Can sex become addictive?

Controversy over whether sex can become addictive rages at the moment with passionate and often ill-tempered arguments brought to the issue. To my knowledge, no other candidate for the term ‘addiction’ triggers quite such heat of discussion. Is the notion of sex addiction simply a religious one designed to exert control over public morality? Is it a money-spinner, with in-patient clinics charging exorbitant prices to treat what is a non-pathological condition? Is the word ‘addiction’ only applicable to problems with taking a chemical such as heroin or alcohol into the body? The debate might be illuminated by considering the original meaning of the term ‘addiction’, which refers to excessive engagement in any activity, irrespective of whether it relates to taking a chemical into the body. In such terms, eating, drugs, exercise, shopping, gambling and sex can all become problematic and candidates for use of the expression ‘addiction’.

 I will argue that there are sufficient common features between all such activities that the term addiction can usefully be employed. There are brain processes that underlie desires of any kind and which have some common properties – indeed a common system that employs the brain chemical transmitter dopamine is involved in all of them. When this system gets excessively sensitized this is a major contributor to addiction.

Presentation time: 
Monday, 30 June, 2014 - 15:00

Fred Toates

Frederick Toates has been closely associated with the Open University for 36 years, where he now holds the title of Emeritus Professor of Biological Psychology. He has taught undergraduate classes in a number of European countries. Fred's research interests are primarily in the area of motivation. He is the author of a number of books, the most recent being 'Biological Psychology' (3rd. ed.) and the next to appear will be 'How Sexual Desire Works: The Enigmatic Urge' to be published in September by Cambridge University Press.