Category Archives: Tanorexia
Feeling hot, hot, hot: A brief look at sex and the sun
Most people now accept that weather can affect mood state and for some people can lead to extreme depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. There also seems to be some evidence that weather can affect people’s sex lives. Being too hot or too cold is likely to lessen the desire to engage in sexual behaviour. Most academic research appears to indicate that sex drives are higher in spring and summer. One of the reasons given for this is that during spring and summer, there is more sun, and that a particular hormone – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH) – stimulates sex, particularly in women.
A number of studies have also indicated that during the spring and summer months, the body produces more seretonin (the so-called ‘feel good neurotransmitter’) because increased luminosity of sunlight. During the winter months as the amount of sunlight decreases, the body produces more melatonin, and this appears to inhibit sex drives. However, there is wide individual variation and the weather and subsequent hormone stimulation differs highly from one person to the next. As an online article by Shiv Joshi confirms:
“Sunlight has a direct effect on the brain’s serotonin production, according to researchers at the Human Neurotransmitter Laboratory and Alfred and Baker Medical Unit, Baker Heart Research Institute, Australia. Our serotonin levels increase with increase in luminosity. And how does that matter? Among other things, serotonin also regulates arousal, says Ray Sahelian, MD, author of Mind Boosters…Not just serotonin, but sunlight affects many other hormones in our body as well, some of which are associated with mood and pleasure feelings, according to professor Carmen Fusco, an instructor in pharmacology. It decreases melatonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine and increases cortisol, serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. The summer heat is good for your sex life too. It works on your muscles, by relaxing them and intensifies sensations of the skin. Further, the heat slows us down. This helps us get in touch with our more subdued sensual side, according to psychologist Stella Resnick, PhD, author of The Pleasure Zone”.
German researchers Winfried März and colleagues examined the relationship between vitamin D production (aided by sunny weather) and sex hormones (published a 2010 issue of the journal Clinical Endocrinology). In a study of 2,299 men, the researchers found that levels of Vitamin D were associated with androgen (i.e., testosterone) production with peak levels in August (the sunniest time of year in Germany). They concluded that testosterone and Vitamin D levels “are associated in men and reveal a concordant seasonal variation. Randomized controlled trials are warranted to evaluate the effect of vitamin D supplementation on androgen levels”. The study was replicated by Dr. Katharina Nimptsch and her colleagues among a sample of 1,362 men (also published in the same journal in 2012), and they found the same association between Vitamin D and testosterone production (although they found no seasonal effect). However, a more recent 2014 study published by Dr. Elizabeth Lerchbaim and her colleagues in the journal Andrology found no association (but it was on a much smaller sample of 225 men).
Although I have been unable to track down the academic source, an article by Sam Rider in Coach Magazine claimed that:
“Exposing the skin to sunlight for just 15-20 minutes can raise your testosterone levels by 120%, says a report from Boston State Hospital in the US. The research also found that the hormone increased by a whopping 200% when genital skin was exposed to the sun. Stick to the privacy of your own garden though – we don’t want any arrests”.
In previous blogs I briefly reviewed some of the many studies into courtship requests by Dr. Nicolas Guéguen (which you can read here and here). In one of his studies (published in a 2013 issue of Social Influence), Guéguen examined the effect of sunshine on romantic relationships (reasoning that sunny weather puts people in a better mood than non-sunny weather). In this study, an attractive 20-year old man approached young women walking alone in the street and asked them for their telephone number in two conditions (sunny or cloudy days). The temperature was controlled for and all days of the experiment were dry. The results showed that more women gave the man their telephone numbers on the sunny days. Guéguen concluded that positive mood induction by the sun may explain the success in courtship solicitation.
Finally, in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Aggrawal was quoted as saying that “like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun including the sun”. In fact, Aggrawal’s book arguably contains the most references to fetishes that concern the weather. This includes fetishes and paraphilias in relation to sexual arousal to sunny weather (actirasty), sexual arousal from the cold or winter (cheimaphilia), sexual arousal from snow (chionophilia), sexual arousal from thunderstorms (brontophilia), sexual arousal from thunder and lightning (keraunophilia), sexual arousal from fog (nebulophilia), sexual arousal from rain and being rained upon (ombrophilia and pluviophilia), and love of thunder (tonitrophilia). However, as far as I am aware, no scientific research has ever investigated any of these alleged fetishes.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Amanad, V. (2012). Does weather affect your sex drive? Only My Health, June 29. http://www.onlymyhealth.com/does-weather-affect-your-sex-drive-1340990772
Guéguen, N. (2013). Weather and courtship behavior: A quasi-experiment with the flirty sunshine. Social Influence, 8, 312-319.
Herbert, E. (2009). Sex: Weather-driven desire? Elle, July 28. Located at: http://www.elle.com/life-love/sex-relationships/sex-tips-women
Hurwood, B.J. (1965). The Golden Age of Erotica. Los Angeles, CA: Sherbourne Press.
Joshi, S. (2010). Summer and intimacy: Felling hot, hot, hot. Complete Wellbeing, May 11. Located at: http://completewellbeing.com/article/feeling-hot-hot-hot/
Lerchbaum, E., Pilz, S., Trummer, C., Rabe, T., Schenk, M., Heijboer, A. C., & Obermayer‐Pietsch, B. (2014). Serum vitamin D levels and hypogonadism in men. Andrology, 2(5), 748-754.
Nimptsch, K., Platz, E. A., Willett, W. C., & Giovannucci, E. (2012). Association between plasma 25‐OH vitamin D and testosterone levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology, 77(1), 106-112.
Rider, S. (2015). How to boost your testosterone levels (the natural way). Coach Magazine, October 5. Located at: http://www.coachmag.co.uk/lifestyle/1558/10-ways-boost-testosterone
Wehr, E., Pilz, S., Boehm, B. O., März, W., & Obermayer‐Pietsch, B. (2010). Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology, 73(2), 243-248.
My Strange Addiction: The wonderful world of the weird
In a previous blog, I examined a case of so-called ‘hair dryer dependence’. The source material for this blog came from one of the people who had appeared on the TLC (The Learning Channel) documentary television series My Strange Addiction. Immediately after I had written the blog I was emailed by one of the researchers on the show asking if I could help getting people on the show for the next series (Season 4).
For those who have no idea what I am talking about, My Strange Addiction is a US TV documentary show that features stories about people with unusual behaviours. Very few of the behaviours they have featured so far would be classed as addictions in the way that I define them. However, some of the behaviours are genuine obsessions and/or compulsions while others have not been the focus of any kind of medical and/or psychiatric diagnosis.
So far, the show has featured people with various obsessive-compulsive disorders (some of which I have examined in my blog) including body dysmorphic disorder, pica (the eating of non-food such as paper, mud, glass, metal), exercise bulimia, trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking), thumb-sucking, furry fandom, excessive laxative use, urine drinking, paraphilic infantilism (being an adult baby), and dating cars.
MY STRANGE ADDICTION: A CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS
If anyone out there thinks they have an interesting story that My Strange Addiction might like to hear about, the show’s producers would really appreciate any help they can get in reaching people who may be good potential candidates for their TV show.
- Are you currently struggling to overcome a strange obsession, addiction or compulsive behavior that is taking over your life?
- Do you spend countless hours obsessing about something or engaging in behavior that others would say is strange?
- Have you drained all of your finances into this obsession?
- Are your friends and family members concerned about your wellbeing?
- Would you like to regain control of your life and your health?
If you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions, you may qualify to be a participant in a major documentary series that offers professional assistance for those struggling with a strange obsession, compulsion, or addiction.
For consideration, please reply to this advert with your name, age, contact information, and brief explanation of how a strange addiction is taking over your life. You can also contact us directly at 312-467-8145 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain confidential. Thank you for sharing your story.
Postscript: Alternatively, if you would like to tell me your story as part of my own academic research, then feel free to contact me at my academic email address: email@example.com.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Further reading and viewing
Griffiths, J. (2011). Review: My Strange Addiction. US Weekly January 25. http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/review–my-strange-addiction-2011251#ixzz1tYHsItPh
Internet Movie Database. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809014/
My Strange Addiction Official Website. Located at: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-strange-addiction
TV.com. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.tv.com/shows/my-strange-addiction/
Warming Glow. The 10 strangest addictions from ‘My Strange Addiction’. http://warmingglow.uproxx.com/2012/02/10-strangest-my-strange-addictions#page/1
Wikipedia. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Strange_Addiction
Wikipedia. List of My Strange Addiction episodes. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_My_Strange_Addiction_episodes
Tanorexia: Can excessive tanning be an addiction?
Back in June 1997, I appeared as the obligatory “addiction expert” on the BBC television programme ‘Esther’ talking about people who said they were addicted to tanning (and was dubbed by the researchers on the programme as ‘tanorexia’ – a term that – at the time – I had not come across and is still considered slang even by academics researching in the area). I have to admit that none of the case studies on the programme appeared to be addicted to tanning (at least based on my own addiction criteria) but it did at least alert me to the fact that some people at least claimed to be addicted to tanning.
There certainly appeared to be some similarities between the people interviewed and nicotine addiction in the sense that the ‘tanorexics’ knew they were significantly increasing their chances of getting skin cancer as a direct result of their risky behaviour but felt they were unable to stop doing it (similar to nicotine addicts who know they are increasing the probability of various cancers but also feel unable to stop despite knowing the health risks).
Since my appearance on the programme, tanning addiction – typically involving the repeated daily use of sun beds by women – appears to have become a topic for scientific investigation. If memory serves me correctly, most of the people who appeared on the show appeared to be using tanning as a way of raising their self-esteem and to feel better about themselves. Given that when we are exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning bed, our bodies produce it’s own mood-inducing morphine-like substances (i.e., endorphins), the idea that someone could become addicted to tanning is not as far-fetched as it could be.
In fact, in a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (USA) reported that frequent tanners (those who tanned 8-15 times a month; n=8) who took an endorphin blocker (naltrexone) similar to what a person undergoing alcohol or drug withdrawal suffers), whereas infrequent tanners (n=8) experienced no withdrawal symptoms under identical conditions. However, with only 16 participants in total, the results must be treated with some caution.
Symptoms and consequences of tanorexia are alleged to include (i) intense anxiety if sun bed sessions are missed by the tanorexic, (ii) competition among other tanorexics to see who can get the darkest tan, (iii) chronic frustration by the tanorexic that their skin colour is too light, and (iv), the belief by tanoexics that their skin colour is lighter than it actually is (similar to anorexics believing that they are much heavier than they actually are). Some academics claim that tanorexia is not actually the same as tanning addiction, and argue that tanorexics primary motivation is to get a deep coloured tan. However, there is little empirical research to show whether these tanning behaviours are different or part of the same syndrome.
A 2005 study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas (USA) and published in the US journal Archives of Dermatology claimed that more than half of beach lovers could be considered tanning addicts. They then went on to further claim that just over a quarter of the sample (26%) of “sun worshippers” would qualify as having a substance-related disorder if UV light was classed as the substance they crave. Their paper also reported that frequent tanners experienced a “loss of control” over their tanning schedule, and displayed a pattern of addiction similar to smokers and alcoholics.
Another study carried out in 2008 on 400 students and published in the American Journal of Health Behavior reported that 27% of the students were classified as “tanning dependent”. The authors claimed that those classed as being tanning dependent had a number of similarities to substance use, including (i) higher prevalence among youth, (ii) an initial perception that the behavior is image enhancing, (iii) high health risks and disregard for warnings about those risks, and (iv) the activity being mood enhancing. Independent predictors of tanning dependence included ethnicity (i.e., Caucasians more likely than African Americans to be tanning dependent), lack of skin protective behaviours (i.e., those sunbathing without sun cream and experiencing sunburn more likely to be tanning dependent), smoking (smokers more likely to be tanning dependent), and body mass index (obese people less likely to be tanning dependent).
There is also some interesting empirical evidence that in extreme cases, excessive tanning may be an indication of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental psychological condition where people are obsessively critical of their physique or self-image. A short article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported the case of 11 patients with BDD who used tanning in an attempt to conceal or improve the appearance of a perceived physical defect.
Overall, the evidence as to whether tanorexia and/or tanning addiction exists is limited with the vast majority of empirical data collected by dermatologists rather than psychologists and biologists. As I noted in a previous blog, I am not convinced – yet – that tanorexics experience a real dependence and/or addiction based on the published empirical evidence. However, at least there are research teams (particularly in the US) empirically investigating its existence.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Heckman, C.J., Egleston, B.L., Wilson, D.B. & Ingersoll, K.S. (2008). A preliminary investigation of the predictors of tanning dependence. American Journal of Health Behavior, 32, 451-464.
Hunter-Yates J., Dufresne, R.G. & Phillips, K.A. (2007). Tanning in body dysmorphic disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 56(5 Supplement), S107-S109.
Kaur, M., Liguori, A., Lang, W., Rapp, S., Fleischer, A., Feldman, S. (2006). Induction of withdrawal-like symptoms in a small randomized, controlled trial of opioid blockade in frequent tanners. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54, 709-711.
Warthan, M., Uchida, T. & Wagner, R. (2005). UV light tanning as a type of substance-related disorder. Archives of Dermatology, 141, 963-966.