Categorisation and diagnosis of gender dysphoria
The DSM is the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, maintained by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The latest version is the fifth edition, DSM-5, published in 2013. It supersedes DSM-IV from 1994.
The importance of the DSM classification manual of mental disorders and health-related conditions can hardly be overstated. It provides a state-of-the-art consensus with regards to the definitions and diagnoses of health conditions and is the basis for health care.
The DSM-5 categorises mental disorders into 22 chapters. On this page, I cite the relevant chapter “Gender Dysphoria”. To provide a differentiation, I also quote the subcategory “Transvestic disorder”, which is part of the chapter “Paraphilic Disorders”. The full handbook can be purchased from the APA .
Index and categories
In this chapter, there is one overarching diagnosis of gender dysphoria, with separate developmentally appropriate criteria sets for children and for adolescents and adults. The area of sex and gender is highly controversial and has led to a proliferation of terms whose meanings vary over time and within and between disciplines. An additional source of confusion is that in English “sex” connotes both male/female and sexuality. This chapter employs constructs and terms as they are widely used by clinicians from various disciplines with specialization in this area. In this chapter, sex and sexual refer to the biological indicators of male and female (understood in the context of reproductive capacity), such as in sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia. Disorders of sex development denote conditions of inborn somatic deviations of the reproductive tract from the norm and/or discrepancies among the biological indicators of male and female. Cross-sex hormone treatment denotes the use of feminizing hormones in an individual assigned male at birth based on traditional biological indicators or the use of masculinizing hormones in an individual assigned female at birth.
The need to introduce the term gender arose with the realization that for individuals with conflicting or ambiguous biological indicators of sex (i.e., “intersex”), the lived role in society and/or the identification as male or female could not be uniformly associated with or predicted from the biological indicators and, later, that some individuals develop an identity as female or male at variance with their uniform set of classical biological indicators. Thus, gender is used to denote the public (and usually legally recognized) lived role as boy or girl, man or woman, but, in contrast to certain social constructionist theories, biological factors are seen as contributing, in interaction with social and psychological factors, to gender development. Gender assignment refers to the initial assignment as male or female. This occurs usually at birth and, thereby, yields the “natal gender”. Gender-atypical refers to somatic features or behaviors that are not typical (in a statistical sense) of individuals with the same assigned gender in a given society and historical era; for behavior, gender-nonconforming is an alternative descriptive term. Gender reassignment denotes an official (and usually legal) change of gender. Gender identity is a category of social identity and refers to an individual’s identification as male, female, or, occasionally, some category other than male or female. Gender dysphoria as a general descriptive term refers to an individual’s affective/ cognitive discontent with the assigned gender but is more specifically defined when used as a diagnostic category. Transgender refers to the broad spectrum of individuals who transiently or persistently identify with a gender different from their natal gender. Transsexual denotes an individual who seeks, or has undergone, a social transition from male to female or female to male, which in many, but not all, cases also involves a somatic transition by cross-sex hormone treatment and genital surgery (sex reassignment surgery).
Gender dysphoria refers to the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one's experienced or expressed gender and one's assigned gender. Although not all individuals will experience distress as a result of such incongruence, many are distressed if the desired physical interventions by means of hormones and/or surgery are not available. The current term is more descriptive than the previous DSM-IV term gender identity disorder and focuses on dysphoria as the clinical problem, not identity per se.
302.85 (F64.1 )
The post-transition specifier may be used in the context of continuing treatment procedures that serve to support the new gender assignment.
Individuals with gender dysphoria have a marked incongruence between the gender they have been assigned to (usually at birth, referred to as natal gender) and their experienced/expressed gender. This discrepancy is the core component of the diagnosis. There must also be evidence of distress about this incongruence. Experienced gender may include alternative gender identities beyond binary stereotypes. Consequently, the distress is not limited to a desire to simply be of the other gender, but may include a desire to be of an alternative gender, provided that it differs from the individual’s assigned gender.
Gender dysphoria manifests itself differently in different age groups. Prepubertal natal girls with gender dysphoria may express the wish to be a boy, assert they are a boy, or assert they will grow up to be a man. They prefer boys’ clothing and hairstyles, are often perceived by strangers as boys, and may ask to be called by a boy’s name. Usually, they display intense negative reactions to parental attempts to have them wear dresses or other feminine attire. Some may refuse to attend school or social events where such clothes are required. These girls may demonstrate marked cross-gender identification in role-playing, dreams, and fantasies. Contact sports, rough-and-tumble play, traditional boyhood games, and boys as playmates are most often preferred. They show little interest in stereotypically feminine toys (e.g., dolls) or activities (e.g., feminine dress-up or role-play). Occasionally, they refuse to urinate in a sitting position. Some natal girls may express a desire to have a penis or claim to have a penis or that they will grow one when older. They may also state that they do not want to develop breasts or menstruate.
Prepubertal natal boys with gender dysphoria may express the wish to be a girl or assert they are a girl or that they will grow up to be a woman. They have a preference for dressing in girls’ or women’s clothes or may improvise clothing from available materials (e.g., using towels, aprons, and scarves for long hair or skirts). These children may role- play female figures (e.g., playing “mother”) and often are intensely interested in female fantasy figures. Traditional feminine activities, stereotypical games, and pastimes (e.g., “playing house”; drawing feminine pictures; watching television or videos of favorite female characters) are most often preferred. Stereotypical female-type dolls (e.g., Barbie) are often favorite toys, and girls are their preferred playmates. They avoid rough-and-tumble play and competitive sports and have little interest in stereotypically masculine toys (e.g., cars, trucks). Some may pretend not to have a penis and insist on sitting to urinate. More rarely, they may state that they find their penis or testes disgusting, that they wish them removed, or that they have, or wish to have, a vagina.
In young adolescents with gender dysphoria, clinical features may resemble those of children or adults with the condition, depending on developmental level. As secondary sex characteristics of young adolescents are not yet fully developed, these individuals may not state dislike of them, but they are concerned about imminent physical changes.
In adults with gender dysphoria, the discrepancy between experienced gender and physical sex characteristics is often, but not always, accompanied by a desire to be rid of primary and/or secondary sex characteristics and/or a strong desire to acquire some primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender. To varying degrees, adults with gender dysphoria may adopt the behavior, clothing, and mannerisms of the experienced gender. They feel uncomfortable being regarded by others, or functioning in society, as members of their assigned gender. Some adults may have a strong desire to be of a different gender and treated as such, and they may have an inner certainty to feel and respond as the experienced gender without seeking medical treatment to alter body characteristics. They may find other ways to resolve the incongruence between experienced/expressed and assigned gender by partially living in the desired role or by adopting a gender role neither conventionally male nor conventionally female.
When visible signs of puberty develop, natal boys may shave their legs at the first signs of hair growth. They sometimes bind their genitals to make erections less visible. Girls may bind their breasts, walk with a stoop, or use loose sweaters to make breasts less visible. Increasingly, adolescents request, or may obtain without medical prescription and supervision, hormonal suppressors (“blockers”) of gonadal steroids (e.g., gonadotropin-releasing hormone [GnRH] analog, spironolactone). Clinically referred adolescents often want hormone treatment and many also wish for gender reassignment surgery. Adolescents living in an accepting environment may openly express the desire to be and be treated as the experienced gender and dress partly or completely as the experienced gender, have a hairstyle typical of the experienced gender, preferentially seek friendships with peers of the other gender, and/or adopt a new first name consistent with the experienced gender. Older adolescents, when sexually active, usually do not show or allow partners to touch their sexual organs. For adults with an aversion toward their genitals, sexual activity is constrained by the preference that their genitals not be seen or touched by their partners. Some adults may seek hormone treatment (sometimes without medical prescription and supervision) and gender reassignment surgery. Others are satisfied with either hormone treatment or surgery alone.
Adolescents and adults with gender dysphoria before gender reassignment are at increased risk for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicides. After gender reassignment, adjustment may vary, and suicide risk may persist.
For natal adult males, prevalence ranges from 0.005 % to 0.014 %, and for natal females, from 0.002 % to 0.003 %. Since not all adults seeking hormone treatment and surgical reassignment attend specialty clinics, these rates are likely modest underestimates. Sex differences in rate of referrals to specialty clinics vary by age group. In children, sex ratios of natal boys to girls range from 2:1 to 4.5:1. In adolescents, the sex ratio is close to parity; in adults, the sex ratio favors natal males, with ratios ranging from 1:1 to 6.1:1. In two countries, the sex ratio appears to favor natal females (Japan: 2.2:1; Poland: 3.4:1).
Because expression of gender dysphoria varies with age, there are separate criteria sets for children versus adolescents and adults. Criteria for children are defined in a more concrete, behavioral manner than those for adolescents and adults. Many of the core criteria draw on well-documented behavioral gender differences between typically developing boys and girls. Young children are less likely than older children, adolescents, and adults to express extreme and persistent anatomic dysphoria. In adolescents and adults, incongruence between experienced gender and somatic sex is a central feature of the diagnosis. Factors related to distress and impairment also vary with age. A very young child may show signs of distress (e.g., intense crying) only when parents tell the child that he or she is “really” not a member of the other gender but only “desires” to be. Distress may not be manifest in social environments supportive of the child’s desire to live in the role of the other gender and may emerge only if the desire is interfered with. In adolescents and adults, distress may manifest because of strong incongruence between experienced gender and somatic sex. Such distress may, however, be mitigated by supportive environments and knowledge that biomedical treatments exist to reduce incongruence. Impairment (e.g., school refusal, development of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse) may be a consequence of gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria without a disorder of sex development. For clinic-referred children, onset of cross-gender behaviors is usually between ages 2 and 4 years. This corresponds to the developmental time period in which most typically developing children begin expressing gendered behaviors and interests. For some preschool-age children, both pervasive cross-gender behaviors and the expressed desire to be the other gender may be present, or, more rarely, labeling oneself as a member of the other gender may occur. In some cases, the expressed desire to be the other gender appears later, usually at entry into elementary school. A small minority of children express discomfort with their sexual anatomy or will state the desire to have a sexual anatomy corresponding to the experienced gender (“anatomic dysphoria”). Expressions of anatomic dysphoria become more common as children with gender dysphoria approach and anticipate puberty.
Rates of persistence of gender dysphoria from childhood into adolescence or adulthood vary. In natal males, persistence has ranged from 2.2 % to 30 %. In natal females, persistence has ranged from 12 % to 50 %. Persistence of gender dysphoria is modestly correlated with dimensional measures of severity ascertained at the time of a childhood baseline assessment. In one sample of natal males, lower socioeconomic background was also modestly correlated with persistence. It is unclear if particular therapeutic approaches to gender dysphoria in children are related to rates of long-term persistence. Extant follow-up samples consisted of children receiving no formal therapeutic intervention or receiving therapeutic interventions of various types, ranging from active efforts to reduce gender dysphoria to a more neutral, “watchful waiting” approach. It is unclear if children “encouraged” or supported to live socially in the desired gender will show higher rates of persistence, since such children have not yet been followed longitudinally in a systematic manner. For both natal male and female children showing persistence, almost all are sexually attracted to individuals of their natal sex. For natal male children whose gender dysphoria does not persist, the majority are androphilic (sexually attracted to males) and often self-identify as gay or homosexual (ranging from 63 % to 100 %). In natal female children whose gender dysphoria does not persist, the percentage who are gynephilic (sexually attracted to females) and self-identify as lesbian is lower (ranging from 32 % to 50 %).
In both adolescent and adult natal males, there are two broad trajectories for development of gender dysphoria: early onset and late onset. Early-onset gender dysphoria starts in childhood and continues into adolescence and adulthood; or, there is an intermittent period in which the gender dysphoria desists and these individuals self-identify as gay or homosexual, followed by recurrence of gender dysphoria. Late-onset gender dysphoria occurs around puberty or much later in life. Some of these individuals report having had a desire to be of the other gender in childhood that was not expressed verbally to others. Others do not recall any signs of childhood gender dysphoria. For adolescent males with late-onset gender dysphoria, parents often report surprise because they did not see signs of gender dysphoria during childhood. Expressions of anatomic dysphoria are more common and salient in adolescents and adults once secondary sex characteristics have developed. Adolescent and adult natal males with early-onset gender dysphoria are almost always sexually attracted to men (androphilic). Adolescents and adults with late-onset gender dysphoria frequently engage in transvestic behavior with sexual excitement. The majority of these individuals are gynephilic or sexually attracted to other posttransition natal males with late-onset gender dysphoria. A substantial percentage of adult males with late-onset gender dysphoria cohabit with or are married to natal females. After gender transition, many self-identify as lesbian. Among adult natal males with gender dysphoria, the early-onset group seeks out clinical care for hormone treatment and reassignment surgery at an earlier age than does the late-onset group. The late-onset group may have more fluctuations in the degree of gender dysphoria and be more ambivalent about and less likely satisfied after gender reassignment surgery.
In both adolescent and adult natal females, the most common course is the early-onset form of gender dysphoria. The late-onset form is much less common in natal females compared with natal males. As in natal males with gender dysphoria, there may have been a period in which the gender dysphoria desisted and these individuals self-identified as lesbian; however, with recurrence of gender dysphoria, clinical consultation is sought, often with the desire for hormone treatment and reassignment surgery. Parents of natal adolescent females with the late-onset form also report surprise, as no signs of childhood gender dysphoria were evident. Expressions of anatomic dysphoria are much more common and salient in adolescents and adults than in children.
Adolescent and adult natal females with early-onset gender dysphoria are almost always gynephilic. Adolescents and adults with the late-onset form of gender dysphoria are usually androphilic and after gender transition self-identify as gay men. Natal females with the late-onset form do not have co-occurring transvestic behavior with sexual excitement.
Gender dysphoria in association with a disorder of sex development. Most individuals with a disorder of sex development who develop gender dysphoria have already come to medical attention at an early age. For many, starting at birth, issues of gender assignment were raised by physicians and parents. Moreover, as infertility is quite common for this group, physicians are more willing to perform cross-sex hormone treatments and genital surgery before adulthood.Disorders of sex development in general are frequently associated with gender-atypical behavior starting in early childhood. However, in the majority of cases, this does not lead to gender dysphoria. As individuals with a disorder of sex development become aware of their medical history and condition, many experience uncertainty about their gender, as opposed to developing a firm conviction that they are another gender. However, most do not progress to gender transition. Gender dysphoria and gender transition may vary considerably as a function of a disorder of sex development, its severity, and assigned gender.
Temperamental. For individuals with gender dysphoria without a disorder of sex development, atypical gender behavior among individuals with early-onset gender dysphoria develops in early preschool age, and it is possible that a high degree of atypicality makes the development of gender dysphoria and its persistence into adolescence and adulthood more likely.
Environmental. Among individuals with gender dysphoria without a disorder of sex development, males with gender dysphoria (in both childhood and adolescence) more commonly have older brothers than do males without the condition. Additional predisposing factors under consideration, especially in individuals with late-onset gender dysphoria (adolescence, adulthood), include habitual fetishistic transvestism developing into autogynephilia (i.e., sexual arousal associated with the thought or image of oneself as a woman) and other forms of more general social, psychological, or developmental problems.
Genetic and physiological. For individuals with gender dysphoria without a disorder of sex development, some genetic contribution is suggested by evidence for (weak) familiality of transsexualism among non-twin siblings, increased concordance for transsexualism in monozygotic compared with dizygotic same-sex twins, and some degree of heritability of gender dysphoria. As to endocrine findings, no endogenous systemic abnormalities in sex-hormone levels have been found in 46,XY individuals, whereas there appear to be increased androgen levels (in the range found in hirsute women but far below normal male levels) in 46,XX individuals. Overall, current evidence is insufficient to label gender dysphoria without a disorder of sex development as a form of intersexuality limited to the central nervous system.
In gender dysphoria associated with a disorder of sex development, the likelihood of later gender dysphoria is increased if prenatal production and utilization (via receptor sensitivity) of androgens are grossly atypical relative to what is usually seen in individuals with the same assigned gender. Examples include 46,XY individuals with a history of normal male prenatal hormone milieu but inborn nonhormonal genital defects (as in cloacal bladder exstrophy or penile agenesis) and who have been assigned to the female gender. The likelihood of gender dysphoria is further enhanced by additional, prolonged, highly gender-atypical postnatal androgen exposure with somatic virilization as may occur in female-raised and non-castrated 46,XY individuals with 5-alpha reductase-2 deficiency or 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency or in female-raised 46,XX individuals with classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia with prolonged periods of non-adherence to glucocorticoid replacement therapy. However, the prenatal androgen milieu is more closely related to gendered behavior than to gender identity. Many individuals with disorders of sex development and markedly gender-atypical behavior do not develop gender dysphoria. Thus, gender-atypical behavior by itself should not be interpreted as an indicator of current or future gender dysphoria. There appears to be a higher rate of gender dysphoria and patient-initiated gender change from assigned female to male than from assigned male to female in 46,XY individuals with a disorder of sex development.
Individuals with gender dysphoria have been reported across many countries and cultures. The equivalent of gender dysphoria has also been reported in individuals living in cultures with institutionalized gender categories other than male or female. It is unclear whether with these individuals the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria would be met.
Individuals with a somatic disorder of sex development show some correlation of final gender identity outcome with the degree of prenatal androgen production and utilization. However, the correlation is not robust enough for the biological factor, where ascertainable, to replace a detailed and comprehensive diagnostic interview evaluation for gender dysphoria.
Preoccupation with cross-gender wishes may develop at all ages after the first 2–3 years of childhood and often interfere with daily activities. In older children, failure to develop age-typical same-sex peer relationships and skills may lead to isolation from peer groups and to distress. Some children may refuse to attend school because of teasing and harassment or pressure to dress in attire associated with their assigned sex. Also in adolescents and adults, preoccupation with cross-gender wishes often interferes with daily activities. Relationship difficulties, including sexual relationship problems, are common, and functioning at school or at work may be impaired. Gender dysphoria, along with atypical gender expression, is associated with high levels of stigmatization, discrimination, and victimization, leading to negative self-concept, increased rates of mental disorder comorbidity, school dropout, and economic marginalization, including unemployment, with attendant social and mental health risks, especially in individuals from resource-poor family backgrounds. In addition, these individuals’ access to health services and mental health services may be impeded by structural barriers, such as institutional discomfort or inexperience in working with this patient population.
Nonconformity to gender roles. Gender dysphoria should be distinguished from simple nonconformity to stereotypical gender role behavior by the strong desire to be of another gender than the assigned one and by the extent and pervasiveness of gender-variant activities and interests. The diagnosis is not meant to merely describe nonconformity to stereotypical gender role behavior (e.g., “tomboyism” in girls, “girly-boy” behavior in boys, occasional cross-dressing in adult men). Given the increased openness of atypical gender expressions by individuals across the entire range of the transgender spectrum, it is important that the clinical diagnosis be limited to those individuals whose distress and impairment meet the specified criteria.
Transvestic disorder. Transvestic disorder occurs in heterosexual (or bisexual) adolescent and adult males (rarely in females) for whom cross-dressing behavior generates sexual excitement and causes distress and/or impairment without drawing their primary gender into question. It is occasionally accompanied by gender dysphoria. An individual with transvestic disorder who also has clinically significant gender dysphoria can be given both diagnoses. In many cases of late-onset gender dysphoria in gynephilic natal males, transvestic behavior with sexual excitement is a precursor.
Body dysmorphic disorder. An individual with body dysmorphic disorder focuses on the alteration or removal of a specific body part because it is perceived as abnormally formed, not because it represents a repudiated assigned gender. When an individual’s presentation meets criteria for both gender dysphoria and body dysmorphic disorder, both diagnoses can be given. Individuals wishing to have a healthy limb amputated (termed by some body integrity identity disorder) because it makes them feel more “complete” usually do not wish to change gender, but rather desire to live as an amputee or a disabled person.
Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. In schizophrenia, there may rarely be delusions of belonging to some other gender. In the absence of psychotic symptoms, insistence by an individual with gender dysphoria that he or she is of some other gender is not considered a delusion. Schizophrenia (or other psychotic disorders) and gender dysphoria may co-occur.
Other clinical presentations. Some individuals with an emasculinization desire who develop an alternative, non-male/non-female gender identity do have a presentation that meets criteria for gender dysphoria. However, some males seek castration and/or penectomy for aesthetic reasons or to remove psychological effects of androgens without changing male identity; in these cases, the criteria for gender dysphoria are not met.
Clinically referred children with gender dysphoria show elevated levels of emotional and behavioral problems – most commonly, anxiety, disruptive and impulse-control, and depressive disorders. In prepubertal children, increasing age is associated with having more behavioral or emotional problems; this is related to the increasing non-acceptance of gender-variant behavior by others. In older children, gender-variant behavior often leads to peer ostracism, which may lead to more behavioral problems. The prevalence of mental health problems differs among cultures; these differences may also be related to differences in attitudes toward gender variance in children. However, also in some non-Western cultures, anxiety has been found to be relatively common in individuals with gender dysphoria, even in cultures with accepting attitudes toward gender-variant behavior. Autism spectrum disorder is more prevalent in clinically referred children with gender dysphoria than in the general population. Clinically referred adolescents with gender dysphoria appear to have comorbid mental disorders, with anxiety and depressive disorders being the most common. As in children, autism spectrum disorder is more prevalent in clinically referred adolescents with gender dysphoria than in the general population. Clinically referred adults with gender dysphoria may have coexisting mental health problems, most commonly anxiety and depressive disorders.
This category applies to presentations in which symptoms characteristic of gender dysphoria that cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning predominate but do not meet the full criteria for gender dysphoria. The other specified gender dysphoria category is used in situations in which the clinician chooses to communicate the specific reason that the presentation does not meet the criteria for gender dysphoria. This is done by recording “other specified gender dysphoria” followed by the specific reason (e.g., “brief gender dysphoria”).
An example of a presentation that can be specified using the “other specified” designation is the following:
The current disturbance meets symptom criteria for gender dysphoria, but the duration is less than 6 months.
This category applies to presentations in which symptoms characteristic of gender dysphoria that cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning predominate but do not meet the full criteria for gender dysphoria. The unspecified gender dysphoria category is used in situations in which the clinician chooses not to specify the reason that the criteria are not met for gender dysphoria, and includes presentations in which there is insufficient information to make a more specific diagnosis.
Paraphilic disorders included in this manual are voyeuristic disorder (spying on others in private activities), exhibitionistic disorder (exposing the genitals), frotteuristic disorder (touching or rubbing against a nonconsenting individual), sexual masochism disorder (undergoing humiliation, bondage, or suffering), sexual sadism disorder (inflicting humiliation, bondage, or suffering), pedophilic disorder (sexual focus on children), fetishistic disorder (using non-living objects or having a highly specific focus on non-genital body parts), and transvestic disorder (engaging in sexually arousing cross-dressing). These disorders have traditionally been selected for specific listing and assignment of explicit diagnostic criteria in DSM for two main reasons: they are relatively common, in relation to other paraphilic disorders, and some of them entail actions for their satisfaction that, because of their noxiousness or potential harm to others, are classed as criminal offenses. The eight listed disorders do not exhaust the list of possible paraphilic disorders. Many dozens of distinct paraphilias have been identified and named, and almost any of them could, by virtue of its negative consequences for the individual or for others, rise to the level of a paraphilic disorder. The diagnoses of the other specified and unspecified paraphilic disorders are therefore indispensable and will be required in many cases.
In this chapter, the order of presentation of the listed paraphilic disorders generally corresponds to common classification schemes for these conditions. The first group of disorders is based on anomalous activity preferences. These disorders are subdivided into courtship disorders, which resemble distorted components of human courtship behavior (voyeuristic disorder, exhibitionistic disorder, and frotteuristic disorder), and algolagnic disorders, which involve pain and suffering (sexual masochism disorder and sexual sadism disorder). The second group of disorders is based on anomalous target preferences. These disorders include one directed at other humans (pedophilic disorder) and two directed elsewhere (fetishistic disorder and transvestic disorder).
The term paraphilia denotes any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, physically mature, consenting human partners. In some circumstances, the criteria “intense and persistent” may be difficult to apply, such as in the assessment of persons who are very old or medically ill and who may not have “intense” sexual interests of any kind. In such circumstances, the term paraphilia may be defined as any sexual interest greater than or equal to normophilic sexual interests. There are also specific paraphilias that are generally better described as preferential sexual interests than as intense sexual interests.
Some paraphilias primarily concern the individual’s erotic activities, and others primarily concern the individual’s erotic targets. Examples of the former would include intense and persistent interests in spanking, whipping, cutting, binding, or strangulating another person, or an interest in these activities that equals or exceeds the individual's interest in copulation or equivalent interaction with another person. Examples of the latter would include intense or preferential sexual interest in children, corpses, or amputees (as a class), as well as intense or preferential interest in nonhuman animals, such as horses or dogs, or in inanimate objects, such as shoes or articles made of rubber.
A paraphilic disorder is a paraphilia that is currently causing distress or impairment to the individual or a paraphilia whose satisfaction has entailed personal harm, or risk of harm, to others. A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.
In the diagnostic criteria set for each of the listed paraphilic disorders. Criterion A specifies the qualitative nature of the paraphilia (e.g., an erotic focus on children or on exposing the genitals to strangers), and Criterion B specifies the negative consequences of the paraphilia (i.e., distress, impairment, or harm to others). In keeping with the distinction between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders, the term diagnosis should be reserved for individuals who meet both Criteria A and B (i.e., individuals who have a paraphilic disorder). If an individual meets Criterion A but not Criterion B for a particular paraphilia – a circumstance that might arise when a benign paraphilia is discovered during the clinical investigation of some other condition – then the individual may be said to have that paraphilia but not a paraphilic disorder.
It is not rare for an individual to manifest two or more paraphilias. In some cases, the paraphilic foci are closely related and the connection between the paraphilias is intuitively comprehensible (e.g., foot fetishism and shoe fetishism). In other cases, the connection between the paraphilias is not obvious, and the presence of multiple paraphilias may be coincidental or else related to some generalized vulnerability to anomalies of psychosexual development. In any event, comorbid diagnoses of separate paraphilic disorders may be warranted if more than one paraphilia is causing suffering to the individual or harm to others.
Because of the two-pronged nature of diagnosing paraphilic disorders, clinician-rated or self-rated measures and severity assessments could address either the strength of the paraphilia itself or the seriousness of its consequences. Although the distress and impairment stipulated in the Criterion B are special in being the immediate or ultimate result of the paraphilia and not primarily the result of some other factor, the phenomena of reactive depression, anxiety, guilt, poor work history, impaired social relations, and so on are not unique in themselves and may be quantified with multipurpose measures of psychosocial functioning or quality of life.
The most widely applicable framework for assessing the strength of a paraphilia itself is one in which examinees’ paraphilic sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors are evaluated in relation to their normophilic sexual interests and behaviors. In a clinical interview or on self-administered questionnaires, examinees can be asked whether their paraphilic sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors are weaker than, approximately equal to, or stronger than their normophilic sexual interests and behaviors. This same type of comparison can be, and usually is, employed in psychophysiological measures of sexual interest, such as penile plethysmography in males or viewing time in males and females.
Diagnostic Criteria 302.3 (F65.1)
The presence of fetishism decreases the likelihood of gender dysphoria in men with transvestic disorder. The presence of autogynephilia increases the likelihood of gender dysphoria in men with transvestic disorder.
The diagnosis of transvestic disorder does not apply to all individuals who dress as the opposite sex, even those who do so habitually. It applies to individuals whose cross-dressing or thoughts of cross-dressing are always or often accompanied by sexual excitement (Criterion A) and who are emotionally distressed by this pattern or feel it impairs social or interpersonal functioning (Criterion B). The cross-dressing may involve only one or two articles of clothing (e.g., for men, it may pertain only to women’s undergarments), or it may involve dressing completely in the inner and outer garments of the other sex and (in men) may include the use of women’s wigs and make-up. Transvestic disorder is nearly exclusively reported in males. Sexual arousal, in its most obvious form of penile erection, may co-occur with cross-dressing in various ways. In younger males, cross-dressing often leads to masturbation, following which any female clothing is removed. Older males often learn to avoid masturbating or doing anything to stimulate the penis so that the avoidance of ejaculation allows them to prolong their cross-dressing session. Males with female partners sometimes complete a cross-dressing session by having intercourse with their partners, and some have difficulty maintaining a sufficient erection for intercourse without cross-dressing (or private fantasies of cross-dressing).
Clinical assessment of distress or impairment, like clinical assessment of transvestic sexual arousal, is usually dependent on the individual’s self-report. The pattern of behavior “purging and acquisition” often signifies the presence of distress in individuals with transvestic disorder. During this behavioral pattern, an individual (usually a man) who has spent a great deal of money on women’s clothes and other apparel (e.g., shoes, wigs) discards the items (i.e., purges them) in an effort to overcome urges to cross-dress, and then begins acquiring a woman’s wardrobe all over again.
Transvestic disorder in men is often accompanied by autogynephilia (i.e., a male’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman). Autogynephilic fantasies and behaviors may focus on the idea of exhibiting female physiological functions (e.g., lactation, menstruation), engaging in stereotypically feminine behavior (e.g., knitting), or possessing female anatomy (e.g., breasts).
The prevalence of transvestic disorder is unknown. Transvestic disorder is rare in males and extremely rare in females. Fewer than 3 % of males report having ever been sexually aroused by dressing in women’s attire. The percentage of individuals who have crossdressed with sexual arousal more than once or a few times in their lifetimes would be even lower. The majority of males with transvestic disorder identify as heterosexual, although some individuals have occasional sexual interaction with other males, especially when they are cross-dressed.
In males, the first signs of transvestic disorder may begin in childhood, in the form of strong fascination with a particular item of women’s attire. Prior to puberty, cross-dressing produces generalized feelings of pleasurable excitement. With the arrival of puberty, dressing in women’s clothes begins to elicit penile erection and, in some cases, leads directly to first ejaculation. In many cases, cross-dressing elicits less and less sexual excitement as the individual grows older; eventually it may produce no discernible penile response at all. The desire to cross-dress, at the same time, remains the same or grows even stronger. Individuals who report such a diminution of sexual response typically report that the sexual excitement of cross-dressing has been replaced by feelings of comfort or well-being.
In some cases, the course of transvestic disorder is continuous, and in others it is episodic. It is not rare for men with transvestic disorder to lose interest in cross-dressing when they first fall in love with a woman and begin a relationship, but such abatement usually proves temporary. When the desire to cross-dress returns, so does the associated distress.
Some cases of transvestic disorder progress to gender dysphoria. The males in these cases, who may be indistinguishable from others with transvestic disorder in adolescence or early childhood, gradually develop desires to remain in the female role for longer periods and to feminize their anatomy. The development of gender dysphoria is usually accompanied by a (self-reported) reduction or elimination of sexual arousal in association with cross-dressing.
The manifestation of transvestism in penile erection and stimulation, like the manifestation of other paraphilic as well as normophilic sexual interests, is most intense in adolescence and early adulthood. The severity of transvestic disorder is highest in adulthood, when the transvestic drives are most likely to conflict with performance in heterosexual intercourse and desires to marry and start a family. Middle-age and older men with a history of transvestism are less likely to present with transvestic disorder than with gender dysphoria.
Engaging in transvestic behaviors can interfere with, or detract from, heterosexual relationships. This can be a source of distress to men who wish to maintain conventional marriages or romantic partnerships with women.
Fetishistic disorder. This disorder may resemble transvestic disorder, in particular, in men with fetishism who put on women’s undergarments while masturbating with them. Distinguishing transvestic disorder depends on the individual’s specific thoughts during such activity (e.g., are there any ideas of being a woman, being like a woman, or being dressed as a woman?) and on the presence of other fetishes (e.g., soft, silky fabrics, whether these are used for garments or for something else).
Gender dysphoria. Individuals with transvestic disorder do not report an incongruence between their experienced gender and assigned gender nor a desire to be of the other gender; and they typically do not have a history of childhood cross-gender behaviors, which would be present in individuals with gender dysphoria. Individuals with a presentation that meets full criteria for transvestic disorder as well as gender dysphoria should be given both diagnoses.
Transvestism (and thus transvestic disorder) is often found in association with other paraphilias. The most frequently co-occurring paraphilias are fetishism and masochism. One particularly dangerous form of masochism, autoerotic asphyxia, is associated with transvestism in a substantial proportion of fatal cases.