New evidence indicates that sexual addiction is real -- the brains of those with compulsive sexual behaviors “light up” when watching pornography in a way that the brains of people without addiction don’t.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain activity of 19 people with a sex compulsion to an equal number of healthy subjects. Both groups watched pornography.
Valerie Voon, MD, PhD, a neuropsychiatrist and fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, the researchers found that in the group with sexual addictions, participants' brain activity acted in the same way that drug addicts’ brains did after they took drugs. Three brain regions with increased activity in the sexual addiction group – the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala – are involved in craving and reward.
“There is no question [these people] are suffering,” said Voon. “Their behavior is having a negative impact on multiple levels of function, especially social function, and… they are unable to control their behaviors.”
Sexual addiction is not mentioned in the DSM-5, as there is not a formally accepted definition of the condition. But this may change in light of this new research.
“I think [ours is] a study that can help people understand that this is a real pathology, this is a real disorder, so people will not dismiss compulsive sexual behavior as something moralistic,” Voon said. “This is not different from how pathologic gambling and substance addiction were viewed several years ago. People are experiencing a disorder they need help for, and resources should be put towards funding this and treating this.”
The debate over whether sex addiction actually exists may be put to bed by a new study that peers into the brains of those with compulsive sexual behaviors. Researchers at the University of Cambridge used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to compare the brain activity of 19 people with compulsive sexual behaviors to that of the same number of healthy subjects while both groups watched pornography.