Is There a Connection Between Sexual Diversity and BPD?

Is There a Connection Between Sexual Diversity and BPD?

Hi, I’m clinical psychologist Julian Nolan. In response to a number of research articles and growing discussion of the relationship between sexual diversity and BPD, I began a two-year research project to look at this relationship in a more rigorous way than had been conducted in the past. I have been working with Spectrum and my supervisors from Deakin University on research exploring sexual diversity in people with lived experience of BPD.

While neglected in research on BPD, there is one consistent finding – that people with BPD have been shown to be more likely to identify (or be labelled as such by clinicians) as sexually diverse (gay, lesbian, bi, queer, etc.). Assuming this, we decided to base our project on the questions “Why is this the case?” and “what are the experiences of people living with BPD who are also sexually diverse?”.

The sensitivity of the subject matter meant ethics approval took a year. Much consideration had already gone into the project by means of an online survey where people with BPD could respond anonymously. This work collected information relating to their sexuality, mental health and personality and provided core information to develop 1:1 interviews with people living with BPD and identifying as sexually diverse.

Given the sensitivity of the topic, we were very careful with language use, ensuring it was clear that our intention was to provide an evidence base for people with lived experience and clinicians alike to better understand working with sexuality and sexual diversity in people living with BPD.

This meant writing questions relating to sexuality or BPD in a way which would not pass judgment, perpetuate stigma, or inadvertently distress individuals by asking questions about sexual behaviour and experiences (instead, we focused on consensual romantic relationships).

We also provided participants with the questions before the interview and the opportunity to ask us questions so they felt as comfortable as possible with the process and would not be ‘surprised’; this ensured they were able to prepare what they chose to disclose.

What Were The Key Findings?

One of the primary conclusions of the study is that sexual diversity should not be perceived as an artefact or symptom of BPD. Instead, it is something that exists alongside the disorder. This perspective shifts the understanding of sexual diversity in individuals with BPD from being a secondary effect to being an integral part of their experience.

‘They’re connected, but they’re separate as well’ is the finding of the research. They also also suggest that BPD symptoms of identity disturbance and impulsivity may not explain the overrepresentation of sexual diversity in people diagnosed with BPD and that further investigation is warranted.

The research emphasises the importance of a thorough, curious, and nonjudgmental exploration of an individual’s sexual experiences by clinicians. This approach is crucial for providing appropriate support and understanding to those with BPD. Clinicians are encouraged to engage in open discussions about sexuality, ensuring that these conversations are handled with sensitivity and without judgment.

Debunking Previous Assumptions

Another significant finding of the study is the refutation of earlier suggestions that the higher incidence of sexual diversity in individuals with BPD is related to challenges with their sense of self. Instead, the research concludes that the increased incidence of sexual diversity may be partially attributed to the greater emotional sensitivity characteristic of people living with BPD. This greater emotional sensitivity could lead to a broader exploration and expression of sexual identity and preferences.

I’d like to wrap up by thanking my supervisors, Helen, Jillian, Sathya and Tess for their endless guidance and support. I’d also like to thank Spectrum, the Australian BPD Foundation, and other organisations which helped promote our project or support it in other ways. Finally, I’d like to thank all those with lived experience who freely shared their experiences and donated their time to enable this important research.

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