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Understanding Your Teen's Sexuality

Advice from a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

As a therapist, I have worked with many teenagers and families struggling to navigate the complex world of teen sexual identity. Adolescence is a time of exploration and discovery, and it is not uncommon for teenagers to experience confusion and uncertainty when it comes to their sexual orientation and identity. For parents, this can be a challenging and emotional journey as they try to support their children while also grappling with their own beliefs and values.

First, because I know it's sometimes confusing, let's get some terminology straight. It can be really hard to tell the difference between a teenager's gender identity and their sexual preferences. The two things are often linked, but they're not always one and the same.

Sexual Preferences:

Sexual preferences refer to sexual partner preferences. Some people prefer to engage in sexual activity with people of the same gender, some prefer to engage in sexual activity with members of different genders, while others have no preference on the gender of their partner and still others prefer to engage with no one at all. Regardless of where your teen falls on this spectrum, it's important for parents to recognize that their teens' sexual preferences can (and probably will) evolve and change over time as they grow and develop more experiences.

Gender Identity:

Gender identity refers to how someone identifies themselves as male, female, non-binary, or gender fluid (among other terms) based on the characteristics they feel they possess inside themselves (e.g., "I feel like a female," or "I feel like a male"). Gender identity is different from biological sex: biological sex refers to whether someone has male or female chromosomes (XY for males; XX for females...but even then there are some gray areas we'll reserve for another conversation).

Parents of teenagers might learn the differences between their teen's sexual preferences and their gender identity by having conversations with their child. The most important things to remember is that the two are not related and to respect your teen's insights about themselves.

closeup of the face of a young boy with brown hair drooping over his right eye and the reflection of a rainbow under his right eye

Did you know?

  • According to a study by the Williams Institute, approximately 9 million Americans identify as LGBTQIA, and that number is likely underestimated due to underreporting and stigma.

  • The American Psychological Association states that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed through therapy or other interventions.

  • Research shows that LGBTQIA individuals are at higher risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and suicide due to discrimination and lack of social support.

With these facts in mind, here are 4 simple tips and encouragements for parents:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn about the LGBTQIA community and what it means to be supportive of your child's sexual orientation or gender identity. This can help you provide a safe and accepting environment for your teen.

  2. Listen without judgment: Allow your teen to express themselves and their feelings without criticism or negativity. Remember that this is their journey, and they need your support and understanding.

  3. Seek professional help: If you are struggling to accept your teen's sexuality or gender identity, consider seeking the help of a licensed mental health counselor. They can provide a safe space for you to explore your feelings and provide guidance on how to best support your child.

  4. Celebrate diversity: Embrace and celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQIA community. Attend pride events, read books and watch movies with positive LGBTQIA representation, and encourage your teen to connect with supportive peers and community resources.

It is important to remember that sexuality and gender identity are complex and deeply personal aspects of our identity. By fostering understanding, acceptance, and love, parents can help their teens navigate this journey with confidence and self-assurance.

If you'd like help learning how to better support your teen while they explore their sexual identity, please click the link below for a free consultation.

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