up that is particularly important and sometimes scary.

Ordinarily, if you do something ‘wrong,’ you’ll feel guilty, then comes the hidden ‘consequences’ if you persist in doing wrong. The hidden consequences can range from sickness to injury. Usually, people don’t make the connection between guilt and what comes after it. They just figure they’ve mastered the guilt by not paying much attention to it, and what I’m calling consequences are separate and unrelated.

The real cure for under-sexuality is to separate yourself from the source of your guilt. You get at that by answering the question, who in my head taught me to feel guilt when I’m interested in sex? When you figure out you don’t need that person’s (or institution’s) voice in your head like you used to (or never did), it’s like pulling up a weed and keeping a lookout for evidence that it might have spread to other areas of your lawn.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan






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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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