Hypersexual disorder is a condition in which people experience sexual fantasies and urges so intense that they disrupt their daily lives. Affecting between 3- 6% of the population. Now, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have found that the disorder may be linked to genes that regulate oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”.
Usually occurring alongside other mental health issues, diagnosing the disorder is controversial, with some saying that it may just be a symptom of another condition. However, as it has hardly been studied and little is known about its neurology, the Swedish researchers decided to conduct a genetic investigation into its causes.
In their study, they analyzed blood samples from 60 people with hypersexual disorder alongside 33 people without it to compare their epigenetic markers- methyl tags on each gene that affect how they’re switched on and off (Scully: 2019). Investigating 8,852 regions of DNA where these tags occur, they also compared their findings to samples from 107 other subjects, 24 of whom were alcohol-dependent, to explore a linkage with addiction.
In the end, they identified two regions of the DNA that were affected in those with hypersexual disorder. With normal function of DNA methylation disrupted, they also found that a microRNA (a part of the DNA that cross the blood-brain barrier and influence the expression of several hundred different genes in the brain and other tissues) known as microRNA-4456, was under-expressed. Involved in the regulation of the hormone oxytocin, the researchers observed that the underperformance of this microRNA in those with hypersexual disorder may lead to elevated oxytocin levels, and thus a higher desire to procreate (Taylor and Francis Group: 2019).
They further found that alcohol-dependent subjects had similar levels of under-methylation in the same DNA region as those with hyersexual disorder. For the researchers, this suggested that this region of the DNA may be associated to the addictve aspects of hypersexual disorder, including sex addiction and an unwielding sexual desire (Pattillo: 2019).
According to Professor Jussi Jokinen from Umea University, Sweden, “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 (Taylor and Francis Group: 2019).”
Scully, Ruby Prosser: New Scientist
Taylor and Francis Group: Eureka Alert
Pattillo, Alexandra: Inverse