At present, there is still controversy surrounding the idea that a person can be addicted to sexual behaviours (such as watching pornography) – but now scientists are looking into brain activity to try and uncover the truth.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge performed brain scans on 19 men with sex addiction while they watched pornographic videos. The scans showed that the same reward centres of the brain were activated as when addicts see their drug of choice.
Two of the participants had lost their jobs as they watched pornographic material at work. Four said that porn is a gateway drug that leads to fetishes and escort agencies. All participants were obsessed with sexual thoughts, but it is still uncertain as to whether or not they can be considered addicts in the same way that a smoker is addicted to nicotine.
Some experts believe those claiming to be addicted to sex have traits similar to those with impulse control or obsessive compulsive disorder.
When compared to brain scans of those without an addiction, a clear difference was however found. Those with an ‘addiction’ to sex showed heightened activity in three areas of the brain: the dorsal anterior cingulate, the amygdala and the ventral striatum. These areas are known to become active when addicts see their drug of choice.
Dr Valerie Voon, a researcher from the University of Cambridge, said:
“This is the first study to look at people suffering from these disorders and look at their brain activity, but I don’t think we understand enough right now to say it is clearly an addiction.
“We don’t know if some of these effects are predispositions, meaning that if you have greater activity in these areas are you more likely to develop these behaviours or if it is an effect of the pornography itself – it’s very difficult to tell.”
While it is still unclear whether or not someone can be addicted to sex, this study is a welcome first step into understanding the condition.