• Wed, Jul 24 2013

Is Sex Addiction An Actual Addiction?

shame sex addiction

I know a lot of alcoholics. I also know a fair amount of people who have been addicted to drugs. I have sat through AA meetings and witnessed withdrawals and held a lot of crying drunk people; even so, I cannot imagine how awful it would be to have a serious dependency on something. However, whenever I hear people discuss sex addiction, I am always admittedly a bit conflicted; on the one hand, I think people can compulsively feel the need to have sex. On the other, perhaps because I have an incredibly basic understanding of the human body, especially the brain, I don’t completely understand exactly how it can be considered an addiction. And because I’ve always heard extremely impassioned arguments from both sides (and considering the DSM 5 doesn’t consider hypersexuality an addiction), I have been even more confused.

Now, a study from researchers led by Nicole Prause at the University of California in Los Angeleshas has looked at the brains of subjects in order to better understand whether hypersexuality is a “true” addiction or not.

The researchers focused on brain wave patterns that occurred about 300 milliseconds after the participants viewed an image, or p300, which measured how interesting or attractive they found that picture. Previous work involving p300 with drug addicts showed that drug-related pictures were far more compelling than other depictions.  Finding similar surges in p300 after the participants viewed sexually explicit images would suggest that excessive sexual activity, like some drug use, might be addictive.

Oddly enough, the scientists discovered that — unlike substance addicts — the participants showed a tolerance, meaning the sex addicts did not find sexual images “more compelling” than others. The scans revealed that the sex addicts’ brains did not show any difference than non-sex addicts.

Regardless of the results of this experiment, compulsively seeking and having sex is still a serious problem. It can negatively impact a person’s career, home life, mood, interpersonal relationships and health. But is the label of “addiction” required to have hypersexuality taken seriously?

“I don’t think this means that they don’t deserve help or are faking or just being jerks,” said Prause. “I don’t know that we need the overlay of addiction.”

Personally, I think it is integral to anyone’s recovery that his or her problems are taken seriously. Experiencing a psychological hold that compels you toward recklessness and dangerous behaviors should never be ignored, no matter how it is labeled.

Photo: Shame (2011)

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  • Katie

    Hollywood is definitely perpetuating the “sex addiction” preoccupation. Because its “compelling” and “gritty” all while being able to include a ton of gratuitous sex. But I don’t really think you can compare it to drugs and alcohol. To do so would be to downplay the seriousness of those types of addictions.

  • Sarah!

    I think it’s probably not accurate to call it an “addiction,” I think it would be better referred to as a compulsion. It’s in the same family as compulsive gambling or shopping, it’s something you can’t stop doing even though it’s ruining your life.