-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News) -- Sex addiction has often
made headlines, with celebrities blaming their romantic foibles on
the condition. However, a new study questions the notion that
people can truly be "addicted" to sex.
The new study from the University of California, Los Angeles,
suggests that self-professed "addicts" may simply have a high sex
"It is the first time scientists have studied the brain responses specifically of people who identify as having hypersexual problems," study senior author Nicole Prause, a researcher in the department of psychiatry at UCLA, said in a university news release.
Sex addiction is typically diagnosed in people who have sexual
urges that feel out of control, who engage frequently in sexual
behavior, who have suffered consequences such as divorce or
economic ruin as a result of their sexual behaviors, and who have a
poor ability to reduce those behaviors.
However, the existence of sex addiction is controversial and it
was not included in the recently updated Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered the "bible" for
diagnosing mental disorders.
In the new study, Prause's team analyzed brain responses in 39
men and 13 women, aged 18 to 39, whose scores on questionnaires
about sexual behaviors and habits were similar to those of people
who typically sought treatment for sex addiction, also called
"The volunteers were shown a set of photographs that were carefully chosen to evoke pleasant or unpleasant feelings," Prause explained. "The pictures included images of dismembered bodies, people preparing food, people skiing -- and, of course, sex. Some of the sexual images were romantic images, while others showed explicit intercourse between one man and one woman."
The thinking behind the experiment was that if a person was
truly addicted to sex, images of sexual activity would produce a
spike in brain activity -- in the same way that images of cocaine
have been shown to alter the brain activity of people addicted to
However, "the brain's response to sexual pictures was not
predicted by any of the three questionnaire measures of
hypersexuality," according to Prause. "Brain response was only
related to the measure of sexual desire. In other words,
hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual
images any more than just having a high libido."
The study was published online this month in the journal
Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology.
"Potentially, this is an important finding," Prause said. "If our study can be replicated, these findings would represent a major challenge to existing theories of a sex 'addiction.'"
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about
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