Sex addiction and the brain

How does the brain operate during sex addiction?

minute read

Sexual impulse is natural.

But when sex starts to preoccupy your thoughts, gets in the way of intimacy with your partner, or affects your work and finances, your libido has become problematic. So can we map different kinds of sex addiction in the brain? And what treatments are possible that can help sex addicts control sexual compulsions? We examine here, and invite your feedback, comments and questions at the end.

How can sex be addictive?

Although experts still do not agree on what to call sex addiction, it does seem clear that some people (a majority of whom are men) have difficultly controlling their sexual responses. In these people, it seems that certain chemical are released in the brain during and just after sexual release which alter mood. Just like a drug, these endorphins stimulate pleasure centers in the human brain and can be addictive. This means that repeated sexual behaviors trigger chemical exposure which can alter brain chemistry to the point that more of the chemical is “required” in order to feel “normal.” Thus, a sex addict continues his cycle of seeking, engaging in and never feeling satisfied with sex.

Causes of sex addiction in the brain

At the moment, no single biological cause is thought to cause sexually compulsive behaviors. Little scientific evidence exists among people diagnosed with sexual compulsion, including brain imaging studies or neurotransmitter studies.  In fact, sex addiction is not as well understood as drug use and brain changes.  However, preliminary findings suggest that:

1. Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain may trigger the expression of dis-inhibited behaviors, which could partially explain the increased sexual activity along with decreased control among people with neurological conditions that involve temporal lobes and mid brain areas (seizure disorders, Huntington’s disease, dementia, etc.)

2. Cases of hyper sexual behavior have been noted among people who are on stimulants which increase the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain.

3. It is possible that regions of reward and pleasure in the brain are affected by sex hormones and facilitate or enhance the response to sex and the desire for sex in sex addicts.

Overriding the sex response

As outlined in the new book A COUPLE’S GUIDE TO SEXUAL ADDICTION: A Step by Step Plan to Rebuild Trust & Restore Intimacy, it is possible to override the instinct we have to seek pleasure. In fact, it is the power of the reasoning brain that can help sex addicts stop acting out sexually and control impulses. The authors recommend understanding biological influences to start to control urges and impulses. Then, you can choose attachment, bonding and commitment as alternative expressions of sexuality and start to live in reality instead of a fantasy world.

How do you do this?

Through lots of practice, self-growth, and guidance a certified counselor who specializing in treating sexually compulsive behavior. Often, sexually compulsive behaviors have roots in our family of origin, as we learn as children through the modeling of our parents. Recovery from sexual addiction includes uncovering the feelings, thoughts and beliefs of the past and replacing them with more healthy ones. Knowing that you are lovable helps you rebuild trust, control and self-esteem that is necessary in recovery from sexual addiction. But you need to be willing to do the work.

Sexual addiction and the brain questions

Do you still have questions about sex addiction and the brain? Do you think that you or your partner is a sex addict and want to learn more? Please leave us your questions or comments below. We try our best to respond to all queries with a personal response, or refer you to experts who can help.

Reference Sources: PubMed: Preliminary investigation of the impulsive and neuroanatomical characteristics of compulsive sexual behavior
PubMed: Understanding and Managing Compulsive Sexual Behaviors
A Couple’s Guide to Sex Addiction: A step-by-step plan to rebuild trust (2012)
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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