Study Questions Notion of Sexual Addiction

Study Questions Notion of Sexual Addiction

You’ve no doubt heard of sex addiction if you follow sports (Tiger Woods), music (Kanye West) or Hollywood (Michael Douglas). But is it a real addiction, the same as drug or alcohol dependence? One study says no.

Related: Have you ever considered sex therapy?

Looking for clues in the brain
Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, recruited 39 men and 13 women between the ages of 18 and 39 who said they had trouble controlling their use of pornography. The participants completed questionnaires on their sexual behaviors, desires and compulsions, which confirmed that they had scores consistent with sex addiction. Then the researchers showed the subjects a range of photographs meant to evoke pleasant and unpleasant feelings -- including romantic and sexually explicit images – and analyzed their brain responses.

The scientists reasoned that if a person were truly addicted to sex, sexual images would evoke the same brain activity that pictures of cocaine produce in people who are addicted to that drug, for example. But the images did not. The study concluded that "hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido." The study was published in the journal Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology.

Related: Find out how sexual dysfunction can be prevented.

Don't be afraid to seek treatment for sex addiction
In addition, sex addiction was left out of the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (considered the go-to text for defining mental disorders), so experts continue to grapple over whether the problem is a true addiction, a mental health disorder or something else. Whatever the cause, if you or someone you love suffers from compulsive sexual behavior, don’t hesitate to seek treatment. Sex addiction behaviors may include:

  • Compulsive self-stimulation (masturbation)
  • Multiple affairs (includes extra marital affairs)
  • Multiple one-night stands
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Excessive use of pornography
  • Unsafe sex
  • Cybersex
  • Soliciting prostitutes

Doctors can then assess your behavior with screening tests and help treat it with therapy. There are even programs like Sexual Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous -- modeled after 12-step programs -- that are available throughout the United States. Keep in mind that data is lacking on the effectiveness of these programs, but they do provide a place for camaraderie, support, structure and accountability. Plus, they're free to attend.

Related: You can overcome anxiety about sex therapy.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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