Does your organization have a perspective on transvestism? Nobody knows about my struggles with this behavior – not even my spouse. But I can't seem to control it because of the pleasurable feelings I get when I wear underclothes of the opposite sex. The pressure to keep my secret hidden has become intense over the past couple of years, and I sometimes have a sense of guilt I can't seem to shake. Do you think there's anything wrong with what I'm doing?
It took courage to open your heart to us in this way, and we don't take your trust for granted. We respect your honesty and vulnerability, and we want to come alongside you in any way we can.
At the outset, we need to let you know that Focus on the Family is a Christian organization that draws its beliefs about human sexuality from the Bible. As context for answering your question, then, we need to look at some basic Christian principles. Sometimes non-Christians feel that a biblical view on topics such as sexuality seems random and arbitrary. But our perspective is actually a logical outgrowth of examining what God intended within His created design.
Scripture tells us that the distinction between male and female is foundational to our identity as human beings created in God's image. Also, it makes clear that sex is the Creator's gift to a husband and wife within the exclusive bond of marriage. The following thoughts are based on and reflect these biblical doctrines that have been integral to Church teaching for two millennia.
There are at least three ways that cross-dressing falls short of God's intent:
- The behavior is non-relational.
God created sexuality as one way for a husband and wife to connect relationally. Sexual expression, then, is a tool for intimacy rather than an end in and of itself. This is very different from the prevailing cultural view that emphasizes self-enjoyment as most important.
But if an erotic sexual experience is the ultimate goal of a certain action, then "self-enjoyment" becomes merely a hedonistic pursuit aimed at personal pleasure rather than a means of deep, intimate human connection.
- The behavior is addictive.
When endorphins and other hormones such as oxytocin are released through sexual expression, these neurochemical changes draw a couple together. For example, the effects of oxytocin are experienced through skin-to-skin contact and are responsible for the human feeling of closeness. When this feeling is experienced in the context of a committed marital relationship, it acts as a "glue" – causing the couple to feel closer and to desire greater commitment to one another.
If sexual arousal occurs with inanimate objects (such as clothing) or through self-stimulation to media images and videos, the oxytocin produced in the brain only serves to "glue" the person to more of the same behaviors. This is the theory behind so-called "process addictions." In such instances, a person becomes addicted to his own brain chemical responses that occur as a result of repetitive actions.
- The behavior can mask underlying negative emotions.
When an individual turns to erotic sexual behaviors that are void of human relationship and serve the purpose of seeking a "high" within their own brain chemistry, there are generally two underlying motives: the pursuit of pleasure and/or the avoidance of pain.
It's not difficult to understand why someone might engage in these actions simply for the sensual pleasure they produce. However, sometimes the motivation is what we call "eroticized emotions."
In other words, when a person experiences a variety of negative emotions – such as loneliness, insecurity, anxiety, hopelessness, etc. – it's God's intent for that person to face such feelings directly and address them in healthy, godly ways, often in the context of appropriate human relationships. But when a person is unable to be honest with themselves about these negative emotions (or when they don't know effective approaches to resolving them), they can sometimes resort to less appropriate ways of making the feelings "go away."
Engaging in these behaviors tricks the brain into perceiving that the negative emotions have been resolved. In reality, though, they've only been pushed below a person's consciousness and masked by the elevated brain chemistry that comes from erotic behavior.
It may be helpful to point out, too, that some people confuse cross-dressing (an expression of transvestism) with two related but distinct issues:
- transgenderism, where a person experiences internal perceptions of gender that are different than their biological sex
- gender dysphoria, where a person experiences distress about feeling transgender
Some people cross-dress because they are sexually aroused by fabrics, materials, or garments traditionally worn by the opposite sex. These individuals are not necessarily experiencing transgenderism or gender dysphoria.
On the other hand, people who are sexually aroused by thoughts or images of themselves as the opposite sex (when it's more about gender identity than clothes) are more likely to overlap with transgenderism or gender dysphoria.
Transvestism, transgenderism, and related issues are extremely complex in nature and origin. While some individuals report being influenced by hurtful or dysfunctional circumstances in their childhood, this is not the case for everyone. Others say they started feeling confused about their sexual identity in childhood or adolescence, only to have their uncertainties heightened by the open and experimentalist attitudes of our post-modern society.
Be assured that our purpose in discussing these concerns is not to judge people. Instead, our desire is to offer help. We want to encourage those who would like to pursue change to seek God's guidance and obtain sensitive counsel. Such steps can help them live in line with their Creator's plan and design for their given biological sex.
Of course change in compulsions or feelings of anxiety over these matters takes time and gentle care. This is neither a simple task nor one where there's immediate resolution. But we urge you to rely on our Heavenly Father who extends His lovingkindness toward those on this long-term journey.
In addition, we strongly encourage you to seek a qualified licensed Christian counselor, preferably someone who has worked with individuals in similar circumstances and who is compassionate, empathetic, and willing to listen. Don't hesitate to call and discuss your situation with a member of our Focus on the Family counseling staff. We can provide a list of referrals to qualified professional therapists practicing in your local area. In the meantime, you may want to visit the links provided below for additional resources.
Remember that God cares deeply about you, and He's always open to your prayers. He desires for you to become the person He designed you to be. An intimate and growing relationship with your Heavenly Father has the power to bring about lasting transformation from the inside out.
Overcoming Sexual Brokenness (resource list)