If you have constant and intense sexual arousal while cross-dressing, you might be experiencing symptoms of transvestic disorder.

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Experiencing sexual urges and fantasies comes with maturing into an adult. Still, not everyone will have the same sexual fantasy.

If you’re constantly sexually aroused while wearing items of clothing traditionally not associated with one’s socially constructed gender, you could be experiencing signs of transvestic disorder.

Limited research suggests transvestic disorder can overlap with mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Transvestic disorder is experiencing recurrent and intense sexual arousal, urges, and behavior from wearing clothes traditionally worn by a different gender.

It is not a mental disorder. Instead, transvestic disorder falls under the umbrella term of paraphilia, any atypical sexual thoughts or erotic behavior.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the manual doctors used to diagnose mental health conditions, classifies paraphilic disorder as a mental health condition that develops from atypical sexual behavior.

You may feel psychologically or emotionally distressed at your thoughts and behavior. These feelings can negatively impact your mental health. Psychological distress from transvestic disorder may be from anxiety and fear of other people’s reactions.

According to the DSM-5, you could have paraphilia if your urges to dress in clothing conventionally designed for another gender lasts for at least 6 months. You must have acted at least once on these desires.

Having these sexual urges and desires doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Still, if your sexual fantasies or behavior affect your daily activities or cause harm to others, your symptoms could indicate a paraphilic disorder.

If you cross-dress because it’s sexually exciting, you’re not alone. About 3% of men and 0.4% of women have experienced signs of transvestic disorder at least once.

The DSM-5 also notes that men more than women start to exhibit symptoms during early adolescence.

Cross-dressing (“transvestism”) vs. transvestic disorder

  • Cross-dressing is when you dress in clothes conventionally designed for another gender.
  • Transvestic disorder is when you feel sexually aroused from cross-dressing.
  • Cross-dressing isn’t a disorder and does not require treatment. Transvestic disorder is a mental health condition that may require treatment if the individual is experiencing severe shame, anxiety, or lack of acceptance. However, someone with transvestic disorder will not always require treatment.
  • People with transvestic disorder may experience significant psychological distress or impairment over cross-dressing. This emotional distress often stems from a lack of acceptance by those important to the individual, such as a romantic partner. This can increase fears of rejection.
  • Using words such as “transvestite” and “transvestism” can be offensive because they have been historically used to describe people as mentally ill and sexually deviant.
  • If you’re unsure what to call someone who engages in cross-dressing, try calling them by their name.
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Transvestic disorder is a complicated condition. Still, there are signs and symptoms that medical professionals look for to make an official diagnosis. These signs may even begin as early as childhood.

According to the DSM-5, someone with symptoms of transvestic disorder will feel repeated sexual arousal from cross-dressing for at least 6 months. This arousal may manifest as urges or fantasies for physical behaviors.


If you experience repeated arousal from looking at or feeling clothing, fabrics, or undergarments typically worn by someone of a different sex, you may have symptoms of transvestic disorder. This repeated arousal is a key component of diagnosis.

Following arousal, you may seek sexual gratification from contact with these clothing items.

Social distress

The second key symptom of transvestic disorder is that your urges or actions cause distress or social impairment.

This could be when at work, with family, or in other social settings. Unlike some paraphilic disorders, this impairment can be personal and does not necessarily have to affect others for a diagnosis.


The DSM-5 guidelines state that a person must feel urges to cross-dress or experience arousal for more than 6 months for a diagnosis. This is the third key symptom.

Many people will exhibit signs of transvestic disorder at least once in their life. However, those with the disorder will experience these feelings repeatedly.

Feelings of guilt

Other studies have found that those with symptoms of transvestic disorder may feel periods of guilt following the act of cross-dressing. This may be a sign of the social distress the condition can cause.

However, this is not a definitive symptom of transvestism.

Regardless of your gender, you may want to consider seeking help if the symptoms of transvestic disorder begin to impair your life significantly or can cause harm to others.

Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of transvestic disorder can be the first step toward getting help and seeking treatment.

Differential diagnosis

Anyone can have transvestic disorder, and updated DSM-5 guidelines now reflect this. Older guidelines advised that only heterosexual men could experience transvestic disorder.

The signs and symptoms of different paraphilias can also overlap. Because of this, people may confuse transvestic disorder with other conditions or habits.

Fetishistic disorder

Fetishistic disorder also involves intense sexual arousal, urges, or behaviors relating to any nonliving objects. However, unlike in transvestic disorder, the objects of these urges are not limited to the clothing of different genders.

You can learn more about fetishistic disorder here.

Gender dysphoria

Doctors may also mistake transvestic disorder for gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a feeling of distress that your birth-assigned sex does not match your personal identity.

If you are experiencing gender dysphoria, you may feel more comfortable wearing clothes initially designed for other genders. However, gender dysphoria does not explicitly relate to sexual arousal from wearing these clothes, unlike transvestic disorder.

You can learn more about gender dysphoria here.


Cross-dressing is when you dress in clothing typically made for a different gender. Cross-dressing by itself is not a disorder. It doesn’t mean you have transvestic disorder or gender dysphoria.

You may want to dress up in items or clothing of another gender because it’s relaxing, or you may want to experiment more with exploring the spectrum of gender expression.

Because people who cross-dress are doing it for reasons besides sexual arousal, the DSM-5 removed transvestism as a mental disorder.

Transvestic disorder is a mental health condition that may lead to significant impairment in your personal and professional life.

If you think you may be exhibiting symptoms of transvestic disorder, you may want to talk with a doctor or mental health expert.

You may have been raised to think of sex as taboo, so you might feel a bit embarrassed at first talking openly about your sex life. That’s OK.

Your doctors will provide you with a judgment-free space to talk about your sex life. There’s no shame in your diagnosis, and your doctor will ensure your privacy and medical information stay safe.

To learn more about starting therapy, consider an online therapist or nearby in your community.