New Study Shows Sex Addiction Can Be Seen In Your Brain
Sex addiction is a hotly debated subject—scientists and doctors have yet to officially classify the disorder—but a new study may change the way we look at this issue. Researchers found similarities in the brain activity of sex addicts and drug addicts, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS One.
The research analyzed the brain activity of 19 healthy men and 19 men with compulsive sexual behaviors (characterized by an obsession with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviors that affects your health, job, or other areas of your life) as they watched a variety of videos. The imagery ranged from sexual, erotic, or exciting to neutral with scenes from internet pornography, erotica, extreme sports, and landscapes. As the men viewed the videos, their brain activity was assessed using an MRI. They were then asked how much each clip increased their sexual desire and how much they liked what they saw onscreen.
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Compared to the healthy subjects, the men with compulsive sexual behavior had higher activity in three regions of the brain when exposed to explicit stimuli. And a greater activation in these regions is linked to reward processing, which has been associated with addiction, says study co-author Marc N. Potenza, Ph.D., M.D. This may explain why hypersexual men showed brain activity that mirrored the way a drug addict's brain responds to drug stimuli.
Researchers also found that hypersexual men reported greater sexual arousal to the explicit visuals but did not necessarily rate them high on the "liking" score. "Something that may be initially more pleasure-driven may over time become more habit-driven and compulsive," explains Potenza. As with other addictions, at a certain point, just because you want something doesn't mean you like it.
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Although these new findings help bring us a step closer to understanding sex addiction, they are far from conclusive and do not prove that sex or pornography are addictive in the same way that drugs are. Potenza confirms that many more studies need to be done. After all, it's hard to measure the actual behavioral implications of something like this—it's much easier to monitor brain activity while participants watch a video than it is while they're actually having sex.
And while this study only included male subjects, recent research has found that hypersexuality is just as likely to be a female problem, and the signs are far more similar to hypersexual male behavior than we previously thought. If you suspect you have a problem, here are a few ways to find a good therapist.