nymphomaniac

[ nim-fuh-mey-nee-ak, nim-foh‐ ]
/ ˌnɪm fəˈmeɪ niˌæk, ˌnɪm foʊ‐ /

noun

a woman who has abnormally excessive and uncontrollable sexual desire.

adjective Also nym·pho·ma·ni·a·cal [nim-foh-muh-nahy-uh-kuhl] /ˌnɪm foʊ məˈnaɪ ə kəl/ .

(of a woman) afflicted with abnormally excessive sexual desire.

VIDEO FOR NYMPHOMANIAC

WATCH NOW: What Is The Origin Of The Term "Nymphomaniac"

The term nymphomaniac may sound dirty or risque today. But back in Ancient Greece -- well, it also was dirty and risque. Take a look at the origin story of this word!

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does nymphomaniac mean?

A nymphomaniac is a woman, though occasionally a man, with an uncontrollable desire to have lots of sex, especially with different partners. It can be both a positive or pejorative term, depending on context.

Content warning: the following content includes references to sexual activity.

Where did the term nymphomaniac come from?

The word nymphomaniac ultimately comes from Greek roots that give us nymph and mania. The Ancient Greek source of nymph meant “young woman” or “bride,” and may be most familiar in the form of beautiful, powerful, sexualized, mythological maidens. Mania literally means “frenzied madness,” seen in words like pyromania or egomania.

Nymphomania is found in the early 1700s, its noun form, nymphomaniac, in the 1820s. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some doctors treated nymphomania as a disease and sent women to hospitals or asylums for horrific surgical treatments. They were mostly perfectly healthy—just, in the full force of double standards, not conforming to the sexual norms of the day.

In his 1955 classic Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov has his adult male protagonist call his 12-year-old obsession, Lolita, a nymphet. As linguist Christen Helper found, the novel helped increase both nymphet and nympho, a shortened form since the 1930s, in the mainstream. As women gradually became more open about their sexuality, they were more often called nymphomaniacs, implying they were sexually promiscuous.

Nymphomania is not a formal disease name. Hypersexuality (sex addiction) is a recognized affliction affecting all genders and sexual orientations, and those affected with it may get called nymphomaniacs in popular culture.

While nymphomaniac is occasionally for men, it is mostly a gendered, when not outright sexist, term for a “female sex addict” or a woman perceived as promiscuous. There is a male equivalent, but it is rare: satyriasis, after the mythic, sexualized satyr.

In 2013–14, director Lars Von Trier released an epic, erotic, and darkly funny two-part film called Nymphomaniac, recounting the many sexual experiences of a woman and self-described nymphomaniac.

Who uses the term nymphomaniac?

As noted, nymphomaniac usually refers to a woman. When women use of it themselves, it is usually sex-positive for a high libido and openness to many sexual partners.

When men use it of women, it can be used in desire, for a partner who wants to have frequent sex, or denigration, just like a fancy word for the slur “slut.”

Nymphomaniacs are also, unsurprisingly, common in pornography.

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for nymphomaniac