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

Related Comentaries

The Initiation and Development of Cybersex Addiction: Individual Vulnerability, Reinforcement Mechanism and Neural Mechanism (2019): Excerpt analyzing Steele et al., 2013

Link to full study –  The Initiation and Development of Cybersex Addiction: Individual Vulnerability, Reinforcement Mechanism and Neural Mechanism (2019) Excerpt critiquing Steele et al., 2013: First, Steele et al. (2013) found that individuals with viewing of visual sexual stimuli (VSS) induced a greater amplitude of the P300 component when viewing erotic images than when […]

Is Nicole Prause Influenced by the Porn Industry?

Introduction In 2013 former UCLA researcher Nicole Prause began openly harassing, libeling and cyberstalking Gary Wilson. (Prause has not been employed by an academic institution since January, 2015.) Within a short time she also began targeting others, including researchers, medical doctors, therapists, psychologists, a former UCLA colleague, a UK charity, men in recovery, a TIME […]

John A. Johnson on Steele et al., 2013 (and Johnson debating Nicole Prause in comments section under his Psychology Today article)

Steele et al., 2013 spokesperson Nicole Prause conducted several interviews about her July, 2013 EEG study on people complaining of having difficulties controlling their porn use. Commenting under the Psychology Today interview of Nicole Prause, senior psychology professor emeritus John A. Johnson said: A gap in logical inference Submitted by John A. Johnson Ph.D. on […]

Peer-reviewed critiques of Steele et al., 2013

Background: Steele et al., 2013 On March 6th, 2013 David Ley and spokesperson Nicole Prause teamed up to write a Psychology Today blog post about Steele et al., 2013 called “Your Brain on Porn – It’s NOT Addictive“. Its oh-so-catchy title is misleading as it has nothing to do with Your Brain on Porn or […]

‘High desire’, or ‘merely’ an addiction? A response to Steele et al. by Donald L. Hilton, Jr., MD*

Donald L. Hilton, Jr., MD* Department of Neurosurgery, The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio, USA Published: 21 February 2014. Link to original paper Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 2014. © 2014 Donald L. Hilton. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to […]

"Don’t Call it Hypersexuality: Why we Need the Term Sex Addiction," By Linda Hatch, PhD

What does it mean to say that sex addiction “exists” or “doesn’t exist” apart from the fact that denying its existence or rebutting the denials can get you your 15 minutes of fame. A diagnostic term is always a provisional construct, a tool for organizing information about phenomena we are trying to understand and work […]

UCLA’s SPAN Lab Touts Empty Porn Study As Ground-Breaking (Critique of Steele et al., 2013)

[This was first published in July, 2013 as a reply blog post to a “Psychology Today” blog post that featured an interview with Dr. Nicole Prause, spokesperson for Steele et al., 2013.] The full study: “Sexual Desire, not Hypersexuality, is Related to Neurophysiological Responses Elicited by Sexual Images” (2013) This EEG study was touted in the media as […]

Misinformed Media Touts Bogus Sex Addiction Study, by Robert Weiss, LCSW & Stefanie Carnes PhD

Why the media takes one bad study and distorts its conclusions for shock value. Published on July 24, 2013 by Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S in Love and Sex in the Digital Age In a nationally distributed study published last week, a group of researchers argued that what is often termed as “sexual addiction” could be […]