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Is sex addiction the real deal?

A new study suggests people with a co-called addiction may just have a particularly high libido…

Russell Brand has spoken openly in the past about his own 'sex acciction'.
Russell Brand has spoken openly in the past about his own 'sex acciction'.
Image: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment

A NEW STUDY has suggested those suffering from a sex addiction may not be addicts at all – they could just have a high libido.

The research published yesterday was conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

For the first time ever, UCLA reearchers have measured how the brain behaves in so-called hypersexual people who have problems regulating their viewing of sexual images.

The study found that the brain response of these individuals to sexual images was not related in any way to the severity of their hypersexuality but was instead tied only to their level of sexual desire.

In other words, hypersexuality did not appear to explain brain differences in sexual response any more than simply having a high libido, said senior author Nicole Prause, a researcher in the department of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

A diagnosis of hypersexuality or sexual addiction is typically associated with people who have sexual urges that feel out of control, who engage frequently in sexual behaviour, who have suffered consequences such as divorce or economic ruin as a result of their behaviours, and who have a poor ability to reduce those behaviors.

But, said Prause and her colleagues, such symptoms are not necessarily representative of an addiction — in fact, non-pathological, high sexual desire could also explain this cluster of problems.

Responses to sexual image stimuli

One way to tease out the difference is to measure the brain’s response to sexual-image stimuli in people who acknowledge having sexual problems. If they indeed suffer from hypersexuality, or sexual addiction, their brain response to visual sexual stimuli could be expected be higher, in much the same way that the brains of cocaine addicts have been shown to react to images of the drug in other studies.

The study involved 52 volunteers: 39 men and 13 women, ranging in age from 18 to 39, who reported having problems controlling their viewing of sexual images.

Volunteers were monitored while being shown sets of photographs chosen to evoke either pleasant or unpleasant feelings.

Result

Reasearchers expected to see responses that would relate to measures of hypersexuality in the brain but instead found they were only linked 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,” Prause explained.

While this study does not completely blow sex addiction out of the water, Prause said that if it can be replicated, the findings would represent “a major challenge to existing theories”.

Read: Female mammals can choose the sex of their offspring by controlling sperm>

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