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This is your brain on sex: Study says viewing pornography akin to drug addiction

The brain activity of an individual who compulsively views pornographic material and the brain activity of an individual who is addicted to drugs is very similar, according to a study conducted at the University of Cambridge. The results of the study could lend credence to claims of sex addiction and the various familial and social ills that have been associated with the highly questioned disorder.

Red Orbit reported (via The Raw Story) July 13 that University of Cambridge researchers distanced themselves from actually drawing the conclusion that their findings were definitive in the area of sex addiction, they did point out that the research indicated heightened brain activity among cumpulsive pornography viewers in the same cerebral area as that of individuals addicted to drugs.

Study co-author Dr. Valerie Voon explained in a statement: “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, they show similarities in their behavior to patients with drug addictions. We wanted to see if these similarities were reflected in brain activity, too.”

She later clarified in an interview with BBC News that although the study was the first of its kind to study this type of sexual behavioral disorder, she doesn't think enough is understood at present to label the disorder an addiction.

"We don't know if some of these effects are predispositions," Voon said, "meaning that if you have greater activity in these areas are you more likely to develop these behaviours or if it is an effect of the pornography itself - it's very difficult to tell."

The study itself consisted of comparing the brain scans (via functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI) of 19 self-describing male volunteers who admitted to an obsession with sexual thoughts and behaviors with the brain activity patterns of healthy individuals, or, rather, those who did not have compulsive inclinations toward sexual thoughts and behaviors. What study authors discovered was that so-called sex addicts had higher levels of activity in three parts of the brain: the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and the amygdala. The sexually compulsives were also found to have started watching pornography at younger ages, not to mention in higher proportions to that of the healthy volunteers.

Sex addiction seemed to became a go-to excuse for males in Hollywood for a few years but trailed off after considerable skepticism was cast on the idea. "The X-Files" and "Californication" star David Duchovny famously checked himself into rehab in 2009 and cited his need to become less sex-obsessed. For a while, there was a virtual train of celebrities claiming sex addiction as their reasons for scandalous behavior: singer Eric Benet, pro golfer Tiger Woods, and actors Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas.

And then there was the 2013 study from a research team at UCLA that found that the sexually compulsive might be more the victims of a lack of self control than an actual addiction or disorder.

That's the way it stood -- sex addiction looked upon as a convenient excuse for those who wanted to indulge a hyperactive libido -- for almost exactly a year. But now it would appear that the latest study from the University of Cambridge has reopened the debate...

The study, "Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours," was published in the journal PLOS ONE July 11.