I think the term 'nymphomaniac' is an artifact from before the sexual revolution permitted women to express their own sexuality outside marriage.

A nymphomaniac was any woman who had a strong, or uncontrollable sex drive. But the term came about in an era where "Good Girls Don't". Ony men could have non-marital sex without social consequences. Men wanted to marry virgins, and often shunned women who were not, even if they were the person the woman had sacrificed her maidenhood too. This stereotype was weakening rapidly, but still persisted when I entered high school in the early seventies. Much of the discussion of public discussions of nymphomania as a psychological disease took place in the late sixties, as the birth control pill and other methods of effective contraception allowed most women to choose sex without pregnancy.

It is for this reason that in her book The Female Eunuch that Germaine Greer encouraged women to have sex with men and lots of it. Non-marital sex was encouraged as a rebellious act in an era where a woman's sexuality was still under male control. Most women did not follow Greer's dictum- for obvious reasons- but women began experimenting with sex. Women also began demanding sexual pleasure. In the 1960's, the ideal form of sex involved conventional intercourse with both partners enjoying simultaneous orgasm. Now, I've done that and it's great, but it isn't common even between skilled and devoted partners. Oral sex was not publicly discussed until late in the sixties and especially in the seventies with the publication of The Joy of Sex.

It is important to remember that sex is fun for both men and women. Sexual pleasure for women was not a major social concern until the sixties because it had nothing to do with conception, and because American society was- and to a lesser extent still is-- a patriarchy. If men were concerned with giving women sexual pleasure, it was primarily to encourage them to go 'all the way' before the sexual revolution asserted that mutual sexual pleasure was both a woman's right and man's pleasure. But even in the seventies, the stigma that "good girls don't" remained strong, with promiscuous women shunned even by other women.

In that context, a nymphomaniac was any woman who regularly enjoyed casual sex. Nymphomaniacs were sought after by men as short term dates--- read old issues of Playboy Magazine and you will see the references to nymphomania that have all but disappeared today.

So why might a woman enjoy regular casual sex? First of all, it's fun and they can. Only very charismatic men or rock stars can find a steady supply of willing sex partners. A pretty woman can do that easily. Most do not, because sex is risky and because something so easily obtained is of little value. The quality assumption is so deeply ingrained that many women don't seem to feel much desire in the absence of a romantic partner.

But sex is fun, and as such a potential form of gratification. Sex can win you attention, and for emotionally needy people that may seem a good trade. Many so-called nympomaniacs are people who combine a strong sex drive with a need for intimacy. Others are simply women who have decided that the conventional social structures need not apply. They want the right to choose their lovers, to celebrate platonic relationships through touch, and simply to savor their sexuality.

So, no Virginia, there are no nymphomaniacs. There are just women, in all their wonderful variety. Men call women nymphomaniacs when they do what men wish they could do.

I suppose there's no "official" definition of the term now that it's no longer a formal psychiatric diagnosis. Maybe in the beginning it wasn't anything more than a symbol of the double standard applied to the sexes. Still, I think we need a word for people whose desires go so far beyond normal that they land themselves in trouble. Nymphomania's as good a word as any.

I once knew a girl whom I'd call a nymphomaniac. Don't get the wrong idea--I don't mean "know in the Biblical sense." I was lucky enough to realize that that would be a bad idea. And I don't mean that she was just horny or popular, or merely enjoyed having multiple partners. I mean that she was ill.

When I was a freshman in college, a girl named Kellie lived down the hall from me. Psychologists, eating-disorders counselors, media critics, and other well-intentioned folks spend lots of time trying to convince people that bodies like Kellie's don't exist in real life. She had thick white-blonde hair that fell to her waist; it was straight but always silky, never stringy or tangled. Her skin was creamy and smooth, without a single blemish. Her body had not a millimeter of flab, and her curves screamed out for your hands. Her breasts were cuddly and big and perfectly shaped, and they stayed up on their own, without the help of a bra. Her eyes looked clear and blue from a distance; when you looked closely, you'd see that they were flecked with gray.

She came from a devout Christian family somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. Her mother stayed at home; her father served his church as an evangelical Presbyterian minister. Kellie was their only child.

She didn't like wearing clothes. She would often prance around with the door open, and sometimes she'd venture into the hall. Her roommate Tara found this a bit disconcerting, and would usually come to hide in my room when Kellie was in one of her nudist moods. That's how I came to learn so much about Kellie's life.

Within the first week of the semester, she'd found herself a boyfriend. For a little while this guy thought he was the luckiest man alive, and he'd brag to everyone that he was dating a hot blonde chick who was absolutely insatiable in bed. Two weeks later, he understood what "insatiable" really meant. She'd drag him out of class or ambush him late at night. She'd keep him in her bed for hours and hours, whether or not Tara was in the room. They'd finish, and two minutes later, she'd want more. They'd go at it three, four, five times in a row until he just couldn't any longer, but it still wasn't enough for her. He started to avoid her, and she panicked. She'd work herself into a crying fit and call him, asking him if he loved her. He'd say yes, of course, but ten minutes later, she'd be on the phone to him again. Eventually, he couldn't take it any longer, and he dumped her. I never saw him in our dorm again.

Tara had petitioned for a new roommate, but the housing office had told her that they were suffering from an unexpected housing crunch. So she essentially moved into my room. This was great for Tara, but it made Kellie desperately lonely. During fall recess, when most students had left campus, Kellie reached the breaking point. Early one morning she stumbled naked into the next room and threw herself on Meghan, who was lying fast asleep. She smothered her with kisses and pawed at her breasts. "I want to spend the day in bed with you," she whispered. "I want to know someone loves me." Somehow, Meghan broke away and managed to let her down easily. She considered filing charges, or sending her to the doctor, but never did.

Some weeks later, I caught some sort of vicious stomach flu, and Tara moved back into her own room for a while to avoid contracting it herself. The room was cramped, and they'd stacked the beds; Tara had the top bunk. Late one night, she woke to the sound of whimpering. Her bed shook once, then shook again much harder. She thought that Kellie was having a nightmare, and looked over the side of the bed.

Kellie's naked body was writhing on top of the covers, lit by the orange glare of the streetlight outside. One hand clutched her breast; the other was buried in the shadows between her legs. Her hands clenched once, hard, and she moaned as her face twisted into a grimace. She thrashed from side to side, her back arched, but she still held on tight. The bunk beds creaked and rocked, and Tara hung on to the bedpost. She called out to Kellie, pleading with her to wake up, to get control of herself, to stop before the beds collapsed. But Kellie didn't hear. Her hands moved faster and her moans grew louder, and finally, with a strangled scream, her head snapped up, her body convulsed, and her leg shot out and slammed into the bedpost with a splintering crack.

Tara screamed a curse and hurled herself out of bed, crashing into her trunk on the floor. Kellie took a deep breath, and her hands slowed and stopped. She lay still for a moment, and then her eyes slowly opened and met Tara's. As Tara stared at her, wondering what to say, Kellie's face contorted again and she started to cry. She wailed that she was sorry, she couldn't help it, she was a bad girl, a cheap slut who was headed straight to hell. Tara mumbled something--she doesn't remember what. (After all, what does one say? Miss Manners doesn't exactly cover this sort of thing.)

Kellie lifted her hands to wipe her eyes--and then shrieked as she noticed that they were covered in blood. She clutched at Tara, smearing blood all over her arm, moaning that it hurt and she needed to go to the doctor right away. Tara asked what the problem was, wondering if Kellie had cut her leg or cracked her head. Kellie pointed between her legs; her inner thighs were streaked with blood. Tara assumed that Kellie was experiencing a perfectly normal female condition and couldn't understand why she was so upset. But Kellie obviously wasn't going to calm down, and Tara agreed to take her to the hospital.

She got Kellie a pad to absorb the blood, but when Kellie went to press it to herself, she flinched and pulled it away. Then Tara looked more closely and realized that there was nothing normal about this kind of blood. Kellie had rubbed herself too much and too hard, with too little lubrication. Her skin was cracked and raw; her thighs and pelvis were mottled with bruises. On the car ride to the hospital, she could barely sit down, but still she couldn't stop. Over and over, her hand crept between her legs, and then when she made contact she'd gasp in pain and pull it away.

I'm told that for a little while, at least until the sedatives hit, they had to bind her hands. Even then she pleaded with the hospital staff, begging them to rub her down there until the fire between her legs was quenched. When that failed, she tried to trick them into touching her, constantly asking them to wash her with warm water or put on just a little more lotion. Then she turned on the tears and begged the staff for a kiss, or a hug, or just a touch.

It's easy to imagine her lying on a gurney, her face haloed with tousled blonde locks, and her pale blue eyes streaming with tears. I can imagine hearing a quavering voice coming from the corner of the room, plaintively calling for someone to help her because she just feels so alone and scared. (Aren't they doctors? Don't they want to help her?) I can picture her face twisted with fear and bewilderment and confusion, her soft pink lips trembling as she wept. An ER's a busy place, and there are lots of people walking around. Maybe one of them gave in. I don't know, and I don't know what would've happened if they had. I only know that they cleaned her up, put her back on meds, and discharged her to her parents' care.

After that, Kellie left school for the rest of the semester. She did come back the following year, but we'd all moved on to new dorms and new interests. I saw her only rarely, and chose not to say hello. I did hear that she was mostly fine as long as she took her medication. Still, I can't envision her holding down a regular job or raising a family. I have a vague worry that she'll end up as someone's trophy wife, since she did seem to be rather popular among the pigheaded frat-boy set. I'd rather not think about why.


This story is true, or as true as any memory can be. I've only changed the names.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.