Does sex addiction exist?
New research suggests people who believe they are addicted to sex might simply have heightened libidos.
Published this week in the journal Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, the study suggests that “sex addiction” may not be a physiological disorder, but simply high sexual desire.
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked 39 men and 13 women to look at sexual and non-sexual images while measuring their neural responses. These 52 people reported having trouble controlling how often they looked at pornography. The experiment was similar to studies that monitor the brains of drug addicts as they view “image cues” of their drugs of choice. It explored if sex can be addictive like nicotine, heroin or other narcotics.
When scientists looked at neurons firing in the brains of their chronic porn viewers, they did not see evidence of the addict – or at least they could not track brain activity similar to that of other addicts when they employed EEG, which measures electrical activity along the scalp. Their brain responses correlated only with their levels of sexual desire, but not with the severity of their habitual porn viewing.
“Their brains did not respond to the images like other addicts to their drug of addiction,” study author Nicole Prause told Psychology Today. “Hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain differences in sexual response any more than just having a high libido.”
The Daily Mail seized on the study to gleefully call out male celebrities who have claimed sex addiction had a hand in their infidelities – Tiger Woods, Russell Brand and so on. Perhaps “I cheated on you because I have a ravenously high libido” doesn’t ring as well as doctor-approved sexual addiction.
Still, 52 study participants is hardly representative, although the research does follow recent thinking on the controversial issue of sex addiction and its clinical moniker “hypersexuality,” which remains unrecognized in the bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Revised this past spring, the DSM-V does not hold hypersexuality up as an official diagnosis; the only mention of the disorder appears in the appendix under “conditions that require further research.”
“Alas, it looks like being super horny will not classify as a psychiatric disorder this time around,” Gawker’s Adrian Chen wrote then.
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