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Sex is now a disease. That may be an exaggeration, but in case you haven’t already heard, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently named compulsive sexual behavior to its list of classified diseases. Unsurprisingly, this year’s updates have generated more interest than usual. In treating some sexually compulsive behavior as a mental health issue, the WHO is wading into a controversial area of research.
The WHO issues or updates a list each year that is known as the International Classifications of Disease, or ICD-11. Medical and scientific professionals around the world, including providers and insurance companies here in the United States, use this list to categorize health-related conditions, illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. You can think of it as a bible for healthcare.
What The WHO Is Saying About Sex
Officially named “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” in the ICD-11 classification, the WHO pinpoints the disease as an overwhelming need for sex that dominates everything else in an individual’s life. At its core, it is a condition that blocks a person’s ability to manage powerful, sexual cravings. The pattern repeats persistently, and must, per the WHO classification, last for an extended period of time, around six months or more.
You may be curious as to how something like sex could have such a destructive effect on a person. It may not sound like suffering on the surface, but the WHO describes the longings associated with compulsive sexual behavior as powerful enough to prevent the patient from enjoying the foundational qualities of a normal life, including work, school, and relationships.
The WHO is also quick to point out that sexually compulsive behavior is not related to feelings of guilt or morality stemming from normal sexual behaviors. That is a separate issue.
The Response From The Medical Field
For the doctors that are already working in the emerging field, the new classification for compulsive sexual behavior is welcomed. Many are hopeful that wider acceptance will open up additional funding channels and treatment options for those grappling with the disease.
The mental health profession has its own manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was most recently updated in 2013 and included no such wording on compulsive sexual behavior. You might think that for something like sex, an act that has engrossed humankind for thousands of years, there would be plenty of research on the subject. Doctors, however, acknowledge that the science is limited for such a well-known subject. They are hopeful the stigma is lifting and a new dialogue is forming around sexually compulsive behavior.
Is Sex Addiction A Real Thing?
The ICD-11 addition has generated enormous controversy on the subject of sex addiction and whether it falls under the WHO’s classification. You wouldn’t be alone in wondering if the ICD-11 update is, in fact, referring to sex addiction and is that even a real condition?
Other forms of addiction, particularly as it pertains to substance abuse, are recognized ICD-11 diseases. There is debate, though, as to whether compulsive sexual behavior can meet the requirements of an addictive condition. For starters, there are no physical symptoms of either the addiction itself, or withdrawal. Mental health professionals point to gambling as an addiction that comes with the same physical compulsions as drugs and alcohol.
The counterpoint that some researchers make is that addiction to sex or even technology may not have the same outward manifestations, but they do affect the central nervous system in the same way as drugs. Whether sex can be addicting or not, destructive compulsive behavior merits the thorough body of research the medical community appears to now accept.