While the world is still debating about whether sex addiction is real or not, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified compulsive sexual behaviour or sex addiction as a mental health condition.
Earlier, amidst much controversy, gaming disorder was also included as a serious mental health issue in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
The ICD, a diagnostic manual published by the WHO, was last updated in 1990 and its new and updated edition is called ICD-11.
Compulsive sexual behaviour is defined as ‘a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour’, as per WHO.
So what decides whether you have compulsive sexual behavior?
As per the ICD, when a person suffering from compulsive sexual behavior exhibits ‘repetitive sexual activities’ that becomes ‘a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities’.
Speaking with FIT earlier, Dr Shailesh Jha, Associate Consultant Psychiatry, Apollo Hospitals, Sarita Vihar had this to say:
"A sex addict usually has an abnormally intense sex drive accompanied with persistent sexual thoughts. There is a compulsive sexual behavior and an inability to manage such a drive in given conditions." - Dr Shailesh Jha, Associate Consultant Psychiatry
For sex addicts, this intense desire dominates all their thoughts. It hampers their daily activities severely as such urges can quickly become uncontrollable.
So how long does a person need to exhibit such symptoms to be tagged as a sex addict?
As per WHO, a person with this disorder will exhibit ‘the pattern of failure to control intense, sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behaviour is manifested over an extended period of time, for example 6 months.’
But it’s important to not tag every sexual activity as compulsive sexual behaviour.
WHO clearly mentions that sex addiction is not ‘distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours.’
A Justified Classification or an Extreme Step?
Dr. Aruna Broota, a Psychologist in Delhi feels that sex addiction or sex mania has always existed. Such addicts live by the theory of ‘dil maange more’ (the heart wants more) so most of the activities like partying, romance, shopping, indulging in sexual activities etc. become an obsession.
Earlier, women with intense sexual desires were called nymphomaniacs while the same condition in men was known as satyriasis.
"But such people were earlier subjected to character assassination and looked down upon. So by classifying compulsive sexual behaviour as a mental health disorder, WHO is helping the society at large to take this issue more seriously and encouraging people who are suffering from this condition to seek treatment. " - Dr. Aruna Broota, Psychologist
But those who believe compulsive sexual behaviour is not real, say compulsive sexual behavior is part of a larger problem.
Therapists arguing against it feel that the root of sex addiction actually lies in other bigger psychological issues like depression or childhood abuse. So the main focus should on treating bigger mental health issues. They also feel that sex drive differs from person to person, so anyone with a higher sex drive cannot be labelled as a ‘sex addict’.
Another argument used by people opposing the classification is that it can be used to defend crimes under the guise of a mental health issue.
Dr Samir Parikh, Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, explains that like any other addictive process, sex addiction is also similar. One develops an addiction and follows it. When one tries to stop, one experiences withdrawal symptoms and tries to indulge in the activity again and feels guilty about it.
"But all addicts retain the ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. So if a sex addict forces himself/herself on someone and indulges in non-consensual sex, then it is still a crime and the fact that it’s a mental disorder doesn’t take anything away it. " - Dr Samir Parikh
Dr Parikh feels that this classification will help people acknowledge their addiction, seek help and lead better lives.
Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi felt that Indians first needed to talk openly about sex. Issues like sex addiction could only be acknowledged, discussed, diagnosed and treated if the taboo around sex was first eliminated.
"Taboo leads to misconceptions and low awareness levels among majority of the population. While addictions are usually difficult to treat, it becomes all the more challenging when the patients face alienation from the society." - Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist
(With media inputs)
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