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What Is Sexual Relationship Disorder?

Sexual relationship disorder is when a person has trouble forming and maintaining a romantic relationship due to their gender identity (the gender a person identifies with) or sexual orientation (the gender that a person is attracted to). This condition can affect people of all genders and sexual orientations.

If someone feels that their gender or sexual orientation is affecting their romantic interests due to denial, confusion, or embarrassment, this may affect their relationships and result in sexual relationship disorder.

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Meaning of Sexual Relationship Disorder

Sometimes gay individuals enter heterosexual marriages due to their discomfort and denial of their own sexual orientation. One study looked at 31 men, all married to women, who were attracted to men. They were all closeted (keeping one’s same/similar gender attraction secret for fear of discrimination), and some were engaging in extramarital affairs with men. Therapy and treatment were offered for these men, who struggled with their attraction to men. After therapy, 17 of the 31 men decided to end their marriages. The men were treated as bisexual in their therapy instead of gay, which may have helped the other 14 men feel more comfortable in their marriages and with their sexualities. Being attracted to similar genders or all genders is OK, and the therapy the men received reassured them of this.

Some LGB people struggle mentally with their orientation and force themselves to be in relationships with people of different genders. Gay and bisexual people are often aware that society is homophobic, so some people try to suppress their same-gender attraction and date people of a different gender in an attempt to make themselves heterosexual. This can cause long-term damage since they aren’t living their lives as their true selves.

For people who are transgender, who don’t identify with the gender associated with their assigned sex at birth, they have often felt the need to conceal their identities. However, due to public pressure, they denied their identity and carried on a heteronormative life. This can cause marital problems as well as further psychological trauma.

In LGBTQ youth, societal stigmas can contribute to depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

Sexual Addiction

Sexual addiction refers to a compulsive addiction to sex, and is similar to drug addiction and treated in a similar way. When someone’s orientation is different from the relationship they are in, a person may feel a compulsion to act on this attraction. Many people who see their orientation as “wrong” or try to fight their natural attractions may act on these feelings in an addictive, compulsive, and unhealthy manner, leading to sex addiction. 

In one study, men who had sex with men while they were in a heterosexual marriage joined a 12-step program that lasted from four months to six years, during which the men felt that their experiences outside of marriage were linked to sexual addiction. Once this connection to addiction was made, the men were able to commit to marriage and monogamy in their heterosexual marriages. It is important to note that heteronormativity was enforced through this program and that the men might have benefited from sex addiction therapy rather than a conversion program.


For many people struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation, therapy can help guide a person in finding peace with their sexual orientation or identity, whether they choose to get a divorce, practice ethical non-monogamy in their marriages, or maintain a monogamous heterosexual marriage.

In the 1960s and 1970s, intense psychoanalytic and behavioral therapy were popular in altering someone’s sexual orientation. Many of these therapies include conversion therapy and the belief that being gay was rooted in fear of some sort. These early therapies tried to convert the patient using nausea, vomiting, electric shocks, or some other type of pain when the patient became aroused by a same-sex image or thought. These early therapies attempted to change people by redirecting their thoughts so they would change their sexual behavior and attraction.

In 1962, there was a campaign to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. After the Stonewall riots in 1969, this effort was catapulted into the mainstream and the gay rights movement began. In 1974, it was finally announced that being gay or lesbian is not a mental illness. 

After this, previous behavioral therapies to change someone’s sexual orientation were seen as inhumane. However, conversion therapy is still practiced today. It is legal in 30 states for guardians to place minors in conversion therapy. Not only therapists administer conversion therapy, but churches and sleepaway camps also offer it.

Many people who are religious and are gay may visit a mental health professional to see how to reconcile their identities with their faith. 

Overall, if your orientation and sexual desires are affecting your ability to form and maintain a healthy romantic relationship, therapy can help flesh out those feelings. However, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual does not mean someone need to see a therapist because having those sexual orientations is not a disorder.

A Word From Verywell

Having a sexual orientation that is not heterosexuality isn’t wrong, but for many folks who struggle with sexual relationship disorder, it may feel that way. There has been evidence that stereotypical gender normative environments do not affect children and their sexual orientation by making them heterosexual and/or cisgender. In fact, it may ultimately harm them and result in a confusing adulthood with marital or relationship problems due to denial of their sexual orientation. 

If you’re feeling psychological distress due to your sexual orientation or your gender identity, seek out an LGBTQ-friendly therapist. They can offer support, guidance, and affirmation where you may need it most. Pride Counseling offers online and private counseling tailored to the needs of people in the LGBTQ community.

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