A new study published in the PLOS One journal states the brain activity in drug addicts is similar to that in sex addicts. Sex addicts are those who experience a compulsive sexual behaviour and indulge excessively in pornography, they suffer from a lot of sexual desire and are obsessed with sexual feelings, thoughts and desires.
Researchers say that pornography in itself is not addictive. The study was conducted by the University Of Cambridge. They looked at 19 patients affected by compulsive sexual behavior and compared their brain activity with normal, healthy volunteers of the same age. The study states that indulging in a lot of pornographic images might be a few symptoms of sexual addiction.
Dr Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the University of Cambridge, explained, "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." In many ways he stated they showed similarities in their behaviour to patients with drug addictions. The research was to observe if the similarities reflected in the patient's brain activity as well.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) was used to monitor the patient's brain, which uses a blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal to measure brain activity. The participants were shown sexually explicit content and sports videos. Researchers said that the three areas in the brain that showed high levels of activity were the same regions active in drug addicts when shown images of drugs. The three regions in the brain are related to different feelings, ventral striatum is associated with reward and motivation, dorsal anterior cingulated is connected to drug craving and amygdale regulates emotions.
Researchers found that incentive motivation was also strong in sex addicts, this is a condition when drug addicts seek drugs not for pleasure or because they enjoy it but simply because they want it. There was also a relation between age and brain activity, the younger patients experienced higher brain activity in the ventral striatum and vice versa.
"There are clear differences in brain activity between patients who have compulsive sexual behaviour and healthy volunteers. These differences mirror those of drug addicts. Whilst these findings are interesting, it's important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn - or that porn is inherently addictive," says Dr Voon. She suggests further research tto understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behaviour and drug addiction.
Dr John Williams, head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said, "Compulsive behaviours, including watching porn to excess, over-eating and gambling, are increasingly common. This study takes us a step further to finding out why we carry on repeating behaviours that we know are potentially damaging to us." He explains that whether it is tackling sex addiction, substance abuse or eating disorders, knowing how best, and when, to intervene in order to break the cycle is an important goal of this research.