On the Social Existence of Mental Health Categories: The Case of Sex Addiction

Baptiste Pascal Marylin Brossard, Melissa Roy, Julia M Brown, Benjamin Hemmings, Emmanuelle Larocque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mental health categories can circulate in societies regardless of their medical recognition. This article asks why some labels are adopted en masse to commonly characterize some forms of distress, while other labels remain confined to specialist spheres, if barely reaching transient usage. Contrasting with many examples of medicalisation, ‘sex addiction’ offers a heuristic case study because it was only after its exclusion from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994 that it became widely used to pathologize sexual excess in Western cultures. To understand how this and other categories acquire such popularity, it is necessary to account more explicitly for the multiple social appropriations of these categories within various non-medical fields and examine how they circulate between these fields. Drawing on two years of qualitative data collection from North American and Australian social institutions of non-medical therapy, law, the media and religion, this article proposes a theoretical and methodological framework for studying the ‘social existence’ of mental health categories like sex addiction.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Problems
Early online date15 Jun 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Mental health
  • Medicalization
  • Sex Addiction
  • Ecological Niches

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