The World Health Organisation (WHO) has, for the first time, classified “compulsive sexual behaviour” – also referred to as sex addiction – as a mental disorder in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) list.
It will come as welcome news for people who say they have been suffering with the condition for years, but the WHO’s decision is not without controversy.
The updated WHO list (known as the ICD-11) is the WHO’s catalogue of diseases and injuries around the world. It acts as a reference point for medical professionals worldwide. It’s also a benchmark for health insurers.
However, while the WHO has defined compulsive sexual behaviour as a “persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour”, it has stopped short of labelling it an addiction. In fact, the UN health body has specifically stated that more research of the condition is needed before it can be likened to gambling or drug abuse.
Nevertheless, the WHO’s decision to include it in its latest ICD-11 means that those affected can now get help.
Nothing to do with how much sex a person has had
The disorder has nothing to do with how many sexual partners an individual has had or how much sex they have on a regular basis. It’s more when their behaviour becomes so compulsive they prioritise it over their health, personal needs and responsibilities.
For example, the condition may impact a person’s ability to go to work or attend school.
But to be diagnosed with compulsive sexual behaviour, people with the disorder need to have had it for at least six months or more.
In the same way the WHO’s decision to include a new gaming disorder classification in its latest ICD was met with controversy, the inclusion of compulsive sexual behaviour has sparked a debate. Some experts argue whether it is even a standalone condition, while others say the new label could be potentially shaming.
WHO expert Geoffrey Reed said it was unclear how many people there are suffering with the disorder and welcomed its inclusion, saying: “There is a population of people who feel out of control with regards to their own sexual behaviour and who suffer because of that.
“This is a genuine clinical population of people who have a legitimate health condition and who can be provided services in a legitimate way”.
Even without the addiction label, Reed believes the new categorisation will provide welcome relief for sufferers and give them some reassurance that they do indeed have a genuine condition.
The WHO’s recognition of compulsive sexual behaviour also means sufferers may be able to get treatment on the NHS going forward. According to a report in The Telegraph, a questionnaire on the Sex Addiction Help website, which has been completed by 21,058 people since 2013, reveals that 91% of those seeking help for sex addiction are male.
Despite the WHO’s decision to include compulsive sexual behaviour in its latest ICD sparking much controversy, it’s a step that will provide genuine reassurance for people who believe they’ve been suffering with the condition for years.
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