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Sex Addiction Is Now Officially a Mental Illness, But Is That a Good Thing?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recently included sex addiction as a mental health condition in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), the WHO’s tool for diagnosing, managing and treating different physical and mental disorders. While reporting the news, The New York Post wrote, “Compulsive sex behavior has been classified as a mental illness for the first time,” but that isn’t exactly true. So let’s take a closer look at how the WHO’s sex addiction definition and how it differs from past psycho-sexual diagnoses.

What is sex addiction?

The WHO defines sex addiction as a “persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in a repetitive sexual behavior.”

Substance abuse counselors agree that addiction isn’t defined by how often you do something but rather its interference with your personal life. As such the WHO says the key symptom of a sex addiction is when a person makes sex their “central focus” often at the expense of one’s own health, personal care, interests and responsibilities.

Also, the WHO says that in order for someone’s sexual behavior to qualify as an “addiction” its associated behaviors should persist for six months or more and also cause a person “distress” in their personal lives.

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Dr. Valerie Voon of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said it’s estimated that between three and six percent of American adults suffer from sex addiction.

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Excessive sex has been listed as a mental illness before

Although sex addiction isn’t officially listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the DSM does have a listing for “Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” which can be used as a diagnosis of someone who has had a succession of sexual partners that are seen as little more than objects.

Even past iterations of the WHO’s ICD have had diagnoses for “Excessive Sexual Drive” as a “sexual dysfunction not due to a substance or known physiological condition,” and “excessive masturbation” as an “other behavioral and emotional disorder with onset usually occurring in childhood and adolescence.”

Some people worry that labelling sex addiction as a mental illnesses stigmatizes people with high libidos or provides a go-to defense for adulterers and sluts: “It’s not my fault — I’m a sex addict.”

But all addictions have underlying psychological reasons. A skilled mental health professional should be able to treat a client’s compulsive sexual behavior without slut-shaming or treating a person’s high sex drive as a problem in and of itself.

What do you think of the World Health Organization’s new sex addiction diagnosis?