People with so-called "sex addictions" may have patterns of brain activity similar to those of people with drug addictions, a new study finds.
When people in the study who reported compulsive sexual behavior watched pornography, they experienced heightened brain activity in the same regions where activity is heightened during drug use in people with drug addiction.
The study provides evidence in the fierce debate
over whether compulsive sexual behavior - also known as hypersexuality - should be considered a true mental-health disorder, and be included in the DSM-5,
the American Psychological Association's handbook of mental-health disorders.
"There's a large literature that developed over the past three or four decades of how individuals respond to drug abuse, and we wanted to examine within that framework whether we see similarities and differences [to compulsive sexual behavior]," said Dr. Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine who co-authored the new study. Although people with sexual compulsive behavior have shown behaviors similar to those of people with drug addiction, the researchers hoped to find similarities in brain activity as well.
Potenza and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom showed sexually explicit content, such as pornographic videos, to two groups of people - one group of people who reported compulsive sexual behavior and another group who didn't have such compulsions - and took magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images of their brain activity. The goal was to see how their brains responded to sexual and nonsexual cues, Potenza said.