UCLA Study Questions Sex Addiction

By Shawn Dwyer 12/05/13

Adding to the controversy of whether or not sex addiction is real, researchers find that brain scan responses to sexual images may just be related to higher libido.


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A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles this year has thrown more fuel into the fire over whether or not sex addiction – or hypersexual disorder – is a valid medical condition.

On the heels of a 2012 study that declared sex addiction should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), Nicole Prause, a researcher in the department of psychiatry at UCLA, noted that the study did not include neurological data and decided to perform a follow up experiment using brain scans on 52 self-described sex addicts; 39 men and 13 women between the ages of 18 to 39. After filling out a questionnaire, the subjects were shown various pictures – some sexual, some not – while taking an electroencephalography (EEG) scan.

The idea was to test the subjects’ response 300 milliseconds after being exposed to the photographs, hypothesizing that the more addicted to sex that person was, the higher the response. But instead, they discovered that their response correlated to the levels of sexual desire as expressed in the questionnaires. "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," said Prause.

Naturally, skeptics of the UCLA study voiced their concerns, including clinician and author Robert Weiss, who contended the basic premise of those with a high libido don’t necessarily have an addiction to sex. “You can’t define an addiction by what a person eats, what kind of alcohol they drink or whether they play blackjack or craps,” Weiss said. “We look at their life and determine if a substance or behavior is negatively affecting the quality of their life to the point where they need help.”

Linda Hatch, a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist in Santa Barbara, CA, said “sex addicts’ problems stem from their desire to run away from other issues or mask pain. Just like some addicts turn to drugs to ignore their problems, sex addicts use sexual activity.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.