"Sex addiction" always sounded a little like "the dog ate my homework," and now science is a mounting a case against the clinical-disorder hopeful. A new study — the very first of its kind — compared the brains of people struggling with sexually compulsive behavior to those of actual alcohol and drug addicts. It hypothesized that the neural activity of these so-called sex addicts would increase when viewing pornographic images, because that's what happens to addicts when they look at their drugs of choice. But what it found was...nothing. No significant correlations, no mirror images, no leftover sandwiches. It was a bust.
The case is far from shut, though, as the findings ask more questions than they answer. Like, does this change how we see and talk about addiction? Where does this leave gambling, shopping, and food addictions (also known as process addictions)? Do we really want to categorize sexuality deviating from the norm as a "disease," "disorder," or "mental illness," since we all know that's a slippery and treacherous road? Or, are we making this more complicated than need be? Is it just a question of semantics? Could a rose by any other name still end a marriage or end up on the cover of Us Weekly?
“One of the big problems with the term ‘sex addiction’ is that it immediately assumes that you can apply the same kinds of research methodologies and treatments that you would use for substance addiction,” Eli Coleman, M.D., director of human sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Slate. “There are no sex receptors in the brain to develop tolerance and dependence, as there are with alcohol and drug addiction.”
Dr. Coleman goes on to say this rationalization is a bit too simplistic, because sexual compulsion is extremely complex and not yet understood well enough. So, basically, here's where we're at: Sex addiction, or whatever you want to call it (you wouldn't be wrong, since it doesn't have an accepted name yet) may not be a clinically defined addiction, but that doesn't mean it's not a legit problem. And, we agree — both for those who suffer from it, and those who suffer from them. (Slate)