The publicity associated with Tiger Woods has meant that sex "addiction" has had particularly high visibility recently.
Persons with addictive or compulsive disorders frequently display an inability to inhibit behaviors once they become maladaptive, despite adverse consequences of their behavior. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is a brain region involved in decision-making and behavioral flexibility, and it has been identified as a potential mediator of behavioral inhibition.
In a new study, Dr. Lique Coolen and colleagues tested whether the mPFC is involved in inhibition of sexual behavior when associated with aversive outcomes. Using a carefully-designed experimental paradigm in rats, the researchers found that lesions of the mPFC result in compulsive sexual behavior. In contrast, lesions did not alter sexual performance or the learning associated with reward or aversive stimuli. This indicates that intact mPFC function is not required for normal expression of sexual behavior.
Collectively, these data suggest a general role for the mPFC in regulating the compulsive seeking of reward, and may contribute to a better understanding of a common pathology underlying impulse control disorders.
Compulsive sexual behavior has a high prevalence of co-morbidity with psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse and mood disorders. The current study suggests that mPFC dysfunction may contribute to sexual risk-taking or to compulsive seeking of sexual behavior. Although thought-provoking, we do not yet know whether these findings apply to humans.