Levels of Sexual Excitement, Inhibition Help Predict Sex Addiction

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Relative levels of sexual excitement and sexual inhibition help determine which individuals will develop symptoms of sex addiction, regardless of their sexual preferences or gender, according to recent findings published by a group of German researchers.

Sex addiction is one of the most commonly used terms for a form of behavioral addiction also known as hypersexuality and compulsive sexual behavior. Researchers and doctors still have much to learn about this condition, which currently has no uniformly applied definition in the U.S. In a study published in January 2015 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers from two German institutions examined the roles that sexual excitement and sexual inhibition (the restriction of sexual excitement) play in the development of sex addiction.

Sex Addiction

For decades, researchers and doctors have gathered evidence that indicates that some adults are addicted to participation in sexual activity, sex-related thoughts and/or sex-related fantasies. Under current models developed by the scientific and medical communities, recurring and dysfunctional involvement in sex, sexual fantasies or sex-oriented thoughts qualifies as a form of non-substance-based addiction called behavioral addiction. In a manner closely analogous to the process of substance addiction, behavioral addiction produces long-term functional changes in a part of the brain called the pleasure center and subsequently leads to the onset of a daily routine centered on disruptive, addiction-related priorities.

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) came close to officially defining sex addiction under the heading of a condition called hypersexual disorder. The APA ultimately chose not to finalize a definition for this condition; however, support for the reality of sex addiction continues to accumulate in ongoing research findings. Doctors can use screening tools to identify those individuals most likely affected by a dysfunctional and damaging relationship to sexual activity, thought or fantasy. Examples of sex addiction screening tools include the Sexual Compulsivity Scale, the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory and the Internet Sex Screening Test (a procedure specifically designed to identify people likely dealing with cybersex addiction).

Sexual Excitement and Sexual Inhibition

Broadly speaking, the term sexual excitement refers to the mental and physical reactions that generally healthy adults have when exposed to real-life sexual situations or printed, visual or audio material designed to serve as reminders or representations of sexual situations.  Conversely, the term sexual inhibition refers to mental and physical reactions that counteract or undercut sexual excitement. Researchers have determined that men and women typically have gender-specific patterns of sexual excitement and sexual inhibition. A screening tool called the Sexual Inhibition Scale/Sexual Excitement Scale is designed to measure any given person’s relative tendencies toward sexual excitement and inhibition. Doctors and researchers use different versions of this tool for men and women.

Impact on Sex Addiction Risks

In the study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers from Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz and the Institute for Sex Research and Forensic Psychiatry used a detailed, web-based survey of 1,749 adults to help determine the impact that sexual excitement levels and sexual inhibition levels have on the odds that any given person will develop sex addiction (termed hypersexual behavior by the study’s authors). The researchers based their work on a 19-question screening tool called the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory, which is a shortened version of the 45-question Sexual Inhibition Scale/Sexual Excitement Scale.

The researchers found that 105 of the 1,749 study participants (6 percent) met the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory’s criteria for identifying people with sex addiction. They concluded that sex addiction is adequately measured by this screening tool. The researchers also concluded that their findings support a theory called the Dual Control Model, which states that every person’s baseline level of sexual arousal is linked to interactions between chemical processes in the brain that trigger excitement and chemical processes in the brain that reduce excitement. Critically, the researchers believe that their findings apply equally to men and women, as well as to people with various sexual orientations.

The researchers also looked at sex addiction in relation to such core personality characteristics as openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness. (All people have specific combinations of these core traits, which are sometimes known as the Big Five personality traits.) They concluded that the relative levels of these characteristics in each person also help determine that person’s susceptibility to sex addiction or hypersexual behavior.

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