Philanderers may need a new excuse for extramarital affairs. A new study from researchers at UCLA reveals that sexual “addiction” may be nothing more than a strong sexual desire.

The study, recently published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, had researchers measuring the brain responses of “hypersexual” individuals who had problems regulating their reactions to sexual images. The results show that individual brain responses were not related to levels of hypersexuality but, rather, to sexual desire.

The American Psychiatric Association purposefully excluded “sexual addiction” from its most recent edition of the psychiatrists’ guide to diagnosing mental disorders – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – effectively rendering it void as an official disorder.

Nicole Prouse, senior author of the study, says:

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

There were a total of 52 people who took part in the study, 13 female and 39 male, each of whom reported having problems “regulating their viewing of visual sexual stimuli.” Researchers showed the individuals 225 color pictures that fell under four categories:

  • Pleasant sexual
    a man and a woman “interacting through sexual activities”
  • Pleasant non-sexual
    activities such as skydiving
  • Neutral
    simple portraits, for example
  • Unpleasant
    mutilated bodies, for example.

While the individuals viewed the images, researchers collected brain wave data, specifically event-related responses, using electroencephalography (EEG).

The researchers were most interested in investigating what happened around 300 milliseconds after each picture materialized – known as the “P300” response. This measure is traditionally used in studies involving addiction and impulsive behavior. According to the study, the P300 response is higher when an individual sees something particularly interesting to them.

The researchers predicted that the individuals’ P300 responses to the sexual images would spike, given that their self-reported reaction to sexual images was characterized as an addiction. But researchers found instead that P300 responses did not spike or decrease in relation to the severity of the individuals’ hypersexuality.

Nicole Prouse says:

The brain’s response to sexual pictures was not predicted by any of the three questionnaire measures of hypersexuality.”

“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.”

The study’s authors note that there are implications for understanding hypersexuality as high desire, rather than a disorder. Many relationships have suffered as a result of so-called sex addictions, so understanding how responses to sexual stimuli can be managed is important.

In 2012, one of Nicole Prouse’s colleagues at UCLA conducted a study that contradicts her findings, suggesting that sex addiction is a legitimate mental disorder. But Prouse notes that the study did not use biophysiologic data, as hers does.

She adds: “If our study can be replicated, these findings would represent a major challenge to existing theories of a sex ‘addiction.'”