An excess of oxytocin, the so-called ‘cuddle hormone’, could be behind the uncontrollable behaviour of sex addicts, a study has suggested.
The find could mean that sex addiction is recognised as a medical diagnosis, experts say.
Hypersexual disorder, or sex addiction, affects 3-6% of the population and is recognised as an impulse control disorder by the World Health Organisation.
It can be characterised by obsessive thoughts of sex, or a compulsion to perform sex acts.
Lead author Adrian Bostrom, from the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University in Sweden, said: ‘We set out to investigate the epigenetic regulatory mechanisms behind hypersexual disorder so we could determine whether it has any hallmarks that make it distinct from other health issues.
‘To our knowledge, our study is the first to implicate dysregulated epigenetic mechanisms of both DNA methylation and microRNA activity and the involvement of oxytocin in the brain among patients seeking treatment for hypersexuality.’
The scientists measured DNA methylation patterns in the blood from 60 patients with hypersexual disorder and compared them to samples from 33 healthy volunteers.
Results identified two regions of DNA that were altered in hypersexual disorder patients.
The finding could lead to new drugs for sex addiction, the researchers believe.
Professor Jussi Jokinen, from Umea University in Sweden, said, ‘Further research will be needed to investigate the role of microRNA-4456 and oxytocin in hypersexual disorder, but our results suggest it could be worthwhile to examine the benefits of drug and psychotherapy to reduce the activity of oxytocin.’