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The University of California, Los Angeles, recently released a study on sexual addiction - a controversial condition that supposedly leaves people unable to control themselves in sexual contexts. By looking at hypersexual subjects' brain responses, researchers found that sex addiction is on par with a high libido.

The study defined sexual addiction as a condition that causes individuals to follow through on out-of-control sexual urges, despite any risk factor. Those afflicted with hypersexuality often jeopardize their marriages, jobs and relationships. Researchers noted that sex addiction often renders people unable to combat their behaviors.

Researchers examined the brains of subjects who reported a sexual addiction, taking note of how they reacted when shown sexual images. This is the first report of its kind that took into account how brain activity changes as self-identified sex addicts are shown sexual images. The study revealed that the participants' brain responses when exposed to such images did not correlate with the level of their hypersexuality, but was linked only to the severity of their sexual wants.

Nicole Prause​, senior author of the study, said that the findings imply that hypersexuality does not necessarily explain brain differences in sexual response any more than just having a high sex drive.

Potentially, this is an important finding, noted Prause. It is the first time scientists have studied the brain responses specifically of people who identify as having hypersexual problems.

The author went on to state that the report suggested that hypersexuality is not an addiction, but rather that non-pathological, high sexual desire causes the problems associated with so-called sex addiction.

Brain responses of self-identified sex addicts

To determine whether a subject had sexual addiction, the researchers used cocaine addicts' brain responses when shown images of the drug as a point of reference for how hypersexual patients' brains were expected to look. The researchers used 52 participants who acknowledged having sexual problems. The volunteers were between the ages of 18 and 39: 39 were men and 13 were women. The researchers had them fill out surveys to determine their sexual habits, desire, urges and the consequences of their sexual actions. Their answers were similar to those given by sex addicts.

Researchers observed the participants' brain waves with electroencephalography as they were shown the sexual images. Each image sought to illicit a specific response, ranging from pleasant to unpleasant.

The brain's response to sexual pictures was not predicted by any of the three questionnaire measures of hypersexuality, said Prause. Brain response was only related to the measure of sexual desire. In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido.

Prause noted that the report would need to be replicated in order to confirm their findings, but she was confident that the study was a large step in challenging the existence of sex addiction.

Sexual addiction and STDs

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, about 12 million individuals have a sexual addiction in the U.S. The association attributes the rising number to the increasing availability of sexual material.

The Sexual Recovery Institute reported that sexual addiction has several serious consequences, ranging from suicidal thoughts to the contraction of serious sexually transmitted diseases. They noted that affected individuals' risks of HIV infection, genital herpes, syphilis and gonorrhea is much higher than those who do not engage in risky sexual behavior.

Anonymous STD testing is available for those who are concerned about their sexual health, but are trying to avoid running into neighbors or coworkers. Anyone who has multiple sex partners should consider getting STD tests regularly.

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