If you are curious about the link between manic depression and sexual crimes, there is definitely something you need to know . . .
But it may not be what you think!
Research shows that a person with manic depressive illness (bipolar disorder) is much more likely to be a victim of a sex crime than the perpetrator!
Sadly, this pattern first shows up in childhood.
In 2000, researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington found that bipolar people were far more likely to have been victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Although, as it typical in general, women reported higher rates of sexual abuse than men, male bipolar subjects demonstrated a significantly increased rate of sexual abuse and combined sexual and physical abuse compared with unipolar male subjects.
What this research by the Washington University doctors boils down to is that people with manic depression, both male and female, suffer from higher rates of childhood sexual abuse, and although this is, as usual, more common for women, men with manic depression suffer particularly elevated rates of abuse.
Often this behavior is quite out of character and ceases when the bipolar person obtains treatment or passes out of the manic phase.
It is well documented that one of the most common features of a manic episode is hypersexuality.
Hypersexuality is the tendency for a bipolar person to:
- have a greatly increased sex drive
- to be preoccupied with sex
- have compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies,
- and to be promiscuous or unfaithful.
One example is the targeting of vulnerable young bipolar women by sexual predators. Manic depression increases sexual awareness and activity among teens, and this, combined with all the other vulnerabilities of their mood disorder, makes teens easy targets for predators.
A teen experiencing a manic episode may be flirtatious, have a high libido, and have all the sexual compulsions and poor impulse control and impaired judgment of a bipolar adult. This makes them easy prey, and so far the research indicates a higher likelihood of becoming a victim.
Bipolar hypersexuality in the young MAY lead to participation in a sexual crime such as engaging in underage sex, prostitution, or disseminating Internet pornography, but in these scenarios the young person is unwell and is being exploited. This link between manic depression and sexual crimes is not the same as saying bipolar people are more likely to the perpetrators of sexual crime.
Please do not think that I am minimizing the pain caused by the sexually inappropriate behavior that is so common in mania!
When manic, the bipolar person is likely to hurt a loving spouse or partner in many different ways. I ruined my wonderful relationship of 12 years when I was manic through my compulsive cybersex. It is the most shameful thing in my life and my greatest personal regret. (You can read about it in About Me.)
Others are unfaithful, become addicted to pornography, make frequent offensive sexual comments, flirt inappropriately, and so on. There are many ways manic hypersexuality can destroy a relationship and bring pain to the bipolar person's loved ones and family.
However, while these behaviors are very destructive, and sinful according to most spiritual perspectives, only a few are criminal. Examples of criminal would be accessing child pornography or visiting prostitutes in a region where prostitution is illegal.
The evidence does not indicate a significant proportion of bipolar people engage in sexual crimes such as rape and other sexual assault.
Of course, all this is not to say there is NO connection between manic depression and sexual crimes - please read on.
One reason many people are developing a popular understanding that there is a link between manic depression and sexual crimes is because of certain high profile news stories.
For example, the 2004 scandal where Florida middle school teacher Debra Lafave, 25, had sex with one of her 14-year-old male students. Lafave immediately linked manic depression and sexual crimes by blaming her actions on her bipolar disorder.
A newspaper article strongly disputed LaFave's claims and suggested that female sex offenders get more lenient legal treatment. According to the article:
"Bipolar Disorder (manic-depressive illness) affects close to two million adults in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The website stated side effects include being easily annoyed, angry mood, and abrupt swings of mood and energy. Nowhere does information about the disease back up Lafave's statement of why she had sex with one her students."
This is not strictly true as the common bipolar cocktail of increased libido, uncharacteristic or "weird" sexual compulsions, impaired judgment and high impulsiveness, arguably, all symptoms that could contribute to such inappropriate actions.
Another example, from August 2000, is Mary Kay LeTourneau, 36, a schoolteacher who pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape for having a sexual relationship (and a baby) with a former student, a 13-year-old boy. Initially given a commuted sentence of only six months, LeTourneau was discovered with the boy, their baby, a large stash of cash, and her passport immediately after her release. She was subsequently sent back to prison to serve a her full 7 1/2 year sentence.
However, in commenting on the connection between manic depression and sexual crimes, psychiatrists stated
LeTourneau committed a sex crime because of delusions occasioned by her illness--a distinction with important implications for her therapy.
It is hard to know what to make of all this. A real difficulty is in sorting genuine from bogus claims in the post-twinkies defense era when juries and judges are deluged with defenses regarding mental illnesses that everyone should know more about - but does not.
Read this if you dare. It really it is pretty weird.
(Click here if you need to know what paraphilia is.) I am including it, however, for 3 reasons:
1. It applies to a SINGLE case - a possible exception that probably tells us nothing about links between manic depression and sexual crimes.
2. It admits that in a controlled study of the elderly male sexual offenders, it was concluded their crimes were associated with personality factors rather than mental illness.
3. The article also tells us that in a retrospective study of sex offenders with bipolar disorder, a mood stabilizer helped to improve the manic symptoms but was not effective for the paraphilic symptoms. This suggests a separate condition may be responsible for their perversity - in other words, no linkage between manic depression and sexual crimes.