Definition and Overview

Also known as gender dysphoria, sexual identity disorder refers to a condition wherein patients have a significant level of discontent with their birth-assigned sex. This is different from homosexuality or bisexuality, which is more oriented toward the sexual preference of the individual, and not dissatisfaction with the sex and gender they were born into.

Sexual identity disorder is officially classified as a medical disorder in both the ICD-10 and DSM-5 manuals. According to these manuals, the condition is caused by a combination of behavioral, psychological, and biological factors. Though included in the DSM-5 manual, it is important to note that sexual identity disorder is not a mental illness.

Cause of Condition

At present, the exact cause of sexual identity disorder is still unknown. However, research shows that the condition can begin as early as fetal development while in the mother’s womb. Hormonal imbalance can also affect the patient’s body, including the brain, the genitals, and the reproductive organs.

Key Symptoms

Symptoms of sexual identity disorder can be observed as early as childhood. Young children with this condition often exhibit the following:

  • Showing disgust at the sight or thought of their genitalia
  • Repeatedly insisting that he is a girl/she is a boy
  • Not conforming to traditional practices of passing urine, such as refusing to sit down or stand up
  • Showing signs of distress at the changes brought on by puberty
  • Isolation from classmates and peers
  • Showing signs of anxiety
  • Showing signs of loneliness and depression

All of these symptoms can be linked to the discontent with the body or gender they were born with. Children will typically refuse to wear clothes meant for their birth-assigned gender, or will refuse to engage in “gendered activities,” such as playing with dolls or cars.

Gender dysphoria can persist until adulthood and can exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Finding comfort only in assuming the opposite gender’s role
  • Hiding physical signs of birth-assigned gender
  • Loneliness and depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal tendencies

Research shows that individuals with sexual identity disorder are at high risk of suicide. In fact, forty percent of transgendered individuals in the United States have attempted suicide at some point of their lives. Research also shows that they are more likely to suffer from a number of mental disorders, including eating disorders that can put their general health at serious risk.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

Individuals with sexual identity disorder are encouraged to see a doctor or a psychiatrist. These medical professionals can in turn recommend the patient to a gender identity clinic, where they will get the proper assessment and support they require.

The treatment for this condition is not aimed at getting patients to conform to their birth-assigned gender but to lessen or eliminate the distress that they feel over the disparity in their preferred gender and their gender assigned at birth.

Treatment options include the following:

  • Therapy for the patient’s whole family
  • Parental counseling
  • Individual psychotherapy or counseling sessions
  • Hormone therapy
  • Therapy for physical manifestations of birth-assigned sex, so the individual can transition to the preferred gender identity
  • Gender reassignment

  • National Health Service: “Gender Dysphoria.”

  • American Psychiatric Association: “Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents or Adults.”
  • American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5: “Gender Dysphoria.”
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