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Satyriasis refers to a disease described in ancient times and now considered fictitious, as well as to a condition recognized by modern psychiatry. Both conditions deal with compulsive sexual activity in the male human. The ancient disease is considered fictitious because it is described as not only bringing about behavioral change (like the condition recognized in the early twenty-first century), but also physical transformation. The disease prompted its sufferer (called a satyr) to shun clothing and to become subject to a lust that was without limit or apparent discrimination in its object. Additionally, the satyr quickly grew excessive amounts of hair on all parts of the body, sprouted horns upon his head, and had his legs and feet transformed into those of a goat, including hooves. This condition is recorded in many texts, and was even a subject for painters over many centuries. The name of the disease, and the physical transformation supposedly accompanying it, are clearly indicative of a relationship to the satyr, a mythological creature.

Satyrs are followers of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine associated with what today might be recognized as carnival morality and licentiousness. Satyrs are known for their lusts for wine and sexual gratification and for their attraction to and pursuit of nymphs, female entities embodying various natural features. While satyrs' sexual tastes are wide-ranging, their preference for nymphs marks them as primarily heterosexual.

The modern condition of satyriasis is similar in many ways to the ancient one, excepting the physical transformation. It alternately has been called satyrism, satyromania, erotomania, and Don Juanism, although these terms are largely out of use. Satyriasis need not have an object other than the satyr himself; compulsive self-gratification is as possible a manifestation as is the desire for sexual gratification with a partner or partners. Don Juanism is specifically a desire for multiple partners who are seduced and abandoned in turn, with no prospect for lasting relationships.

Satyriasis is often considered the male counterpart to nymphomania, a condition in which women experience excessive sexual desire. Neither satyriasis nor nymphomania is recognized as a specific disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM-IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Instead, the more general and gender-neutral term hyper-sexuality is used. It is an impairment associated with frequent genital stimulation. In patients where the stimulation does not lead to sexual gratification, desire for further stimulation can be created, resulting in a cycle that can be debilitating. In patients that do achieve sexual gratification, excessive promiscuity may result, as the desire for gratification is unlikely to be met with a single partner. Such promiscuity can be physically risky as it may lead to a higher incident of unsafe sexual practice and may also involve social risk in cultures that ascribe to normative monogamy.

Hypersexuality can be a debilitating condition, particularly when it is associated with another serious disorder. It is frequently codiagnosed with bipolar disorder and mania, as well as neural dysfunctions such as Kluver-Bucy Syndrome (produced by bilateral temporal lobe damage). There is no conclusive test for hypersexuality and therefore no accurate estimate of its occurrence. Some debate exists about the ability to define the difference between a high libido and hypersexuality. A primary concern is that sexual dysfunctions are classified with a binary system indicating only presence or absence rather than with a scale indicating the degree of dysfunction. Most authorities agree that when the condition becomes uncontrollable, often manifesting symptoms such as spontaneous inappropriate gestures, actions, verbalizations, compulsive masturbation, and debilitating preoccupation with thoughts of sex, hypersexuality requires treatment. Rarely is the sexual activity itself considered injurious, but its primacy in daily activity can lead to serious disruption in the life of the hypersexual. Most often the underlying condition is treated through psychotherapy, although psychopharmacology may be used to control symptoms. Additionally, there are several twelve-step-style programs that claim success in treating what they term sexual addiction, although there is little clinical evidence to support these claims.

Satyriasis differs from hypersexuality in one important way: Satyriasis is a condition based upon excessive sexual desire, regardless of how or if that desire is gratified. Hypersexuality is an excessive degree of sexual activity, whether it is based in actual desire or on some other factor. For instance, a hypersexual may engage in frequent sexual activity as a means of self-validation or in order to combat loneliness rather than as a means of achieving sexual gratification. Satyriasis remains largely a simplification, and to some degree a celebration, of a complex psychological condition.

see also Nymphomania.


American Psychiatric Association. 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th edition. Washington, DC: Author.

Malatesta, Victor J., and Matthew S. Robinson. 1995. "Hypersexuality and Impulsive Sexual Behaviors." In The Psychology of Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Identity: A Handbook, ed. Louis Diamont and Richard D. McAnulty. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Mayo Clinic. "Compulsive Sexual Behavior." Available from

                                         Brian D. Holcomb