Compulsive sexual behaviour is now a mental disorder, WHO says. Here’s what it is

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified compulsive sexual behaviour as a mental health disorder for the first time.

The WHO’s  International Classification of Diseases list (also called the ICD-11) was updated in June with the disorder included — and could be included by member states, such as Canada, in January 2022.

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The disorder is not characterized by the number of sexual partners or how much sex a person has, but rather the inability to control sexual urges.

According to the WHO, compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is defined as an inability to control intense sexual urges leading to people neglecting their health despite often deriving no pleasure from being intimate. It’s said to cause distress or impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of one’s life.

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According to the WHO, symptoms may also include:

  • Engaging in repetitive sexual activities has become a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities.
  • The person has made numerous unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce repetitive sexual behaviour.
  • The person continues to engage in the repetitive sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences.
  • The person continues to engage in repetitive sexual behaviour even when he/she derives little or no satisfaction from it.

“Evidence suggests that the disorder is a real clinical problem with potential significant consequences,” Christian Lindmeier, communications officer with WHO stated in an email. “Inclusion in ICD-11 is believed to help with addressing needs for treatment-seeking individuals.”

Is it the same as sex addiction?

There is still not enough evidence to label compulsive sexual behaviour disorder as an “addiction,” the WHO said. Instead, it falls into the category of “impulse control disorders.”

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“It is not currently known if the development and maintenance of the disorder follows that observed in substance abuse or gambling/gaming,” Lindmeier said. “More research will help to clarify this issue.”

Debate surrounding the disorder

The debate about whether to classify compulsive sexual behaviour as a mental disorder has been ongoing throughout the past decade. There are concerns by professionals that people who have a high sex drive could be wrongly diagnosed with this disorder, according to a research paper in NCBI.

“The diagnosis should also not be assigned to describe high levels of sexual interest and behaviour that are common among adolescents, even when this is associated with distress,” the authors stated.

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However, the authors added that there is growing evidence suggesting compulsory sexual behaviour disorder is a problem, that left untreated could have serious consequences.

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Adding this disorder to the ICD-11 will, “provide a better tool for addressing the unmet clinical needs of treatment-seeking patients as well as possibly reduce shame and guilt associated with help-seeking among distressed individuals,” the authors stated.

What’s the treatment?

Robert Weiss, an addiction specialist, told CNN that treatment for this disorder can include psychotherapy, antidepressants or support groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous.

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He said he’s treated more than 1,000 people with a compulsive sexual behaviour disorder and found once underlying problems are addressed patients often improve quickly.

“You don’t want to repress the desire. Sexuality is a part of being human, but you want to guide it,” Weiss told CNN.