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Porn Creates "Drug Addiction" Brain Patterns in Sex Addicts

Update Date: Jul 11, 2014 04:47 PM EDT
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For some people, sex is just as addictive as drugs. Brain scans reveal that pornography triggers the same brain activity as drug addiction in sex addicts.

Researchers believe that as many as one in 25 adults are addicted to sex. The condition, called compulsive sexual behavior, is characterized by obsessive sexual thoughts, feelings or behavior that cannot be controlled. Sexual addiction could really interfere with an individual's personal and work life, and could lead to depression and anxiety.

After analyzing the brain activity of 19 male patients affected by compulsive sexual behavior and 19 controls, researchers found that three brain regions were significantly more active in the brains of the people with compulsive sexual behavior when exposed to pornography.

"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," researcher Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge, said in a university release. "In many ways, they show similarities in their behavior to patients with drug addictions. We wanted to see if these similarities were reflected in brain activity, too."

Previous studies also show that these activated regions, the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala, are also activated in drug addicts exposed to drug stimuli.

Participants were also asked to rate the level of sexual desire they felt whilst watching the videos. They were also asked to rate how much they liked the videos.

While patients with compulsive sexual behavior exhibited higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos, the study showed that they did not rate them higher on liking scores. Researchers said the latest findings support previous studies on drug addiction.

"There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behavior and healthy volunteers. These differences mirror those of drug addicts," added Voon. "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."

"Compulsive behaviors, including watching porn to excess, over-eating and gambling, are increasingly common. This study takes us a step further to finding out why we carry on repeating behaviors that we know are potentially damaging to us. Whether we are tackling sex addiction, substance abuse or eating disorders, knowing how best, and when, to intervene in order to break the cycle is an important goal of this research," researcher Dr. John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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