Sexual identity and orientation are issues, which can greatly affect a person’s overall wellness and their sense of their place in their family, their community and their culture.As we all know, issues of sexual orientation in our culture are fraught with bias, prejudice and misinformation. The media offers conflicting messages about sexuality in general, and sexuality in general. People, especially young people who are unsure or confused about their sexual orientation, often experience great distress. People who are experiencing same sex attraction often have external and internal fears and concerns. External concerns include thinking that family members will reject them and not love them, that friends will abandon them, and that their peers will tease of bully them. Internal concerns include confronting personal religious or moral beliefs that their desires and feelings are wrong, or feeling confused or afraid about what their sexual urges and desires mean about who they are.
What we do not learn in the media, but is known through research, is that sexual orientation is not a “black or white” issue the way most people consider it. Studies show that many people have experienced some same sex attraction and/or same sex experiences at some point in their life. Sexuality is dynamic, and can develop and change over time. Furthermore, it is known that adolescence in particular is a time when many of us experience a wide spectrum of sexual urges, thoughts and feelings as part of the whole process of discovering who we are and how we want to live our lives. Unfortunately, the issue of sexual orientation in our culture is so charged with emotion, prejudice and misinformation that young people may experience unnecessary stress and fear as they work through normal developmental stages. Others may be realizing that they are primarily attracted to people of the same gender, and need support in accepting that reality. Some will need assistance in processing their feelings about their same sex attraction and later, and whether to reveal it to friends, peers or family members.
Adults too experience sexual identity and sexual orientation issues. Some people may have conducted a long standing heterosexual relationship but find themselves attracted to a person of the same gender and need help clarifying their feelings and making interpersonal choices moving forward.
Common Parental concerns regarding Sexual Orientation:
Studies have shown that parents usually go through a series of stages when they learn a child may be gay or bisexual. In the first stage, nearly all parents go through a grieving period. The parents mourn the loss of what they assumed was their child’s heterosexuality and “traditional” lifestyle, the lack of grandchildren and their role as potential grandparents, and the improbability of changing their child’s sexual orientation.
Soon after disclosure, parents often experience fear and guilt and may deny their child is gay or bisexual. They may urge their child to change their sexual orientation or urge them to keep their sexuality secret. Also, parents may become angry and seek to blame someone for their child’s sexual orientation, such as a gay teacher, a sexual abuser, or as often is the case with gay males, to blame the father for a lack of engaging the child in perceived masculine activities such as sports. During this anger stage, parents often threaten or abuse the child or try to force them to change. Any of these actions tends to drive a wedge between the parents and child and is the primary reason many gay and bisexual youth run away from home. Sometimes they are thrown out of the house by their parents and are forced to live on the streets, often turning to prostitution to survive.
The anger stage is usually followed by the bargaining stage, where parents try to get their child to change their sexual orientation, sometimes through God or religion, or through psychological intervention. In this stage, parents sometimes experience one or a combination of emotions, including shame, guilt, and depression.
The final stage is resolution, where the parents either accept or deny that their child is gay or bisexual, though studies show few fully accept it. Some families remain in denial indefinitely. Others ostracize the child through eviction from the home or family.
When to seek Counseling
Adolescents may need counseling in dealing with their sexual orientation Counseling should be supportive and not seek to change the child’s sexual orientation. Counseling that offers emotional support may be helpful for teens who are struggling with their sexual orientation. Therapy may also help the adolescent adjust to personal, family, or school-related problems.
Parents are invited to seek counseling if they need support in dealing with their child’s sexual orientation issues.
Adults are invited to seek counseling if they are experiencing issues related to their own sexual identity or sexual orientation.