by Elton Gomes
In the eleventh International Classification of Diseases (ICD) document, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified compulsive sexual behaviour, commonly known as sex addiction, as a mental illness for the first time. The inclusion comes a few weeks after the WHO included gaming addiction on its list of mental illnesses. The WHO has clarified that sexual addiction has nothing to do with an individual’s number of partners or how many times a person has sex, rather it is about when a person’s sexual behaviour becomes a “central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities.”
What has the WHO said?
Dr Valerie Voon from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that between two to four percent of people in the UK suffer from compulsive sexual behaviour. In the US, she claims that sexual addiction could affect between three to six percent of the population. She further stated that compulsive sexual behaviour tends to be hidden as it’s considered “shameful” and sex addicts are not prepared to face the issue. Dr Voon said, “Adding this to the WHO list is an excellent step for patients as it allows them to recognize that they are suffering with a problem — it takes it out of the shadows and they are able to seek help for it,” the New York Post reported. She added that the disorder might be treated alongside mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
The WHO defines compulsive sexual behaviour as a “persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour.” In other words, the disorder is capable of interfering with a person’s ability to go to work or to finish school. Although a person with the disorder might wish to control their constant need for sex, they aren’t able to do so. Moreover, they might not even receive pleasure from the repetitive sexual behaviour.
According to the definition, for an official diagnosis, a person has to be displaying symptoms over a period of six months or more. The definition also states that compulsive sexual behaviour is not the “distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours.”
What other changes have been made by the WHO
The WHO’s decision to recognize sexual addiction as a mental illness comes weeks after the international body registered gaming addiction as a mental disorder. WHO describes digital and video gaming addiction as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” that becomes so overpowering that it “takes precedence over other life interests”.
Shekhar Saxena, the WHO’s expert on mental health and substance abuse, said that some of the worst cases of gaming addiction have been noted where gamers play for up to 20 hours per day. Gamers have been known to ignore meals, sleep, school, or other daily chores. Saxena emphasised that only a minority of gamers might develop a problem, but recognizing early warning sings could prevent it.
In June 2018, the WHO removed transgenderism out of the mental illness category. Under the new catalogue, which requires approval from UN member countries, “gender incongruence” is presently listed under “conditions related to sexual health”, instead of “mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders”. WHO noted that gender incongruence is characterised as a “marked and persistent incongruence between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned sex.”
“We think it will reduce stigma so that it may help better social acceptance for these individuals,” Lale Say, the coordinator of the department of reproductive health and research at the WHO, told the Guardian.
Compulsive sexual behaviour in India
Now that the WHO had explicitly defined what constitutes compulsive sexual behaviour, psychologists might be able to treat patients better. However, in the Indian context, the topic of sex continues to be taboo and is rarely spoken about. Identifying cases of sexual addiction might still be difficult. However, organizations like Sex Addicts Anonymous are gradually helping people rid themselves of these inhibitions and discuss their addictions.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.