(RNN) – Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Russell Brand and New York City politician Anthony Weiner all have one thing in common: all have been caught cheating and all have claimed to be addicted to sex.
Psychiatrists and mental health experts disagree on whether sex addiction should be classified and recognized as a mental disorder. Conflicting studies further muddy the waters.
Sex addiction isn't listed in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which came out in May 2013, and thus not formally recognized, yet many psychiatrists diagnose sex addiction as mental disorder and treat it. The encyclopedia is released by the American Psychiatric Association.
Like many with gambling or substance addictions, people seek treatment and rehabilitation. Some mental health professionals argue that sex addiction is the same as gambling addiction, a mental disorder that is classified in the DSMD.
Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife, alluded to a "whole lot of therapy" in her statement to the media once additional lewd photographs came to light.
Recent research isn't making the debate on the legitimacy of sex addiction any clearer; one study calls it "hypersexuality," while another takes a glimpse into the mind of a sex addict – both studies were conducted by UCLA.
According to the National Association of Sexual Addiction Problems, one out of 17 Americans - nearly 14 million people - claim to be sex addicts. Many who declare having a sex addiction often admit to an overuse of online pornography, multiple sex partners, frequent infidelity or constant masturbation.
A sex addiction, or hypersexual disorder, is "a persistent and escalating pattern or patterns of sexual behaviors acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self or others." The disorder includes a deep and urgent desire to have sex, or sexual urges, fantasies and behavior that sufferers feel are out of control.
One recent study, conducted by Dr. Nicole Prause and her UCLA research team, used 52 men and women volunteers who identify with having a sex addition. The subjects, who were between the ages of 18 to 39, had their brain waves measured while shown groups of images that ranged from household chores, disembodied bodies and erotica. Their brain scans, plus questionnaires that asked about their sexual desires, behaviors, compulsions and negative outcomes were studied to see how their brains reacted to given stimuli.
The findings of Prause's study showed "hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain differences in sexual response any more than just having a high libido," she told Psychology Today. The study also showed that the subjects' brains, when showed sexually explicit material, did not react like those who have drug addictions would when promised their drug of choice.
Prior to this UCLA study, no other research had been conducted using the study on the brain activity "in so-called hypersexual people who have problems regulating their viewing of sexual images." Prause's study was not conducted by using stimuli that proved problematic to the recovery of sex addicts, such as online pornography.
Prause also noted that if the study was replicated, it could prove a "major challenge" to current findings of sexual addiction being a legitimate mental disorder.
"The reason these findings present a challenge is that it shows their brains did not respond to the images like other addicts to their drug of addiction," Prause said.
Varying debates and research isn't conclusive enough to drop the term "sex addict," but celebrities and those caught between infidelities will likely continue to use the excuse to be forgiven privately and publicly.
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