Naming the Tiger Woods Syndrome

The naming of sexual excess-from satyromaniac to hypersexual disorder. Though he's still an amateur by the standards of Wilt...

The naming of sexual excess-from satyromaniac to hypersexual disorder.

Though he's still an amateur by the standards of Wilt Chamberlain, who famously claimed to have slept with 20,000 women, Tiger Woods is without a doubt the current poster boy for being a marauding man-strumpet.

But is "marauding man-strumpet" the best term for a person who has sex as often as I take allergy pills? What about "sex maniac"? "Sex addict"? "Sexaholic"? Maybe the best term is person suffering from "hypersexual disorder," as the draft revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) would have it. There are as many lexical possibilities as Tiger has booty calls, though many terms seem too slangy, too euphemistic, too medical, too offensive, too morally loaded, or just too preposterous. What's a name-caller to do?

Glad you asked. I'm here to guide you through these linguistic landmines-not to give Mr. Woods more crap, but to help you label the lecher in your life. Because we all know one. We also all know the huge list of terms for horny harlots-women's sexuality has long been attacked by sin-or-disease-seekers-so this list will stick to debaucherous dudes.


The nymphomaniac's male counterpart, this word has been in use since the late 1800's, while the condition "satyriasis" has been around since the 1600s. Like many, I was introduced to the concept in The Big Lebowski, courtesy of Maude: "It's a male myth about feminists that we hate sex. It can be a natural, zesty enterprise. But unfortunately there are some people-it is called satyriasis in men, nymphomania in women-who engage in it compulsively and without joy." That movie also produced the term "compulsive fornicator."
Pros: Awesome mythological background related to the Satyr, a literally horny, part-goat, god/demon/beast.
Cons: Will cause a reaction of "huh" and a trip to the dictionary.


This term for a rampaging Romeo is a variation of "priapism," a condition immortalized in erectile-dysfunction commercials, and in the jokes about those commercials. The god Priapus inspired the name, and the Oxford English Dictionary definition gives us a clue why: "A Graeco-Roman god of procreation and fertility, usually represented as a small, deformed figure with an enormous phallus..."
Pros: Like "satyromaniac," the mythological underpinnings are pretty cool.
Cons: Like "satyromaniac," most people won't know what in the name of Zeus you're talking about.

sex maniac

Even though this is ostensibly gender-neutral, you can't spell "maniac" without "man," and it sure sounds a dude to me. I was surprised to see the term goes back to 1893: "That it [sc. the licence for debauchery allowed young men] should end in the wreck of the sex maniac himself and in his own destruction."
Pros: Attention-grabbing. Its flavor is a pleasant mix of slangy and medical-y.
Cons: As a 1971 use shows, the term has a nastier meaning that's closer to "sex offender": "The Jersey sex maniac...was jailed for 30 years yesterday for 13 indecent and sexual offences against young girls and boys." That connotation is a little harsh for someone who's merely a "serial intercourser," as Shirley Schmidt once put it on Boston Legal.

person with hypersexual disorder

When it comes to judging the draft of the DSM-5, I'm about as qualified as The Onion's person-on-the-street who said of the revisions, "If they change which planets men and women are from, I'll be pissed." But I know my euphemisms, and the proposed condition, "hypersexual disorder," featuring "Over a period of at least six months, recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior" seems like a sure nugget of nonsense, medicalizing what a slangster might call "acute horndog-itis."
Pros: Are there any? To an insurance company, perhaps.
Cons: Weapons-grade ridiculousness.

sex addict

This is the term that's most commonly been thrown about during Tiger-gate, and it seems kinda apropos, yet sort of silly. "Sex addiction" has been sparing the feelings of satyromaniacs since the 1950s, when this responsibility-eraser was first recorded.
Pros: Not many. I prefer "sexaholic," or-for the Battlestar Galactica fan-"frakaholic."
Cons: Medicalizes not-so-unusual behavior. Sex addiction, Internet addiction, fantasy football addiction... What's next, bagel addiction?


It feels a tad old-fashioned, but the meaning fits the Tigers of the world to a T: "A man immoderately given to sexual indulgence; a lewd or grossly unchaste man, a debauchee." "Lecher" has been making goo-goo eyes at the world since the 12th century.
Pros: When you say the word "lecher," it feels appropriately bleech-y in your mouth.
Cons: Sounds a little old-coot-ish to me.

I hope these terms help you talk about the salacious sex-nanigans of the promiscuous players, lascivious ladies' men, callous Casanovas, and filthy philanderers in your life. In sex, as with medication, proper labeling is important-especially when someone you love has gone cuckoo for coitus puffs.

Thanks to Joel S. Berson, Charles Doyle, Laurence Horn, Bill Mullins, and Eric Nielsen on the American Dialect Society listserv for their suggestions.