WHO now includes compulsive sexual behaviour disorder in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) list. I reckon wherever the word compulsion is used it’s just another name for addiction. Compulsion in this sense means ‘I know what I’m doing is bad for me and hurts others, but I can’t stop doing it’. Whether that’s using porn or sex workers or having affairs, it all comes under the same umbrella.
This WHO decision is a big deal for people like me who treat people with sex addiction and their families. For far too long sex addiction has been such a controversial subject that it was pushed under the carpet and not only ignored, but regarded with great suspicion. Denial is not a river in Egypt.
The ICD is an important document that clinicians and scientists around the world use to identify and study health problems, injuries and causes of death. And, believe me, sex addiction can lead to death.
The ICD defines compulsive sexual behaviour disorder as a ‘persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour’ over a period of longer than six months.
Researchers are only just writing about the tip of the iceberg regarding sex addiction and it will take a very long time for evidence to sway public opinion. In the meantime, the revised ICI list means there’s hope. When a weighty body like the WHO announces something like this, people will start to take notice.
I welcome this decision. It’s a good place to start for the still-suffering sex addict who is struggling to accept that he or she has a life-threatening disorder. Simply knowing that it’s a viable diagnosis is a very basic first step; getting help is another. People do recover if they have the capacity to be honest with themselves, and the WHO’s decision will help cut through the layers of denial that can keep a person in active sexual addiction.
It took many years for gambling to be accepted as a process addiction, but it’s now been included in another diagnostical manual, the DSM. The ICD is more widely used, however, and New Zealand needs to lift its game if we’re to catch up with the rest of the world in accepting this much-maligned disorder. It will mean more work for the already over-stretched addictions counsellors working in government funded organisations and NGOs, but I believe if clinicians don’t consider sex addiction as part of the diagnosis of their clients, we’re doing them a disservice.
· Bridget is the only female CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist) in New Zealand.