A common belief conveyed around the security clearance process is that sexual norms have changed so much – how could anything be considered off limits or deemed a risk as a part of the security clearance process? But sexual behavior remains an adjudicative guideline, and while it’s rarely used alone for a security clearance denial or revocation, it can play a role. There are even cases (although rare), where sexual behavior was the sole reason for a security clearance denial or revocation.


While there are no questions about sexual behavior in the security clearance application, or SF-86, sexual issues do come up at other points in the process. “The government does and can often examine these sorts of areas as a part of the clearance process,” said Bigley. The two areas where sexual behavior is most frequently apt to come up are at the end of a personnel subject interview – when the applicant is asked if their are any issues that may subject them to blackmail or coercion – sometimes a previous affair, online fetish, or other issue will be revealed.

“I think the internet has created an outlet for a lot of people to explore some of the more out there or previously taboo elements of sexual behavior,” said Bigley.

That isn’t necessarily an issue – unless the individual has gone to great lengths to hide the behavior. If you have a sexual fetish that you would go to great lengths to conceal – that could be considered leverage by a foreign adversary. (Keep in mind – what happens on TikTok and a number of other apps and online sites stays directly in the hands of the Chinese government).

Issues like swinging, filming adult content, and sexting are fairly recent phenomenon that can come up in the security clearance process.

In addition to interviews, the other areas where security clearance applicants are apt to volunteer sexual information is during a polygraph. This is more prevalent for within the Intelligence Community, where applicants may face additional screening that will ask about sexual behaviors that could result in blackmail.

Beyond self-identified sexual behaviors, sexual issues can also come up when reported by a colleague (including affairs or pornography use at work), or by a jilted ex.

“The unifying theme from all of these things is if it’s something you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with most people around you,” said Bigley – that’s when you could encounter an issue.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied.  Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer