WHO categorizes “compulsive sexual behaviour” as mental disorder

The World Health Organisation now recognizes “compulsive sexual behaviour” as a mental disorder, but it is still unclear if it is an addiction in the same category and severity as gambling or drug abuse.

The contentious term “sex addiction” has been around for decades but experts disagreed over whether the condition exists.

In the current catalogue of International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the WHO legitimizes the concept and acknowledges “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder”, or CSBD, as a mental illness saying that CSBD was “characterised by persistent failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges… that cause marked distress or impairment.”

UN health body, however, stops short of lumping the condition together with addictive behaviours such as substance abuse or gambling, insisting more research is needed before describing the disorder as an addiction.

“Conservatively speaking, we don’t feel that the evidence is there yet… that the process is equivalent to the process with alcohol or heroin,” WHO expert Geoffrey Reed told AFP Saturday.

But it said the scientific debate was still ongoing as to “whether or not the compulsive sexual behaviour disorder constitutes the manifestation of a behavioural addiction”.

Reed said it was important that the ICD register, which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers, includes a concise definition of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder to ensure those affected can get help.

“There is a population of people who feel out of control with regards to their own sexual behaviour and who suffer because of that,” he said pointing out that their sexual behaviour sometimes had “very severe consequences.”

“This is a genuine clinical population of people who have a legitimate health condition and who can be provided services in a legitimate way.”

Though it is yet unclear how many people suffer from the disorder, Reed said the ICD listing would likely prompt more research into the condition and its prevalence, as well as into determining the most effective treatments and even that new categorization would be reassuring, since it lets people know they have “a genuine condition” and can seek treatment. Reed also said he did not believe there was reason to worry that the new CSBD listing could be used to excuse alleged criminal behaviours.

While it did not recognize sex addiction in the firs t update of its ICD catalogue since the 1990s, WHO did for the first time recognize video gaming as an addiction, listing it alongside addictions to gambling and drugs like cocaine.

The document, which member states will be asked to approve during the World Health Assembly in Geneva next May, will take effect from January 1, 2022, if it is adopted.


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