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Is Sexual Addiction a Generic Disease?

Current Research

Founder Awarded Fulbright for Sexual Addiction Research

Dr. Patrick Carnes has received the prestigious Fulbright – Canada – Palix Foundation award in Brain Science. He will conduct groundbreaking research into the genetics of sexual addiction and serve as Distinguished Visiting Chair at the University of Alberta. In receiving this award, Dr. Carnes joins the ranks of distinguished scholars and scientists including Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners who have received this award.

The research study is unprecedented in its size and scope. Over 1,000 people will be enrolled (half sex addicts and half non-addicts) from various centers across the U.S. and Canada. Dr. Carnes intends to find answers to the following questions:

  • What genes are linked to sexual addiction?
  • How do these genes compare to the genes linked to alcoholism and drug addiction?
  • Are there specific clusters of genes that predispose sexual addicts to behave in specific ways? That is, can we predict whether an addict will become compulsive about adultery or pornography or voyeurism, for instance?
  • What psychological disorders are linked to the different types of sexual addiction? For instance, if one is anti-social, is he more likely to compulsively pay for sex, become a voyeur, or pursue anonymous sex?

The study will involve thorough, full-genome genetic analysis of all participants (via saliva specimens) and careful characterization of psychological disorders using well-validated measurement tools. Sophisticated statistical techniques will be used to identify the genes that are linked to sexual addiction and its various types, and to link psychopathology to sexual addiction type and genetic patterns.

This will be the very first in-depth genetic investigation into the origins and psychology of sexual addiction. This work could lead to a screening tool for those afflicted by sexual addiction, similar to testing for alcoholism. This work may definitively show that sexual addiction involves the same brain pathways as other addictions, and facilitate coverage of the disorder by insurance companies and reimbursement for treatment. This research may help reduce stigma and lead to prompt and effective treatment for those who are suffering.

AFAR is supporting this innovative work in partnership with Fulbright Canada and the Palix Foundation. Because of the large number of research subjects, we need more donors to support this important work. Will you consider making a donation to help us with this groundbreaking research?

Photo of Dr. Carnes

AFAR is supporting this innovative work in partnership with Fulbright Canada and the Palix Foundation. Because of the large number of research subjects, we need more donors to support this important work. Will you consider making a donation to help us with this groundbreaking research?

Make a donation to support this research:

Previous Research Projects

Since 2012 AFAR has funded research focused on sexual addiction. More than 40 scientific articles have been published based on this work.

Sex ADDICTION IS REAL

The Case of Including Sexual Addition in the DSM

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Research's Impact
Because insurance companies will treat Sexual Addiction as a covered disease, more people will get the treatment they need to become healthy.

With the support of AFAR, researchers have shown that sexual addiction is a valid, distinct medical illness that should be included the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which insurance companies use to determine coverage. Through study of 4,100 cases, the researchers have developed diagnostic criteria that define the disease. The diagnostic criteria have been validated across sexual behaviors, gender and sexual orientation. Once included as a diagnosis in the DSM, treatment for sexual addiction will be more easily reimbursed.

Exposing the Complexity of Sexual Addiction

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Research's Impact
Provides clinicians with detailed understanding of the disease.

Through use of complex innovative statistics, this research uncovered clusters of behavior that characterize twenty different types of sexual addiction. The research allows clinicians to target an addict’s specific behaviors with specific treatment and provides the medical and scientific world with additional confidence in the validity of the Sexual Dependency Inventory test.

Help for Partners of Sex Addiction

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Research's Impact
This research lead to the development of an assessment tool specifically designed to address the challenges that the partners of sexual addicts typically face. The tool helps therapists assess how the partner has been impacted by the addict’s addiction, the sudden discovery of the behavior, and disclosure of details by the addict. Use of the tool can help couples heal from the trauma of addiction.

More than 20% of Male College Students Found to be at Risk for Sexual Addiction

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Research's Impact
New screening tool allows college counselors to identify students in need of help.

This study showed that 21% of male college students and 7% of female college students have warning signs of sexual addiction and need further evaluation. Schools can utilize the PATHOS questionnaire to screen students and identify those who are in need of additional evaluation and possible treatment. Studying the college age population is critical, as sexual addiction typically develops in the teenage years or twenties. College students who exhibit compulsive sexual behavior experience higher levels of stress and depression. Also, the excessive preoccupation with sexual activities may negatively impact their academic performance.

AFAR is concerned about the growth of sexual addiction in the teenage and college age demographic. The access, affordability and anonymity of the internet fuels the problem in this population. AFAR will continue to support research, education and advocacy for this vulnerable group.

Exhibitionism & Voyeurism are not Nuisance Behaviors

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Research's Impact

Treatment providers can provide appropriate treatment when individuals possess a combination of exhibitionism and voyeurism.

This in-depth study documented the different patterns of behaviors and associated mental health issues among individuals who present with voyeurism and/or exhibitionism. Individuals who display both exhibitionistic and voyeuristic behaviors tend to have more severe underlying psychological problems. The report also showed how men and women differ in associated behaviors and psychopathology.

Many Drug Addicts Also Have Sexual Addiction

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Research's Impact

Changes our view of drug addiction as an isolated clinical problem, and identifies the high prevalence of coexisting sexual addiction.

This research examined a large number of drug addicts and alcoholics who were undergoing residential treatment and found that 20-30% of them met the diagnostic criteria for sexual addiction. This study shows that many people being treated for drug addiction have an undiagnosed and untreated sexual addiction that can complicate or hinder their recovery. The study boosts the argument that addictions reinforce or interact with each other. The authors observe that out of 800,000 annual substance abuse admissions in the U.S, more than 160,000 people will need additional treatment for sexual addiction.

Early Attachment and Family Wellness Play Role in Addiction

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Research's Impact

Demonstrates how early attachment disorders and family wellness contribute to the development of addiction and relationship preoccupation.

Some disorders of attachment lead to addictive behaviors performed in isolation (e.g. masturbation, pornography) and some lead to preoccupation with relationships (love addiction). Either may lead to sexual avoidance.

Intimacy Dysfunction: Relationship Preoccupation VS. Isolation

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Research's Impact

Study assists therapists in treating dysfunctional attachment and compulsive behaviors in patients.

The research found that men tend to become preoccupied with sexual behaviors performed alone and isolation and women tend to become compulsive about relationships. It is critical for therapists to understand this dynamic, so they can teach effective boundaries and healthy bonding.

S&M Addiction Can Lead to Extreme and Risky Behaviors

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Research's Impact

Underscores the dangers of bondage and sadomasochism addiction, especially for women.

This study documents patterns of psychopathology in patients who are addicted to bondage and sadomasochism. When these behaviors are part of an addictive pattern of out-of-control activities, the behaviors can become extreme and dangerous. The study showed that in this setting women receive significant pressure to engage in high risk behaviors. The study also showed that trauma and PTSD play a major role for individuals addicted to S&M.

AFAR creates lasting solutions for all addictions.

AFAR creates lasting solutions for all addictions.

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