Recognizing Sex Addiction

By Trenna Ahlstrom


The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized compulsive sexual health disorder as a mental disorder. “I think it’s a game changer, really,” said D.J. Burr, a Seattle-based psychotherapist, and sex addiction specialist. Burr received his training from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH). He is a recognized authority in the field of sex addiction recovery. In addition, Burr himself is in long-term recovery from sex addiction.


Burr uses his training and personal experience of recovery to help other people through his writing and podcast. He spoke with Oxbow Academy about the impact of the WHO taking steps to recognize sex addiction, and the impact this has on teens suffering from sex addiction and their families.

There is Relief in Recognition

While the change in classification is very recent, Burr has already seen relief in the men that he treats.


“I started talking with my clients about [the WHO classification]. I sense some relief from the men that I work with. They often have negative feedback from spouses or family members around whether or not sex addiction actually exists,” said Burr. “I think having that diagnosis gave them some relief that they could, in fact, tell their family members or loved ones that look, this is, in fact, legit, this is a serious issue that I am struggling with and an organization, the WHO, is recognizing it.”

People Go on Suffering

While recognition from the WHO is a significant change, the DSM-V, which is used to diagnose mental illness in the U.S.A. does not recognize sex addiction. This lack of recognition presents challenges for people who suffer from sex addiction and the people who love them.


Because the DSM-V does not recognize sex addiction, health insurance does not reimburse treatment for sex addiction. Instead, people suffering from sex addiction are treated for coexisting conditions like anxiety or depression, or for cross-addiction, such as drug or alcohol dependence.


“Not being able to put [sex addiction] on any kind of insurance billing I think it negates that sex addiction is an issue,” said Burr. “Some people think if you can’t get reimbursed for it, then it must not be a problem. I think that sends out the wrong message. A lot of clients won’t seek out treatment because they hear through the grapevine that sex addiction can’t be reimbursed. So a lot of people go on suffering.”

Love Your Child

According to Burr, change is happening, as demonstrated by the WHO’s recent decision. However, he estimates it may be another ten or fifteen years before sex addiction receives similar recognition within the U.S.A.


“This nation does not want to talk about sex. Sex is still taboo, we don’t want to have to talk about anything that has to do with sex, and I think that is the wrong approach,” said Burr. “We need to talk about sex. We are all human beings, we all have sex, we all need to talk about what it looks like when sex is no longer healthy.”


Oxbow Academy asked Burr what advice he would give to parents of teens who need sex addiction therapy now, not ten or fifteen years from now. He weighed the question thoughtfully before he answered.


“Love your child and listen to your child. Understand that what he or she is going through is not their fault. I would recommend that everyone in the family get some kind of mental health treatment. Based on my experience, if you approach a provider and ask for some type of reduced rate or sliding scale many of us have that available or know someone who does. So, don’t give up. Continue to seek the treatment.”