Study Suggests Sex Addiction Isn’t a Real Disorder

C. Price

Written by: C. Price

C. Price

C. Price is part of's content team. She writes advice articles, how-to guides, and studies — all relating to dating, relationships, love, sex, and more.

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

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New research from UCLA is raising questions about the legitimacy of sex addiction.

While commonly diagnosed by some professionals, many psychologists have long challenged whether it meets the true criteria of an addiction.

According to the study, the brain activity associated with addicts is not seen among people with sexual impulse difficulties, even at higher levels.

“You have to think, what makes something an addiction?” said lead author Nicole Prause, of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Prause points out that calling this an “addiction” can frequently mean misdiagnosing the actual condition at play.

“There are a number of additional burdens present for it to be described as something more than just a high sex drive,” she said.

“Brain activity associated with addicts is not seen

among people with sexual impulse difficulties.”

Researchers recruited 52 participants for the study, individuals who self-reported as having problems controlling the impulse to look at sexually explicit material. Their individual levels of “hypersexuality” were determined based on questionnaires.

Their brain activity was measured while viewing a montage of stimulating images. Even among those determined to have higher hypersexuality, the brain activity associated with addiction was not observed.

“In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido,” Prause said.

Prause and her colleagues are promising to continue the research, hoping to better understand the science and the behavior. Though she does warn about attaching the wrong label and how it can present unintended negative consequences.

“(With addiction) there’s the mentality of ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’ If you think ‘I always have to be careful about what I do sexually; if I slip, I could relapse,’ you could end up harming yourself rather than helping,” she said.


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