Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images

Abstract (Full study)

Background: Modulation of sexual desires is, in some cases, necessary to avoid inappropriate or illegal sexual behavior (downregulation of sexual desire) or to engage with a romantic partner (upregulation of sexual desire). Some have suggested that those who have difficulty downregulating their sexual desires be diagnosed as having a sexual “addiction”. This diagnosis is thought to be associated with sexual urges that feel out of control, high-frequency sexual behavior, consequences due to those behaviors, and poor ability to reduce those behaviors. However, such symptoms also may be better understood as a non-pathological variation of high sexual desire. Hypersexuals are thought to be relatively sexual reward sensitized, but also to have high exposure to visual sexual stimuli. Thus, the direction of neural responsivity to sexual stimuli expected was unclear. 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. Neural responsivity to sexual stimuli in a sample of hypersexuals could differentiate these two competing explanations of symptoms.

Methods: Fifty-two (13 female) individuals who self-identified as having problems regulating their viewing of visual sexual stimuli viewed emotional (pleasant sexual, pleasant-non-sexual, neutral, and unpleasant) photographs while electroencephalography was collected.

Results: Larger P300 amplitude differences to pleasant sexual stimuli, relative to neutral stimuli, was negatively related to measures of sexual desire, but not related to measures of hypersexuality.

Conclusion: Implications for understanding hypersexuality as high desire, rather than disordered, are discussed.

Vaughn R. Steele, PhD1,2, Cameron Staley, PhD3, Timothy Fong, MD4 and Nicole Prause, PhD1,4*

1The Mind Research Network, Albuquerque, NM, USA; 2Department of Psychology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA; 3Counseling Center, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID, USA; 4Department of Psychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

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