For Sex Addicts, Porn Can Get You High

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For Sex Addicts, Porn Can Get You High

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If your partner claims to be addicted to porn, like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s title character in Don Jon, you may think he’s just making excuses (and trivializing the term “addiction”). But brain research has turned up yet another potentially relationship-saving revelation: sex addicts watching their favorite clips on XTube or RedTube actually get “high” in the same way as drug users do.

Pretty Sweet Science Project

Cambridge University scientists studied a group of 19 men who described themselves as sex addicts, monitoring their brain activity with fMRI while they watched a series of videos that alternated between porn and sports. Sounds like the average guy’s dream afternoon.

“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,” head researcher Dr. Valerie Voon explained. “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.”

And They’re [Getting] Off!

When X-rated content was onscreen, three areas got triggered in the subjects’ brains. One was the ventral striatum, which processes reward and motivation—it’s the carrot-and-stick part of your brain. The second area, the dorsal anterior cingulate, is associated with the anticipation of rewards and craving in drug users. The third region, the amygdala, processes the meaning of events and emotions. These are the same parts of the brain that literally “turn on” when someone takes a dose of an addictive substance.

Meanwhile, in the control group of “healthy volunteers” (aka non- sex addicts), watching porn failed to push the same neural buttons. Supposedly one in 25 adults struggle to control their sexual compulsions or obsessions to the point that it adversely affects their lives, jobs and relationships.

Need Versus Pleasure

The researchers also wanted to see if there was a difference between wanting sexual stimulation and actually enjoying it. As many addicts know, it’s not that we really like our drugs of choice any more than anyone else does once we’re actually on them. It’s just that the compulsion to use them is so all-consuming. This is called “incentive motivation” in psych speak. Similarly, when asked to rate how much they enjoyed the videos, the sex addicts didn’t like them any more than the non-addicts had, despite reporting a higher level of sexual desire while watching.

We’re Gonna Need More Porn

So is porn really addictive? Well, not necessarily. The researchers urged the public not draw any hasty conclusions (though they’re bound to anyway). “Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition [of sex addiction],” Voon said. “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.”

The trouble with good science is that more research is always needed. But in this particular case, it’s unlikely they’ll have trouble finding more research subjects.

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About Author

Erica Larsen

Erica Larsen blogs at Whitney Calls and CleanBrightDay and is working on one book too many at the moment. She lives in Los Angeles with an enormous cat.

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