Sex Addiction May Not Exist, Scans Embarrassingly Show

Sex addiction has long been viewed through a skeptical lens, as many assume the disorder is simply a lack of sexual control or even disinclination to sexual fidelity — and while that assessment is a bit judgmental, new research seems to indicate that the condition is not necessarily akin to other addictions.

The new sex addiction research was published in the most recent issue of Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, and described research out of UCLA headed up by psychologist Nicole Prause.

Prause and her team exposed 53 participants who self-identified as hypersexual to a series of images set to induce certain emotions. Images ranging from disturbing and non-sexual to sexy were included, and electroencephalography (EEG) measured brain activity within a measurement of milliseconds — 300, or P300, a standard used in measuring addictive behaviors in previous research.

In a statement, Prause said the sex addiction research revealed that subjects did not display any neurological proof of genuine addictive response in the EEG tests:

“The brain’s response to sexual pictures was not predicted by any of the three questionnaire measures of hypersexuality… 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.”

The blog i09 explains that while sex addiction isn’t fake just yet in the view of science, the findings may actually be helpful and not harmful to hypersexual people in the long run:

“What it does do, however, is lend credence to the longstanding criticism that labeling hypersexuality as an addiction merely stigmatizes sexual behavior that is deemed socially unacceptable. Similar debates have been waged over what, exactly constitutes a sexual fetish. What does it say about psycho-clinical views of sexuality when a study like this one concludes that people who are into BDSM (which, unlike sexual addiction, is included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), are in fact more psychologically healthy than those who aren’t?”

Prause and her team write that sex addiction as a clinical term might serve to “[pathologize] normative, socially unaccepted, sexual behaviors… and that the “data appear consistent with that perspective.”