Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Can people really be addicted to sex?

By Neil Levy

Is there a neurological basis to hypersexuality?

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Is sex addiction real? That is, is it really a disorder, involving diminished control over behaviour?

Questions such as these are difficult to answer because it’s always difficult to distinguish diminished capacity to resist a temptation from a diminished motivation to resist. People who tell us they literally can’t resist might be deceiving themselves, or they might be looking for a convenient excuse.

There are two ways we can attempt to discover whether people who say that they can’t control their behaviour really are suffering from some kind of diminished capacity.

First, we can gather as much behavioural evidence as possible: with enough evidence, we might be able to build an overwhelming case that a group of people genuinely suffer from diminished capacity.

When we see the costs – social, financial, physical and psychological – that drug addicts pay to continue using, we have good reason to think they have a diminished capacity to resist.

The second way we can proceed is to use scientific evidence that bypasses people’s reports about what they can and can’t do. Again, the case of drug addiction is a good example: some of the neurological changes in the brain of addicts seem to be changes in areas involved in self-control.

What about sex?

Recently, a group of researchers at UCLA...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.