In society today, one’s sexuality can have far-reaching consequences. Sexuality may influence our choices in the work we do, where we live, how we worship, and other intimate areas of life. Sexuality is often associated with one’s identity and what it means to be an individual. With all of the meaning that is carried with sexuality, there is the potential for an individual to question their own feelings. It is far from the case that all people simply know their sexuality or can identify with a particular group. Although many people do not express any confusion or concern regarding their sexuality, this is not the case for a great number of individuals who find that their questions regarding their sexuality are not so easily answered.
Sexuality is not defined by one behaviour or one feeling, or even by one experience. It is a highly complex human response that can be influenced by a variety of factors in its expression. What does seem to be clear that sexual preference is not a choice. One cannot control or determine who they are attracted to – whatever their sexuality. While many people have clear preferences, it is largely outside their ability to change that attraction, or lack thereof.
How many sexualities?
While preference may not be malleable, the expression of that attraction can be, and some individuals choose to deny or express their sexuality based on other factors such as fear, social or familial pressure, or similar concerns. It is not always desirable or easy to disguise one’s sexuality, but some people do shape their behaviour to fit within common sexuality models. In general, although there can be wide variety, it is usually understood that there are stable categories of sexuality which include, heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. In between these generic categories of course exist many different shades of grey.
People may be troubled or intrigued by attractions and feelings they define as ‘abnormal’. These can be fleeting or they can be consistent. An individual may be in conflict about what these desires mean. Most experts agree that one or two experiences do not define one’s sexuality, but rather it is formed over a long period of development. Attractions and desires that are recurrent and occur over time are usually good indications of one’s preference, but are not necessarily decisive. It is important to allow oneself the opportunity to be open to possibilities. Although it is not necessary to act on these, it is suggested that one permit an intellectual exploration of feelings, desires, and attractions.
Especially in adolescence, conflicting or unclear desires can complicate life. While it is possible to be aware from an early age what one’s sexual preference is, it is not always so clear-cut and many struggle with their sexual identity well into adulthood. Experts suggest that individuals who are unsure, or who are wrestling with issues of sexual preference try to see it as less of a problem or difficulty to be solved, but to view it as a journey of discovery.
“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity” Sigmund Freud
One’s sexuality is a personal and private matter, and it is up to the individual to determine how much of their identity they wish to share. Only the individual should decide when and how they express this aspect of life. Sexual identity should never be imposed or forced on anyone. Moreover, there is no test of sexuality. What one wears, or the music they prefer, or the hobbies they pursue are not indicative of sexual preference and it is a mistake to assume so.
For those who find that their questions or concerns are too difficult to manage on their own, counselling with a knowledgeable therapist can help identify sexual preferences and may also facilitate an individual’s identification with a particular group, if this is something they wish to do.
Although sexual identity can be a cause of stress for some, it is important to remember that sexuality is complex and for many, answers do not come easily or immediately. Try to be patient and understanding with an individual who is confronting these issues – and remember that if you are the one on a quest for sexual identity, it is just as important to give yourself the time and space you would give to a friend or a family member in a similar circumstance. Most of all, sexuality is supposed to be a source of joy and pleasure in one’s life, and there is no right way to experience it.