Hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain differences in sex
July 19, 2013 12:55 PM   Subscribe


I'm confused. If someone has a desire for sex that is higher than they want and it is causing them psychological trauma then isn't that a sexual addiction - ie a traumatic unwanted compulsion? It seems pretty clear to me that this is a "real thing" and that if they can't find the trigger in the brain that only means they haven't found it yet, rather than sexual angst doesn't exist. So I'm probably not understanding this or the title "study questions the existence of sexual addiction" is misleading, because it would be pretty difficult to question observable destructively compulsive behavior.

Can someone cut through the academic and explain what they found?
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2013

It sounds from reading the links as if there might still be people with a higher-than-normal compulsion to consume pornography, but that their compulsion is unrelated to the effect the porn has on them? Am I reading that right? In other words, it's not like alcohol abuse but it's still a thing?
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:10 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

ishrinkmajeans, I think the key is right in the abstract of the second link, where it states
If these individuals exhibit habituation, their P300 amplitude to sexual stimuli should be diminished; if they merely have high sexual desire, their P300 amplitude to sexual stimuli should be increased
If I'm reading that correctly, it means that people who are addicted to a stimuli become habituated, meaning that more potent stimuli are required to evoke a high P300, which, according to Wikipedia, is "event related potential (ERP) component elicited in the process of decision making."

So, my interpretation is: If porn is boring, that's because you're addicted. If porn's exciting, that's because you're horny. If you do a lot of porn and you have a high p300, you're not addicted, you're just hornier than most.
posted by rebent at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thanks rebent. I guess I agree with all those statements and they make sense to me except the definition of "addiction" rather than something more neutral like "ERP habituation". If you do a lot of porn and it causes psychological trauma (as defined by the person in question) then that would seem to be a form of addiction. So there seems to be some sort of editorializing here.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 1:44 PM on July 19, 2013

well I guess that's getting into the semantics of it. I think it really depends on how the researchers define "Addiction," which, because I don't have access to the full article, I can't find. Personally, I think there's a difference between an addiction and a bad habit, but I know that others disagree.
posted by rebent at 1:56 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cue. Routine. Reward.
posted by absentian at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2013

"I'm not a sexual deviant, it's just my P300 amplitude acting up again."
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:03 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some of this seems to be the "age-old" issue of what to call / how to treat non-"physical" addictions. Gambling, sex, etc. I mean, the main Q&A doesn't claim people aren't having issues, just seems to be questioning exactly what to call and treat it, which seems about right (and its not like treatment for other addictions is some completely-understood solved problem).

Whether you want to call it addiction, compulsion, bad habit, etc --- things like gambling and sex can clearly be strong desires that harm peoples live and that not everyone finds easy to stop.

I mean, the actual study was: "We hypothesized that the P300 response to the sexual images would be predicted by a person’s sexual desire level, as this has already been reported by other scientists. We also predicted that measures of hypersexuality might relate positively or negatively to the P300. "

So they found it didn't, which doesn't even prove that there's not a "physical" brain component to sex addiction or hypersexuality, just that what they studied (which they chose because there was a correlation with this for heroin addicts) showed no correlation.

As usual, the headline on a science article seems to claim WAYYY more than the actual Q&A / report does.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:31 PM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seems to me this is still an unsettled debate. For example, supranormal stimulus considered context neuroplasticity
posted by C.A.S. at 12:41 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This study is kind of not good. The subjects are people who self-report problems with looking at porn, and not people who are being treated for hypersexuality. Their finding that the p300 ERP component is higher for looking at saucy pictures than for neutral pictures has been observed before. Since they don't include a control sample in their study, we don't know if the difference between the p300 amplitude for sexy vs unsexy pics is larger or smaller for their "addicted" sample than it is for general population. They ran a bunch of correlations against survey data and came back with a single weak correlation that appears to be driven in part by an outlier. They don't mention how they corrected for all those comparisons that I can see, so even the one weak correlation isn't worth much of anything.

So from where I'm sitting, it appears that the authors approached a controversial topic with poor methods to generate questionable data that they spun into a headline-grabbing interpretation. Move along, folks, nothing to see here except some good ol' fashion neurosciencing.
posted by logicpunk at 3:33 AM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

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