There are a seemingly endless variety of healthy and fulfilling ways for adults to express and enjoy their sexuality, relationships and gender. GRSD-affirmative therapists affirm that this diversity of expression is healthy and normal, providing of course that it is consensual. GSRD, or Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity, is the term scholars working in the field now use to describe this diversity.
Diverse forms of sexuality, such as bisexuality, gay, lesbian, or spicy (BDSM), may be experienced at three broad levels:
- as a behavior,
- as an orientation,
- as an identity.
GSRD includes and finds common ground among many communities of gender, sexuality, and relationship. This umbrella term includes LGBTQIA, BDSM, CNM, and many other varieties of consensual sex, gender and relationship.
Most people are familiar with the term LGBTQIA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Inter-sexed and Asexual. Other minorities include those who enjoy spicy sex (BDSM) or consensual non-monogamy (CNM). Dr. McConnell has served people in these communities for many years:
- Heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous marriages and couples
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations
- pansexual, asexual, questioning sexual orientations
- Spicy sexual orientations (BDSM / Kink / Leathersex / PE/ D/s, M/s, D/b)
- Consensual Non-Monogamy – Polyamory, swinging and open relationships
- Transgendered, inter-sexed, queer-gendered, cisgendered,
- transvestite, cross-dressing, drag
Gender and sexual orientation minorities continue to be discriminated against. Their members are often the target of violence or legal repression. Even some members of the mental health professions continue to hold the discredited view that variations in gender or sexual orientation are perversions or disorders.
Persons of diverse genders and/or sexual orientations who accept themselves are fully capable of living their lives to the same full measure as people of more typical orientations. Their lives may be richly fulfilling and include deep loving intimacy with long-term partners. This is the conclusion of substantial research, study and clinical observation. The official position of all major mental health associations is that the LGBT spectrum is a normal variation of sexuality and gender:
- The American Psychiatric Association
- The American Psychological Association
- The Association of Marriage and Family Counselors
- The Association of Licensed Clinical Social Workers
- The American Pediatric Association
- The American Nurses Association
These and many additional professional associations have position papers supporting the view that most variations of sexual orientation and gender identity are something to respect, support and protect. They do not view these variations as mental disorders that need to be changed or “fixed.” Indeed the opposite is often true. These associations have papers calling for non-discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.
Minority members have all experienced discrimination and stigmatization, and this is often internalized as a sense of dissatisfaction, guilt, or shame. Resolving these negative attitudes toward the self then becomes one focus of treatment. For some, working to change the system of discrimination may become an important part of healing and a focus in treatment. For all minorities the personal is often the political, and the political is often personal.
Another frequent focus of treatment is how the psychological – and sometimes physical – violence of discrimination creates “attachment trauma.” All attachment trauma results in difficulties in forming intimate bonds. It seems most of us come into adulthood with the belief that love will somehow be easier for us than what we saw between our parents, that “our love” will work out because we feel so deeply in love with each other, and that 50% divorce rate for marriage is all about other couples. For people of all genders and sexual orientations it is easy to under-estimate the work we must do to make loving intimacy work.
Also, a common conflict people often come into therapy to resolve is when their behavior, orientation and identity are not consistent with each other. Think of a person who regularly and exclusively engages in sex with members of her own sex, but thinks of herself as having a heterosexual orientation or identity.
Many older terms, like “kinky,” have been called into question by communities that once embraced those terms. For example “kinky” suggests “kinked” or “bent” or divergent from that which is “straight and true.” We now recognize that people who enjoy kinky sex are not “bent away” from some normal sexuality, but actually expressing one of many kinds of diverse and healthy sexualities. Similarly the older term “alt-sexuality” suggests that these diverse expressions of sexuality are “an alternative” to some standard sexuality, but to think of a “gay identity” as an “alternative to heterosexuality” makes no more sense than to think of African-American or Hispanic as “Alt-Caucasian.” All these identities are of value in themselves, and not just a “turning away from” (perversion) or “alternative to” some benchmark identity such as cis-gendered heterosexual Caucasian.
Healthy sexuality and relationship is not defined by the flavor or your sexuality, but by whether it leads to joy, love, and a fulfilling life while also respecting others.
At the same time there are clearly some sexual fantasies which are best not to act on, and behaviors which are best not to engage in. Examples are breaking promises or agreements about sex, obsessive use of pornography, or sex with non-consenting partners. It is easiest to simply think of these as Unwanted Sexual Behaviors. These behaviors are often the focus of treatment.
You deserve to work with a health care professional who is knowledgeable, experienced, compassionate, respectful, and affirmative of your sexuality and gender.
Dr. McConnell is a member of:
- The Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Sexuality (CARAS)
- Leather Leadership Conference
- The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF)
He is on the referral database of:
- The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF)
- Kink-Friendly Therapy
- San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.
Resources for Alternative Sexuality and Gender