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Brain Scans Cast Doubt on "Sex Addiction"

Sex addicts' brains don't respond to sexual images in the way that drug addicts' brains respond to images of drugs, researchers find.

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Is sex addiction in the eye of the beholder?
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By Victoria Kim

07/18/13

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Whether or not sex addiction is "real" has long been debated. The latest version of the DSM does not include sex addiction, and says only that the diagnosis of "hypersexuality"—a condition associated with out of control sexual urges and a high frequency of sexual behavior—demands further research. Now, researchers have examined for the first time whether the brain's response to sexual imagery can be predicted based on symptoms of hypersexuality. In the first step towards determining whether sex can be seen as addictive as drugs like heroin or nicotine, researchers examined a group of 39 men and 13 women who reported having trouble controlling their porn use or regulating their viewing of sexual stimuli. The researchers predicted that these self-identified "sex addicts" would exhibit the same neural responses when presented with visual stimuli (porn) as drug addicts do when viewing their drug of abuse. But the sex addicts' brains did not mirror drug addicts' brains' response to the visual stimuli—leading the research team to conclude that the data does not support a theory of "pathological hypersexuality." "Hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain differences in sexual response any more than just having a high libido," says study author Dr. Nicole Prause, assistant research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA. But she adds that more research is needed before sex addiction can be dismissed entirely.

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