Despite debate among experts as to whether the condition is real, the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled compulsive sexual behavior as a mental health disorder in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases list. Also called the ICD-11, the list is used by clinicians, physicians and scientists the world over for identifying and studying injuries, health issues and causes of death. Compulsive sexual behavior is listed among “impulse control disorders,” which include kleptomania and pyromania. The decision has sparked controversy. Spero News interview Rev. Frank Pavone for a Catholic Church perspective on the phenomenon of sexual compulsion. WHO is part of the United Nations apparatus.

Not all clinicians agree with WHO on including the disorder. Some do not believe it is a standalone disorder, while others doubt that sex is addictive and some argue that libido differs across humanity. The controversy is due, in part, because of limited research on the subject. As a result, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used as guidance in the United States for diagnosing mental health problems, did not include compulsive sexual behavior as a separate category..

According to CNN, Timothy Fong, MD, said, "For centuries, people have been trying to understand what is the cause of hypersexuality. It has been called all sorts of names over the years, but it's really only been in the last 40 years that we've tried to understand it from an academic perspective." Dr. Fong is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

In an exclusive interview with Spero News, Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life -- a pro-life group -- reflected on the moral, medical and legal implications of what he called “disordered sexuality.” Recognizing that the Catholic Church is “expert on humanity,” Pavone reflected on predictions that Pope Paul VI made after promulgating “Humanae Vitae” -- the 1968 document that set down Catholic doctrine regarding procured abortion and artificial contraception.

In section 17 of Humanae Vitae, the pontiff wrote that he feared that the widespread use of contraception would "lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality." Some Catholics and others have said that decline of moral values since 1968 has been patently obvious, noting the increase in the number of divorces, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. Paul VI also argued that "the man" will lose respect for "the woman" and thus "no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium." Men would reach "the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion." The pope expressed the fear that governments and their allies would become more powerful as a result of contraception, which he said would be a "dangerous weapon... in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies." Critics of contraception and abortion funded by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, note that in poorer countries, many people undergo sterilization unaware, while China’s forced abortion program shows the extreme to which governments will take population programs. 

Pavone recalled that during his training in moral theology, he was taught that good medicine makes for good morals and vice versa.” He said further that “moral law is not something that is imposed on us from the outside, but it is revealing to us from the inside how we are made, who we are called to me, and what the essence of our happiness and fulfillment really is.” The reason people feel that morality is imposed upon them, he said, is because of original sin and personal sin.

While recognizing there are differing opinions in the medical opinion about WHO’s designation of sexual compulsive disorder, Pavone said that it is not surprising. “To someone who believes in the Church’s teachings, they are going to view this as an affirmation of the value, beauty and dignity of human sexuality because we don’t assert, as some people say, that sex is wrong or the body is dirty.” What is negative, he said, is not sexuality but its “abuse.” “Sexuality is part of our fulfillment. It’s a reflection of God himself,” Pavone said. 

But when sexuality is seen as something beyond one’s control, Pavone said, the beauty and dignity of sexuality is thus reduced. “When we talk about not being able to control sexual urges, when we talk about things, like these medical people are saying, that it becomes a controlling aspect of your day-to-day behavior and it’s something you cannot stop, well that just reduces the dignity of sexuality. And it is a problem, it’s an addiction.” But a finding of sexual addiction by medical professionals, he said, does not eliminate the place for free will any more than it would for any other addiction. This reinforces, he said, the Catholic Church’s position on sexuality, and added that the medical and theological strains of thought on the subject are complementary. 

In the moral sphere, addiction can reduce the level of guilt, said Pavone, on the part of those who confess their sins. Addictions can be brought on by a person’s “free choice,” Pavone said. He would want to know in each case if the person is doing anything to foster the addiction, and whether the person is addressing the addiction, which in traditional moral terms means “avoiding the occasion of sin.” “Free agency,” Pavone said, “plays a role. It’s very much alive. No one should see addiction, whether it’s sexual or something else, as a free ticket. It’s not in an of itself an absolution from guilt, but neither should it be ignored that it can minimize guilt. And that’s a standard part of Catholic moral teaching.”

“It’s in the middle. You’ve got to steer between two extremes, that it’s only free choice or that it’s not at all a free choice. It’s a mixture of both,” Pavone affirmed. In the moral sphere, for someone who has received a medical diagnosis of addiction, persons who come to a priest to become “morally right” as well as “medically right” in confession may find that they guilt is mitigated, he said, but that is not the same as being relieved of responsibility.  “The person is always responsible for fighting the addiction,” Pavone said.

Rev. Frank Pavone

When Pavone was asked whether the rise of organizations such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and revelations of sexual torture of children and pedophilia by high-ranking politicians and bureaucrats in the UK are evidence that the pope’s prophecies were accurate, he said "Most definitely. Pope Paul VI spoke of the lowering of standards of morality, but it's also the lowering of the standards of reason. Sin clouds our reason, and when you institutionalize sin you cloud your institutional reason." Therefore, institutional reasoning about common-sense issues such as gender, the age of consent, or even why "we don't allow children to drive or drink or vote," he said, becomes blurred. "The [Catholic] Church is an expert in humanity," said Pavone, "The Church knows what happens when we condone certain patterns of sin.”

"No sin happens in isolation," Pavone continued, "There may be sins that are known only to the actor, but that doesn't mean the sin doesn't have an effect on other people. It does. It has an effect on those who have no idea of the sinful acts that a person made privately. But it affects how the person relates to others. We see that on a societal level in the groups you mentioned."

WHO’s definition of sexual behavior disorder does not speak to the number of sexual partners a person has or how much sex or what kind of sex. Instead, it describes the disorder where sexual behavior becomes the "central focus of the person's life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities."

According to WHO:

  • “Compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour. Symptoms may include repetitive sexual activities becoming a central focus of the person’s life to the point of neglecting health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities; numerous unsuccessful efforts to significantly reduce repetitive sexual behaviour; and continued repetitive sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it. 
  • “The pattern of failure to control intense, sexual impulses or urges and resulting repetitive sexual behaviour is manifested over an extended period of time (e.g., 6 months or more), and causes marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Distress that is entirely related to moral judgments and disapproval about sexual impulses, urges, or behaviours is not sufficient to meet this requirement.”




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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