Sweden Gets It Right: No Need to Make Sex a Sickness

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Sweden’s health officials have decided that seven “alternative” sexual behaviors will no long be listed as diseases.

The diagnoses which will soon be declassified as diseases include sadomasochism, fetishism, and transvestitism. The Board hopes that this will limit prejudice against these activities and their practitioners.

The National Board of Health and Welfare made the decision to declassify the behaviors because they are not illnesses in and of themselves. “These diagnoses are rooted in a time when everything other than the heterosexual missionary position were seen as sexual perversions,” says Board head Lars-Erik Holm.

Here in the U.S., people with intense sexual interests in bondage or whips, in leather, rubber, or silk, in exhibitionism or voyeurism, as well as many other “alternatives” are pathologized—by the DSM-IV as well as the clinical training of most psychologists and marriage counselors.

Why does it matter? Because people whose sexuality is officially classified as “sick” are more likely to lose their kids, their jobs, their military careers, and their civilian security clearances. Although, as Sweden’s Holm says, “These individuals’ sexual preferences have nothing to do with society,” American society does punish them.

To appreciate the importance of this bureaucratic action, recall that homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the U.S. until 1973. Included in the diagnostic manual DSM-II, it was finally omitted from the updated DSM-III. As people today discuss how many civil rights should be granted or withheld from gay Americans, imagine how the debate would look if people like Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, or the Mormon Church could say “yes, but the American Psychiatric Association says these men and women are sick.”

That’s why many people like San Francisco’s Dr. Charles Moser and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom are working to influence the content of the forthcoming DSM-V, expected in 2012. It really matters who’s considered sick.

The most common adult sexualities—including masturbation, oral sex, viewing pornography, and discomfort with monogamy—are already demonized by political, church, and “decency” leaders. Formally labeling millions of people sick or perverse for their private, consensual sexual behavior continues to damage America today. It creates the shame and guilt that encourage secrecy and substance abuse, and it prevents people from accepting themselves and building productive relationships and lives.

We salute Sweden for showing that a country can grow and widen its vision—“even” about sexuality.

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