News / Health

Sex, Drug Addicts Have Similar Brain Responses

An image of activity in a human brain
An image of activity in a human brain
Jessica Berman

Compulsive sexual behavior, commonly known as sex addiction, affects as many as one in 25 adults. 

In these individuals, depictions of pornographic behavior trigger brain activity that’s similar to what is seen in the brains of drug addicts, according to findings by researchers at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

However, researchers say this does not necessarily mean pornography is physically addictive.

Investigators asked 19 individuals with diagnosed sex addiction and 19 healthy volunteers to watch a series of short videos featuring either sexually explicit content or sports while their brain activity was monitored using high tech brain imaging.

Called function magnetic imaging, fMRI measures blood oxygen levels in the brain as an indication of activation in different regions.

The researchers found that three regions in particular were more active in the brains of the people with compulsive sexual behavior. The activated regions included the dorsal anterior cingulate, which is implicated in anticipating rewards and drug craving.

In another measure comparing desire versus liking what they saw, the sex addicts showed higher levels of desire while viewing the sexually explicit videos, rather than enjoying the images. Similarly among drug addicts, there is drug-seeking behavior because they want, rather than like, alcohol and drug abuse.

Studies have shown sex addicts begin watching pornography at a younger age and view more of it than normal individuals.

 

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