Sexuality and sexual orientation indicate who a person is attracted to, sexually and more often than not emotionally also. Sexuality exists on a spectrum and how a person defines their sexuality may develop and change throughout their lives. Sexuality is typically divided into the following categories:
It is thought that there are biological, cognitive and environmental factors that influence an individual’s sexuality. No argument has ever been conclusive regarding the nature vs nurture debate in terms of sexuality, and likely never will be. Many people recognise their own sexuality very young, though this is not the case for everyone.
Being attracted to someone of the same sex does not automatically mean you are homosexual. It is normal for most people to experience attraction to someone of the same sex over the course of their life, even if they identify as heterosexual. After all, our level of attraction often depends in no small part on the person, not their sex. It can be confusing if you find yourself questioning your sexual orientation, but it is perfectly normal and healthy, and a process that they majority of people experience.
It is also worth remembering that a person’s sexuality may not tie up with their sexual actions. Not everyone expresses themselves through their actions and there may also be specific and individual reasons why a person chooses not to act upon their sexual attractions. For many people living like this, their sexual identity causes friction and conflict within themselves.
It can be very difficult to pinpoint what it is that drives our sexual orientation. Even for heterosexual people – heterosexuality still being considered the ‘natural’ and most common sexuality – it can be difficult to explain their attraction to the opposite sex. It is accepted as ‘natural’ and therefore makes it difficult for those who exist outside of this idea of ‘natural’, to recognise why they feel attracted to people of the opposite sex, or to both sexes.
The fact is that sexuality just is. There is no choice involved. For most people, that is certainly how it feels and how it is. However, trying to explain or justify your sexuality to others and to yourself can be challenging. It can be accompanied by a sense of isolation, a fear of judgement, and confusion. These feelings can escalate and concretise, and those struggling with their sexuality might find themselves experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and also discover that their interpersonal relationships are affected.
Research has shown that young people who identify as LGBTQ are at an increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts and attempts. This can be the result of internal turmoil, but also of experiencing rejection or bullying at school. Adults who identify as LGBTQ are also at risk of experiencing social rejection and bullying in the workplace. This discrimination understandably has a negative impact on a person’s mental health. The expectation of discrimination, even when a person hasn’t directly been discriminated against themselves, can also affect a person’s mental wellbeing and how they live their lives.
We have come a very long way in terms of understanding and accepting sexuality in the UK. And thankfully many people are now able to accept their sexual orientation with ease and are happy to share this part of their identity with their loved ones and the world, without feelings of shame. We do however still have a long way to go and for many who exist as part of a sexual minority, fear of oppression and discrimination is still very real and valid.
Despite our progress, there are a few reasons that inhibit people from accepting their sexuality that probably haven’t changed very much over time, such as fear of rejection from ones friends and family, religious beliefs, and societal attitudes and limitations in terms of leading a ‘normal’ life (e.g. marriage, adoption etc.)
Men who are unsure of their sexuality may encounter more difficulties than women. Unfortunately there still exists a divide in how society perceives male homosexuality compared to female homosexuality. According to CALM, sexuality is the third most frequent reason that men seek help with their services.
A therapist or counsellor experienced in working with sexuality issues will be able to provide a safe space for you to share your thoughts, feelings and any behaviours you feel are associated with your sexuality. They will be able to work with you to resolve your feelings of conflict and help you in terms of your relationships. People struggling with their sexuality may go to a therapist before they have spoken to anyone else about their issues, seeking a confidential, non-judgemental ear. It can also be helpful to talk to someone outside of your personal life if you are having difficulties after having spoken to your friends and family about your sexuality.
Using the questionnaire on the welldoing directory, as well as searching for therapists who have a lot of experience working with sexuality issues, you can also search for therapists who identify as LGBTQ, if you feel that you would like to talk to someone who might have similar background or experience to yourself.
Last updated 16 March 2016