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Study: Adult ADHD symptoms play important role in hypersexuality and problematic pornography use

New research suggests that ADHD symptoms may lead to hypersexuality (now called Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder in ICD-11) among both genders and to problematic pornography use among men. The study appears in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a highly comorbid disorder with hypersexuality: up to 67% of individuals with hypersexuality reported some patterns of ADHD in prior studies. However, these studies were carried out in small samples of treatment-seeking men, so there was a lack of empirical evidence in this area regarding the associations of adult ADHD symptoms and the severity of hypersexuality in non-treatment seeking men and women.

Also, there was a knowledge gap regarding the associations of ADHD and problematic pornography use (that may be considered as the most prevalent manifestation of hypersexuality). Therefore, we examined the associations between adult ADHD symptoms, hypersexuality and problematic pornography use in a large sample including both men and women and our findings suggested some important gender differences that may have great research and clinical relevance.

A total number of 14,043 individuals (women = 30.2%) who were aged between 18 and 76 years (average age = 33.53 years) completed an anonymous survey. According to our results, regardless of gender, the higher the level of ADHD symptoms were, the higher the level of hypersexuality was.

At the same time, the association between ADHD symptoms and problematic pornography use was stronger in the case of men, while it was weaker in the case of women.

These results suggest that ADHD symptom severity may play similar roles in hypersexuality and problematic pornography use in the case of men, while in the case of women, it is more likely that ADHD symptoms would rather contribute to hypersexuality than to problematic pornography use.

It is possible that women may not choose pornography as a way to cope with or reduce their stress and negative feelings deriving from ADHD symptoms, but they rather engage in other types of sexual behaviors (e.g., sex with romantic partner or casual partners). This might be a possible explanation because pornography use is more normative among men than women according prior studies.

The main take-home message from our study is that when individuals are assessed for ADHD in clinical settings, hypersexuality-related measures (and problematic pornography use related measures in the case of men) should also be administered.

In the case of high levels of hypersexuality, it is possible that the given individual shows ADHD-like symptoms, such as inattention or difficulties in sustaining prolonged attention due to the intrusion of sexuality-related thoughts or fantasies or as a result of deprived sleeping. Thus, thorough clinical assessments could be fruitful to identify whether the presented symptoms are only related to hypersexuality (i.e., they are not generalized to other aspects of life) or whether they existed before the onset of hypersexuality.

And inversely, when individuals seek treatment for hypersexuality, clinicians and therapists should also assess ADHD symptoms as hypersexuality may be only the symptom of the “real” problem, ADHD.

But our study — like all research — includes some limitations.

Even though ADHD symptoms develop in childhood and can maintain during adulthood, causality could not be inferred from the present findings given the study’s cross-sectional, self-reported nature. As several hypotheses are suggested in the literature regarding how ADHD symptoms may result in hypersexuality and/or in problematic pornography use, the examination of them in complex models are necessary in the future.

As this study demonstrates, we are passionate to investigate topics that are not only theoretically relevant but have great importance for people as well. So, in the last two years, we (with colleagues from Stanford University, USA; and from the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction, Switzerland) developed a new, free, online program (Hands-off) for people who want to change their pornography viewing habits and now we would like to test it.

You can participate in this new porn reduction intervention now

The beta version of this new program is available to be tested for 20 people. So, if you would like to get to know more on your pornography viewing habits, would like to give feedback on the program, and would like to reduce your porn-related problems at the same time, complete this survey in 5 minutes:*

*Disclaimer: Participation in the Hands-off program is free, all collected data will be kept confidential and will be used only for scientific purposes. The study is conducted in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration and was approved by the Institutional Ethical Review Board of the ELTE Eötvös Loránd University.

The study, “Investigating the Associations Of Adult ADHD Symptoms, Hypersexuality, and Problematic Pornography Use Among Men and Women on a Largescale, Non-Clinical Sample“, was authored by Beáta Bőthe, Mónika Koós, István Tóth-Király, Gábor Orosz, and Zsolt Demetrovics.