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Updated 26 July 2013

Could you be addicted?

Every now and then a celebrity makes the news for raucous sexual behaviour and, ever so often, the scandals and broken relationships are blamed on sex addiction.

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Is sex addiction real, or is it just a lame excuse for bad behaviour?

Every now and then a celebrity makes the news for raucous sexual behaviour and, ever so often, the scandals and broken relationships are blamed on sex addiction. The most recent and famous case is that of Tiger Woods, who was exposed as a serial womaniser and reportedly checked into a clinic for sex addiction treatment. Other famous cases include Charlie Sheen, David Duchovny and Russell Brand.

Sex addiction is best described as a pattern of out-of-control sexual behaviour. Sex addicts struggle to control their sexual urges and often lead a double life which may include an obsessive search for risky and irresponsible sexual encounters, compulsive masturbation and an addiction to pornography. The initial euphoria of sex is often followed by guilt, self-loathing or emptiness. With time, the ongoing obsession starts impacting negatively on people’s lives - destroying relationships, careers and families.

Now a new study claims that there is no such thing as an addiction to sex and that "addicts" may simply have a high sex drive.

A US research team analysed the brain responses of self-reported sex addicts to a set of different images, including explicit sexual photos. The thinking behind the experiment was that if a person were truly addicted to sex, the images of sexual activity would produce a spike in brain activity – in the same way that images of cocaine have been shown to alter the brain activity of people addicted to the drug. The study, however, found that the brain response was no different from that of sexual desire and concluded that highly sexed people may simply have strong libidos.

This is the first study of its kind and more research will need to follow. In the meantime, however, we do know that too much of anything can be very destructive – including sex.

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