Inside the Mind of a Sex Addict
Sex is unavoidably apparent in American society; it’s on our televisions, in our advertisements and the subject of frequent research and speculation. On Friday, July 11 2014, Health Day News released the results of a new study on sex addicts. Sex addiction, or compulsive sexual behavior, has been shown to affect approximately 1 in every 25 adults. Author Dr. Valerie Voon, of the University of Cambridge in England, did a comparative analysis on the brain activity of 19 diagnosed men versus a control group of 19 men without the disorder watching pornography. Her study looked at three parts of the brain; the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala. All of which are involved in motivation, drug addiction and satisfaction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (Drugabuse.gov) defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease identifiable by compulsive drug seeking and use, with complete disregard of consequences. They consider it a disease because drugs change brain structure and function. These changes can be long lasting, devastating and lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors. Addiction is also problematic because it can cause withdrawal sickness; disruptive, seizure-like tantrums, and fevers among many other symptoms. What Valarie discovered was comparable. When watching anything pornographic, the men with compulsive sexual behavior showed similar activity in the three brain regions discussed earlier to drug addicts. Both groups were also shown sports footage, which elicited a much different result; none of which could be tied to addiction. It’s also worth mentioning that the men defined as sex addicts started watching pornography at a much younger age then those of the other half of this study. Additionally, they watch a greater volume at a higher frequency.
“The patients in our trial were all people who had substantial difficulties controlling their sexual behavior and this was having significant consequences for them, affecting their lives and relationships. In many ways, they show similarities in their behavior to patients with drug addictions,” said Voon. “We wanted to see if these similarities were reflected in brain activity, too.” She continued, “Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn or that porn is inherently addictive. Much more research is required to understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behavior and drug addiction.”
Regardless, understanding the brain activity of a sex addict can lead to the advancement of therapeutic treatment. Anyone diagnosed with compulsive sexual behavior is not just a pervert; they have a clinically recognized problem that is harmful to their life. These are people that need help. Voon’s research is a step in the right direction and hopefully after more research, those with compulsive sexual behavior can lead better lives.