What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior, and Is It the Same Thing As ‘Sex Addiction’?

Sex addiction is nothing new. But debates surrounding its legitimacy have resurfaced — and intensified — since Harvey Weinstein responded to his decades-long streak of inappropriate conduct by fleeing to a treatment center to deal with his “issues.”

Now, the World Health Organization says there’s evidence that uncontrollable impulses and behaviors like this could be legitimate. It has officially classified “compulsive sexual behavior” as a mental disorder in its International Classification of Diseases.

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein | Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

According to the ICD, compulsive sexual behavior disorder is a “persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.”

This was the same ICD update that first acknowledged “gaming disorder” for individuals showing signs of addictive behavior toward activities such as playing video games.

Similar to compulsive gaming, it’s still unclear whether or not compulsive sexual behavior falls under the addiction umbrella. While their psychological symptoms might look similar, it’s currently called an impulse-control disorder. Individuals with these disorders can’t resist performing an action or responding to an urge despite its repeated consequences.

How is this different from an addiction? Technically, an addiction is a dependence on a substance or behavior. It’s classified as a brain disorder because excessive use of substances — such as alcohol — change the brain.

Impulse control is just one symptom of a substance abuse disorder. The American Psychiatric Association lists possible addictions such as tobacco, alcohol, opioids, and marijuana, but not behaviors such as gaming, gambling, internet use, or sexual activity.

doctor waiting room

doctor waiting room | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Compulsive sexual behavioral disorder was rejected as an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnostic manual in its most recent update. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t legitimate.

Even though the International Classification of Diseases is not the same as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, professionals use each separately to offer treatment options to those experiencing life-disrupting symptoms they can’t control.

Both allow certified health professionals to officially diagnose and hopefully treat individuals with issues related to their mental health. One is a global effort to reduce disease in over 100 countries. The other is assembled, approved, and used exclusively by the APA.

According to Mayo Clinic, key symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior might include:

  • Intense and repeated sexual urges, behaviors, and fantasies that feel out of your control
  • Use of sexual behaviors to escape other problems
  • Failed attempts to control or stop behaviors
  • Continued engagement in behaviors despite severe consequences.

Classifying compulsive sexual behavior as a mental disorder is simply a means of providing adequate treatment avenues for individuals who can’t go about their normal lives because of sexual thoughts and compulsions. It’s a means of diagnosis — not an excuse for anyone who

Now, hopefully, those who seek treatment can get the help they need to relieve the burdens of their symptoms. And those who hope to excuse their unforgivable behaviors will still, thanks to those who have had and will have the courage to speak up, face the consequences of their actions.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!