Addiction recovery experts have been treating sexual compulsions very similarly to chemical addictions for some time now. However, there has never been any concrete scientific data to suggest the two conditions are similar. Until now. Research recently published in the PLOS ONE journal suggests sexual compulsion may be similar to chemical addiction in the way it affects the brain.

A Cambridge University team led by neuropsychiatrist Dr Valerie Voon carried out the research. The team looked at the brain activity of two groups of men viewing pornography – one group already diagnosed with compulsive sexual behaviour (CSB) disorder and another ‘normal’ control group. They combined that data with information gleaned from survey responses about pornography habits.

The project yielded some very important results:

  • CSB subjects spent 25% more time viewing porn
  • CSB subjects were more likely to have difficulty maintaining personal relationships
  • the reward centres of the brain were more active in the CSB subjects while viewing porn
  • feelings of pleasure and sexual desire were linked more strongly in the CSB subjects. 

While the results of the study are only preliminary, these do shed some light on how the brains of CSB patients work. The research suggests that brain activity is altered by sexual activity, in certain kinds of people, in the same way it is altered by chemical substances including alcohol, heroin, and crack.

Is Its Addiction?

The next question for researchers to answer is whether the behaviours linked with sexual compulsion qualify as sex addiction or not. It is an important question to answer if we are to fully understand how to treat individuals suffering from CSB. Paramount to answering the question is to look at how compulsive sexual behaviour affects personal relationships.

We already know that CSB sufferers have a more difficult time maintaining solid relationships, but now we need to know why. If the behaviour were truly addictive, those suffering from it would still pursue their compulsions even with the full knowledge that they are harming their personal relationships.

For example, one of the symptoms of alcohol dependence is the fact that the individual continues drinking even though his spouse has informed him she will be taking the kids and leaving if he persists. The mind of the addict is so controlled by alcohol that such consequences do not matter. If compulsive sexual behaviour were addictive, we would expect to see the same kinds of attitudes among those suffering from it.

If those attitudes can be linked with how the reward centres of the brain are activated by sexual activity then we could pretty conclusively diagnose and addiction situation. Then we could begin looking for new ways to treat the problem in order to achieve long-term abstinence. Nevertheless, even that is a tricky proposition. A recovering alcoholic maintains his or her recovery by never drinking a drop of alcohol again. Is it reasonable to expect a recovering CSB patient to never engage in sexual activity for the remainder of his or her life? This question is one of the biggest contradictions therapists currently face when attempting to treat compulsive sexual behaviour.

Here at Addiction Helper, we cannot say one way or the other where the research on compulsive sexual behaviour will lead. However, we can tell you that we are here to assist you if you are dealing with a substance abuse or addiction problem. All you need do to avail yourself of that assistance is call our recovery helpline. We provide trained and experienced counsellors more than capable of helping you assess your situation and directing you to proper treatment.

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