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Trust a Scientist: Sex Addiction Is a Myth

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By Jim Pfaus

A psychologist explains why sex addiction therapy is more about faith than facts, as told to Tierney Finster

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Self-labeled sex addicts often speak about their identities very clinically, as if they’re paralyzed by a scientific condition that functions the same way as drug and alcohol addiction. But sex and porn “addiction” are NOT the same as alcoholism or a cocaine habit. In fact, hypersexuality and porn obsessions are not addictions at all. They’re not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and by definition, they don’t constitute what most researchers understand to be addiction.

Here’s why: addicts withdraw. When you lock a dope fiend in a room without any dope, the lack of drugs will cause an immediate physiological response — some of which is visible, some of which we can only track from within the body. During withdrawal, the brains of addicts create junctions between nerve cells containing the neurotransmitter GABA. This process more or less inhibits the brain systems usually excited by drug-related cues — something we never see in the brains of so-called sex and porn addicts.

A sex addict without sex is much more like a teenager without their smartphone. Imagine a kid playing Angry Birds. He seems obsessed, but once the game is off and it’s time for dinner, he unplugs. He might wish he was still playing, but he doesn’t get the shakes at the dinner table. There’s nothing going on in his brain that creates an uncontrollable imbalance.

The same goes for a guy obsessed with watching porn. He might prefer to endlessly watch porn, but when he’s unable to, no withdrawal indicative of addiction occurs. He’ll never be physically addicted. He’ll just be horny, which for many of us, is merely a sign we’re alive.

There haven’t been any studies that speak to this directly. As such, the anti-fapper narrative is usually the only point discussed: Guys stop masturbating after they stop downloading porn, and after a few days, they say they’re able to get normal erections again. This coincides with the somewhat popular idea that watching porn leads to erectile dysfunction, a position that porn-addiction advocates such as Marnia Robinson and Gary Wilson state emphatically. (Robinson wrote a book on the subject, though her degree is in law, not science, and Wilson, a retired physiology teacher, presented a TED Talk about hyperstimulation in Glasgow.) These types of advocates are wedded to the idea that porn is an uncontrolled stimulus the brain gets addicted to because of the dopamine release it causes. According to their thinking, anything that causes dopamine release is addictive.

But there’s a difference between compulsion and addiction. Addiction can’t be stopped without major consequence, including new brain activity. Compulsive behavior can be stopped; it’s just difficult to do so. In other words, being “out of control” isn’t a universal symptom of addiction.

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Then what, exactly, does it mean when Tiger Woods and Josh Duggar go to rehab for sex addiction? Or when Dr. Drew offers it up on TV for washed-up celebrities? The answer is simple: They’re giving free marketing to the new American industry of sex addiction therapy. Reformers Unanimous, the faith-based treatment program chosen by Duggar, is likely to gain a number of new patients thanks to the media frenzy surrounding his admission to their facilities after the Ashley Madison hack exposed the affairs Duggar blamed on porn addiction.

These programs are similar to traditional 12-step models, except even more informed by faith. By misdiagnosing patients from the start, they gloss over the underlying issues that might make someone more prone to compulsive sexual behaviors, including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression. Plenty of compulsive and ritualistic sexual behaviors aren’t addictions; they’re symptomatic of other issues.

Unfortunately, that’s just scratching the surface of the faulty science practiced by these recovery centers. For instance, according to proponents of the sex addiction industry, the more porn someone watches, the more they’ll experience erectile dysfunction. However, my recent study with Nicole Prause, a psychophysiologist and neuroscientist at UCLA, showed that’s absurd. While advocates of sex and porn addiction are quick to correlate the amount of porn a guy looks at to how desensitized his penis is, our study showed that watching immense amounts of porn made men more sensitive to less explicit stimuli. Simply put, men who regularly watched porn at home were more aroused while watching porn in the lab than the men in the control group. They were able to get erections quicker and had no trouble maintaining them, even when the porn being watched was “vanilla” (i.e., free of hardcore sex acts like bondage).

There is, of course, other evidence that porn isn’t a slippery slope to physical or mental dysfunction. A paper just came out in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy from German researchers that looked at both the amount of porn consumed by German and Polish men and women and their sexual attitudes and behaviors. It found that more porn watched meant more variety of sexual activity — for both sexes.

Despite these results, there’s still an entire publication, Sex Addiction & Compulsivity, committed to demonstrating that porn creates erectile dysfunction. Its very existence suggests sex addiction and its treatments are real, yet the journal doesn’t take a stance on any particular treatments. And while its resolutions come from peer-reviewed articles, these articles only get reviewed by people who already believe in the notion of sex addiction.

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Which is why the journal has zero impact. The number of times a scientific journal gets used in other scholarly work is measured by something called the Journal Citation Reports (JCR). That number determines a journal’s official impact factor. So far, Sex Addiction & Compulsivity has a JCR impact factor of 0.00. Nobody cites anything from it, except maybe their own cult of followers who publish on blogs and personal websites.

The journal benefits from a very 21st century way of creating a veneer of objectivity. As long as there are papers in it, people can cite them as “scientific.” Even if the work — and the people who oversee it — are anything but. An influential associate editor there is David Delmonico, a professor who runs an “internet behavior consulting company” that offers “intervention for problematic Internet behaviors.” He believes sex addiction is real because he’s wary of the supposedly horrible effects the internet (and all the porn there) can have on human behavior.

Such porn-shaming isn’t all that different from the guilt conservatives attach to sex, even though conditioning men to feel bad about their sexual behaviors only leads to the kind of secretive, damaging behaviors evidenced in the Duggar story. What’s worse: when sexuality is labeled a “disease” like addiction, guys no longer have to own their sexuality — or their actions. It’s unnecessary to explain why they cheated because it’s beyond their control. And so, the “addict” stigma is preferable because it’s one they can check into rehab and recover from. Being considered an “adulterer,” on the other hand, is harder to shake.

Complete Article HERE!

Family History and Addiction Risk: What You Need to Know to Beat the Odds

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You grew up in a family of substance users. You know that your risk for developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol is greater because of this hereditary factor. But what exactly are your risks? And is there anything you can do to reduce your risk?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the single most reliable indicator for risk of future alcohol or drug dependence is family history. In an article written for NCADD, Robert Morse, MD, former Director of Addictive Disorders Services at the Mayo Clinic and member of NCADD’s Medical/Scientific Committee, says, “Research has shown conclusively that family history of alcoholism or drug addiction is in part genetic and not just the result of the family environment…millions of Americans are living proof. Plain and simple, alcoholism and drug dependence run in families.”

How Family History Affects your Chances for Addiction

Family history affects your chances of addiction in many ways. Genes are one important factor. But alcoholism and drug addiction are “genetically complex.”

Recent research has identified numerous genes, and variations within these genes, that are 005associated with the addictive process. One way genes affect a person’s risk for addiction involves how genes metabolize alcohol. Another is how nerve cells signal one another and regulate their activity. Such changes in genes can be passed down from one generation to another.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for heredity’s role in addiction comes from twin studies and adoption studies. Studies of twins found a 60% rate of similarity regarding addiction in identical twins vs. a 39% rate of similarity in fraternal twins. Studies of children adopted in infancy and studied for addiction risk in adulthood found that biological sons of alcoholics were four times more likely to become alcoholics, even when the adoptive parent had no issues with addiction, so the l factor of family environment was minimal.

But genetic predispositions are not the only factor in predicting the role of family history in addiction risk. Environmental aspects also play a role, even though they may be less significant in some cases.

Researchers have identified several family-related risks for increased vulnerability:

  • Family dysfunction (conflicts or aggression)
  • A parent who is depressed or has other psychological issues
  • One or more parents who abuses or is addicted to drugs or alcohol

Additional social and personal issues that contribute to risk include:

  • Limited social skills
  • Fragile self-esteem
  • Minimal or no support system
  • Personal history of impulsivity, aggression or difficulty managing emotions
  • A history of trauma or abuse (high risk for post traumatic stress)
  • Other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or bi-polar disorder
  • Friends or acquaintances who are regular users and who provide easy access to drugs or alcohol

Addressing and Reducing Risks

An alternative viewpoint regarding a family history link for addiction comes from a National Institute of Health (NIH) meta-study of 65 published papers documenting 766 study participants who were college or university students. Controlling for alcohol consumption and use disorders, family history was reviewed as the variable. The meta-study found that students who had family histories of alcohol or drug problems did not drink more but they were likely to be more at risk for problems that are associated with drug or alcohol use (ex: causing shame or embarrassment to someone; passing out or fainting; or having problems with school).

The bottom line is that there are still a lot of uncertainties when it comes to assessing drug and alcohol risks as they relate to family history. The good news is that even if you come from a family with a troubled history, or a history of addictions, that does not mean you will automatically become an addict. The risk is higher, but there are ways to prevent that from happening. You can choose to be proactive and greatly reduce your addiction risk.

Here are a few suggestions to reduce your addiction risk:

  • Avoid under-age drinking or substance use; early-onset of use increases risk
  • Choose abstinence or carefully monitor your consumption
  • Avoid associating with heavy drinkers or substance users
  • Manage your psychological health; seek assistance from a mental health provider if you are highly stressed, anxious or depressed
  • Participate in workplace or school prevention programs

Intervention Strategies

Should you already find yourself dealing with an alcohol or drug issue, here are some intervention strategies provided by the National Institute of Health, in their publication, Alcohol Alert:

  • Motivational Interview: This strategy focuses on enhancing your motivation and commitment to changing your behavior, if you are currently abusing drugs or alcohol. Typically you would work with an addictions counselor or mental health professional and discuss your beliefs, choices and behaviors associated with substance use. The purpose of the interview is to help you develop a realistic view of your use, problems associated with it and your treatment goals and expectations.
  • Cognitive–Behavioral Interventions: These strategies are taught by a counselor or therapist, or they can sometimes can be accessed via an online self-help program. They help you change your behavior by helping you recognize when and why you drink excessively or use illegal substances. Cognitive-behavioral approaches challenge irrational expectations about substance use and raise your awareness of how drugs or alcohol affect your health and well-being. They provide tools for mentally and emotionally addressing denial, resistance, self-criticism and shame.
  • Drug-Free Workplace programs: Many workplaces now help their employees who are abusing alcohol or drugs. Lifestyle campaigns encourage workers to ease stress, improve nutrition and exercise, and reduce risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, or drug use. Other programs promote social support and volunteerism. Many Employee Assistance Programs offer employees referrals to substance abuse or other treatment programs, and may help pay for treatment.

Remember, the risk for alcohol and drug addiction does run in families. But you can manage the risk and avoid an addiction problem in your own life. Be proactive in monitoring your substance use, manage your mental and emotional health and seek support if you need it. The final outcome will depend on you and the choices you make today, not on your history.
Complete Article HERE!

“Porn” problems unlike any known addiction in largest neuroscience study

Like I’ve said all along…

When studying addictions, there are known relationships between certain stimuli and reactions in the brain. These reactions have, in some instances, become the benchmark for what constitutes an addiction and addiction-based behaviors.  There has been heated debate over the very existence of porn “addiction” and what that addiction would look like when studied.

porn addiction, no such thing

In the largest neuroscience study of porn addiction to date, research conducted at UCLA found a clear reversal of the brain’s typical addiction response in study participants when they were shown sexual images. With the use of brain wave monitoring, participants who reported major problems controlling their viewing of sex films showed decreased brain reactions when shown the sexual images, rather than heightened activity as having a “porn addiction” would suggest.

The study shows that the brain does not react the way an addict’s brain would react to cues for their drug of choice. In fact, the study shows that the hypothetical “sex addict” brain reacts in the opposite way that a drug addict’s brain reacts, questioning whether sex addiction actually exists.

“This finding is important, because it shows a reversal of a part of the brain response that has been consistently documented in other substance addictions and gambling disorder,” Prause said. She also noted that this was consistent with their previous study, in which participants served as their own control and no relationship existed between the severity of their sex film problems and their brain response.

Many self-identified “hypersexual” people say they have an uncontrollable urge for sexual stimuli, and that it has resulted in negative life consequences such as loss of jobs or loss of relationships. For this reason, many clinicians have suggested that “sex addiction” be diagnosed much like drug addiction.

“While we do not doubt that some people struggle with their sexual behaviors, these data show that the nature of the problem is unlikely to be addictive,” said Prause.

The study involved 122 volunteers, both men and women. Some had problems controlling their viewing of sex films and met suggested criteria for problem use of pornography by three different questionnaire measures. Others denied any problems with their viewing of sex films. The 122 participants viewed images and were monitored using electroencephalography (EEG) that measures brain waves. The images were of sexual and non-sexual scenes. They included photos of people skydiving and of a man and woman engaging in intercourse, among others.

The study measured the late positive potential (LPP). Co-author Greg Hajcak described, “The LPP reflects electrical activity of the brain that is recorded at the scalp and time-locked to the presentation of pictures.” The LPP is a very common measure in studies of emotion. “The size of the LPP reflects the intensity of an emotional response, and reflects brain activity occurring in the visual system and ancient subcortical structures,” explained co-author Dean Sabatinelli.sex-addiction

“Hundreds of studies have found that the LPP is larger for emotional compared to neutral pictures,” described Hajcak, “and previous work from myself and my colleagues have shown that cocaine addicts have an increased LPP to cocaine-related pictures.” To test for correlation with hypersexuality, one would expect the brain to show high rates of activity when shown sexual images. In this study, a reverse effect was shown.

“The extent that individuals struggle with attempts to control urges or other internal states such as thoughts or emotions may change how problematic pornography viewing becomes,” co-author and psychologist Cameron Staley added. “Labeling a person’s attempt to control urges a ‘sexual addiction’ may interfere with therapy approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that can reduce distressing sexual behaviors.”

The study appears in the current online edition of the scientific journal Biological Psychology (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051…).

Authors on the study are Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos LLC (http://www.liberoscenter.com); Dr. Vaughn R. Steele, The Mind Research Network, UNM-Albuquerque; Dr. Cameron Staley, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID; Dr. Dean Sabatinelli, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Dr. Greg Hajcak, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.

This research was conducted in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences (http://www.psychiatry.ucla.edu/), which is the within the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for faculty who are experts in the origins and treatment of disorders of complex human behavior. The lead author is the founder at Liberos LLC, a company in the UCLA startup program devoted to neuroscience research and the treatment of human sexual problems.
Complete Article HERE!

Sex Addiction, or Too Much of a Good Thing?

This last post of 2010 will start with a declaration. One of my famous “Thus Sayeth Dr. Dick” sorta things, if you please.

Ready?

I categorically reject the concept of sexual addiction that has been floating around in the popular culture for the last 20 years or so.

And yes, I know this will rankle a bunch of you, but you’ll just have to get over it. You see, there is no such thing as a sexual addiction. Period!

Nowadays people bandy about the term addiction as if it can be applied to any and all obsessive behaviors. I have an addiction to chocolate; I’m addicted to shopping; I’m addicted to video games; I’m addicted to porn—or, I’m a sex addict. NONSENSE!

That being said, I hasten to add that I do believe there are sexual obsessions and compulsive sexual behaviors, plenty of ’em in fact. However, obsessions and compulsions are not addictions, and addictions, while they may involve irresistible impulses, are not the same thing as compulsions. Get it? Got it? Good!

I want to be absolutely clear about this. An addiction is a very specific condition. It denotes a dual dependency, physical as well as a psychological.

  • A physical dependency occurs when a substance is habitually used to a point where the body becomes reliant on its effects. The substance must be used constantly, because if it is withheld, it will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Psychological dependency occurs when the substance habitually used creates an emotional reliance on its effects. There is no functioning without it. Its absence produces intense cravings, which if not fed will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.

Check it out. With the help of my handy-dandy dictionary, a good place to start in discussions of this sort, I discovered these three very distinct definitions:

Addiction: The need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. Broadly: persistent use of a substance known by the user to be harmful. A state of physiological and psychological dependence on a drug.

Compulsive: Driven by an irresistible inner force to do something; i.e., a compulsive liar.

Obsession: A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.

See? Different words. Different meanings. Not a particularly complex notion to grasp, right?

And listen, just because a bunch of yahoo afternoon talks show hosts and even a load of my esteemed professional colleagues banter these words about like they were interchangeable doesn’t make it so. In fact, we do ourselves a huge disservice by muddling these very specific concepts into a jumble. My fellow therapists should be the first to recognize this because finding help for an addiction or an intervention for an obsessive/compulsive disorder will be as specific as the problem itself.

One thing is for certain: identifying one of the things, as the other will complicate the problem solving. It’s like going to the doctor with a headache, and when the doc asks where does it hurt, you point to your stomach. It just won’t do.

Hi Dr. Dick,
I recently found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me. He wants me to forgive him, but he keeps on doing the same thing over and over again. He’s like addicted to sex or something. I love him very much, but I feel dirty just by being around him and knowing what he’s doing. It also makes me feel stupid putting up with all of this and at the same time I still love him, please give me some advice. Thank You.
— Darlene

Before we turn our attention to your boyfriend’s behavior, let me make a quick observation about you. You’re a big fat ball of contradictions, huh? How can you say that you love the person that makes you feel dirty and stupid? You’re deceiving yourself about at least one of those feelings. And if I had to guess, I’d say what you’ve got with your man ain’t love—it’s an obsession.

Your boyfriend probably has you figured out by now, and he knows that you will tolerate his misbehavior, which gives him tacit permission to do whatever he feels like doing. From where I sit, you’re the real sap. If you’re really serious about reining in your wayward BF, you’d better come up with a clear, unambiguous message about what you will and will not tolerate. Until you do precisely that, he’ll just think that he can roam wherever he wants and whenever he wants.

If the two of you are supposed to be living in a sexually exclusive relationship, and he’s taking his business elsewhere, then he’s got a problem, too. However, I caution you against thinking that his sexual behaviors are an addiction. Because they’re not.  And thinking they are will not help you find the solution to the problems you folks are having.

There are root causes for his behavior, just like there are root causes for your behavior. To get to the bottom of all of this, each of you will need to invest a good deal of time and energy with a qualified therapist. One can only hope that there’s a big enough bank of goodwill between the two of you to carry the day because overcoming your obsession and his compulsions will demand all of your emotional resources.

Dear Dr. Dick,
I have been in a relationship for five years now and truly love my partner, however I can never seem to get enough sex. I am 30 and he is 29, but I constantly find myself in the chat rooms lookin’ for younger guys to have sex with. It’s more than just a hobby—it’s a habit! I’ve actually lost jobs because he’d be out of town and I’d spend almost every waking hour on the PC with a cocktail looking for sex, not caring about anything else. It’s like I’m addicted to sex. He knows I have played around (I actually have talked him into three-ways a few times), but he has no idea how extreme it’s become. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not unhappy with him. I just can’t seem to stop wanting sex with younger guys. Any suggestions?
— Brian

It’s interesting that you should tell me about your compulsive sexual behavior in the same breath that you tell me of your love for your partner. As you’ve probably guessed already, there isn’t really much of a connection between the two. Love and sex are two very different things. Sometimes they go together, but not always or even often for that matter.

It appears to me that you’ve really got two problems happening simultaneously: First, your compulsive prowling of the internet for sex (complicated, I might add, by your alcohol consumption). Second, the deception you’re practicing on your partner. Let’s deal with each of these in turn.

Your particular sexual activity, like any compulsive behavior (overeating, excessive shopping, etc.), is more than just a bad habit. It’s a serious psychological dysfunction. Take it from me: breaking this behavior pattern will be nearly impossible without some professional help. If the problem is as serious as you say, then you’d better seek help right away. This sort of thing, if left untreated, will not only destroy your relationship, it will ruin your life. When you seek that professional help, I encourage you to include information about your alcohol consumption. If there is an addiction in all of this, it’s the alcohol, not the sex. And in your case, the addiction may be fueling the compulsion.

Now, regarding your relationship. It’s imperative that you come clean with your partner about your sexual obsessions and compulsions, as well as your probable alcohol addiction. Not only will you feel better about not lying to him anymore, you’re going to need his support in overcoming the difficult obstacles you face. I suggest that you attend to this right away. There’s not a moment to lose.

Good Luck

There Really Isn’t Any Bad News for People Who Like to Masturbate

by Martha Kempner

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Masturbation is such an under-appreciated form of sexual activity. It has been blamed in urban legends for everything from hairy palms to lack of productivity, and has a reputation of being reserved for those who can’t find anyone else to have sex with them. But that’s just not true. Most people masturbate. It feels good. It carries no risk of pregnancy or disease. It can take as much or as little time as you have. And it’s relaxing. So why have media outlets warned readers that they might be doing it too much or the wrong way?

Recently, in a December 15 article titled “We’ve Got Bad News for People Who Love Masturbating,” Maxim’s Ali Drucker tells readers: “If you or someone you love frequently enjoys doing the five-finger shuffle, there’s a study that suggests they might face negative effects over time.” The article actually points to three pieces of “research” that seem to suggest masturbation isn’t as good as other forms of sexual behavior, that one can become addicted to it, and that the “grip of death” can make men incapable of experiencing pleasure any other way.

Well, RH Reality Check has good news—these conclusions are largely based on junk science and misunderstandings.

masturbationThe first study Drucker cites, originally published in Biological Psychology, is called, “The post-orgasmic prolactin increase following intercourse is greater than following masturbation and suggests greater satiety.” Prolactin is a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland. Its main function is to stimulate milk production when a woman is lactating, but it also plays a role in the sexual response cycle. According to the study, which was first published about ten years ago, prolactin is released after orgasm as a way to counteract the dopamine released during arousal. Some scientists believe that the more satisfying the experience is, the more prolactin levels will go up afterward.

For this study, Stuart Brody and his colleagues compared data showing prolactin levels after penile-vaginal sex to those after masturbation and found that levels after intercourse were 400 percent higher than after masturbation. They interpreted this to mean that intercourse is more physiologically satisfying than masturbation.

On the surface, this conclusion isn’t surprising. Many people don’t view masturbation as the same as a shared experience with a partner. It doesn’t tend to produce the same physical or psychological feelings. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun and satisfying way to spend a few minutes (or hours, if you’re ambitious or bored).Masturbate-a-Thon_Logo

When I read the study, I did not interpret it to say that intercourse was better than masturbation, just that our biological reactions to different sexual behaviors were different. I had never read anything by Professor Brody before and reached out to him, assuming that people were overstating his results and that he did not mean to discourage masturbation. I thought, what sex researcher would ever want to discourage masturbation?

However, he replied, “Instead of any fresh quotes, I attach my review paper on the evidence regarding health differences between different sexual behaviors.” He sent me a different article, a literature review in which he says in no uncertain terms that penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) is the best kind of sex and that “sexual medicine, sex education, sex therapy, and sex research should disseminate details of the health benefits of specifically PVI.”

masturbating womanAs a sex educator, I can’t imagine telling anyone that penile-vaginal sex is inherently better. For one thing, not everyone is in a couple, and not all couples have a penis and a vagina between them. And even for cisgender heterosexual couples, PVI is only one of countless potentially pleasurable behaviors. Moreover, many women find it less satisfying and less likely to end in orgasm than behaviors that incorporate clitoral stimulation.

But Brody not only thinks it’s the best form of sex—he thinks we sometimes do it wrong. He writes that “PVI might have been modified from its pure form, such as condom use or clitoral masturbation during PVI.” He also explains that Czech women who were vaginally orgasmic were more likely than their peers who didn’t have orgasms through PVI to have been taught during childhood that the vagina is “an important zone for inducing female orgasm,” concluding that “sex education should begin to be honest” about sexual behaviors.

I thought we’d moved on from the idea that we should all be having heterosexual, penile-vaginal sex in its “pure form” (missionary position?) and that women who couldn’t orgasm this way were both bad at sex and shit out of luck.

Colleagues in the field told me that many of them ignore Brody’s studies because he makes wild inferences based on soft science and, as implied by his research, is wedded to the idea that for sex to have the most benefits it needs to include PVI.

Nicole Prause, a researcher who has written critiques of Brody’s work, told me via email that, “His work almost exclusively uses data from other researchers, not his own, meaning the design is never really appropriate for the claim he is actually trying to make.” She went on to say that Brody’s studies on orgasm are often based on self-report, which is notoriously unreliable. Although the study Maxim cites was based on blood tests, “He has never once verified the presence of orgasm using a simple physiological measure designed for that purpose: anal EMG. Many women are thought not to be able to reliably distinguish their orgasm, so his purely self-report research is strongly suspect. If this is his area of focus, he should be studying it better than everyone else,” she concluded.female_masturbate.jpg

But Brody’s research on prolactin isn’t the only questionable science that Maxim relies on for its cautionary tale on masturbation. The article goes on to discuss the role of oxytocin and dopamine and points out that there’s less oxytocin released during masturbation. This is probably true—oxytocin is known as a bonding hormone and is triggered by contact with other people, so it’s not surprising that it’s not released when you’re orgasming alone. The Maxim article, however, argues that if the brain is flooded with dopamine (a neurochemical) during masturbation without the “warm, complacent, satisfied feeling from oxytocin,” you can build up a dopamine tolerance, or even an addiction, and get into “a vicious cycle of more masturbation.”

David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sexuality expert, explained in an email that many people describe dopamine as the “brain’s cocaine,” but this is an overly simplistic way of looking at it. It doesn’t mean we’re at risk of desensitizing our brain or getting addicted to jerking off. Ley wrote:

It appears that there are many people whose brains demonstrate lower sensitivity to dopamine and other such neurochemicals. These people tend to be “high sensation-seekers” who are jumping out of airplanes, doing extreme sports, or even engaging in lots of sex or lots of kinky sex. These behaviors aren’t caused by a development of tolerance or desensitizing, but in fact, the other way around—these behavior patterns are a symptom of the way these peoples’ brains work, and were made.

OK, dopamine isn’t cocaine and neither is masturbation: We’re not going to get addicted if we do it “too” much.

But, wait, Maxim throws one more warning at us—beware the “death grip.”

Though the article describes this as “the idea that whacking off too much will damage your dick,” the term, which was coined by sex advice columnist Dan Savage, is more about getting too accustomed to one kind of stimulation and being unable to reach orgasm without it. There is some truth to this—if you always get off using the same method, you can train your body to react to that kind of stimulation and it can be harder (though rarely impossible) to react to others. There are two solutions, neither of which involve giving up on masturbation: Retrain your body by taking some time off from that one behavior and trying some others, either by yourself or with a partner, or incorporate that behavior into whatever else you’re doing to orgasm (like clitoral masturbation during intercourse).

male_masturbationIn fairness, the Maxim article ends by acknowledging that masturbation can have benefits, but I still think it did its readers a disservice by reviewing any of this pseudoscience in the first place. As Ley said in his email, “This article, targeted towards men (because we masturbate more), is still clearly pushing an assumption that there is a ‘right kind of sex/orgasm’ and that masturbation is just a cheap (and potentially dangerous) substitute … That’s a very sexist, heteronormative, and outdated belief based on a view of sex as procreative only.”

So for a different take on it all: Sure, there might be more prolactin and oxytocin produced during intercourse than masturbation, but that does not mean that masturbation isn’t enjoyable or worthwhile. You won’t become addicted to it, but you might want to mix up how you get to orgasm or just incorporate your preferred stroke into all other sexual activity.

What you shouldn’t do is view the Maxim article—or any of the research it cites—as reasons not to stick your hands down your own pants.

Complete Article HERE!

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