Sexual orientation indicates whom an individual is sexually and emotionally attracted to. This can mean males or females of the same or opposite sex. A person's sexual orientation is not the same as a person's sexual actions because not everyone expresses the way they are feeling in their actions. It is therefore the feelings one has towards another.
Individuals with a heterosexual preference are attracted to people of the opposite sex. Homosexuality refers to individuals who are interested in people of the same sex; the terms gay and lesbian are also used to indicate this orientation. People who are sexually and emotionally attracted to both males and females are often referred to as bisexual.
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Understanding your sexuality
Many people find it extremely hard to recognise why they are attracted to an individual of the same sex or both sexes when it is perceived as 'natural' to be interested in the opposite sex. These feelings are extremely common and there are millions of people all over the world experiencing these emotions. It is normal for people to feel confused about their emotions and nervous about how others will react. Men in particular frequently feel quite isolated because of peer pressure that homosexuality is wrong. Homosexuality or being gay is not wrong, it is part of human sexuality, and individuals cannot choose their sexual orientation.
Ideology within society teaches us that homosexuality is not the correct sexual path to follow. Due to these values and pressures, some homosexuals do not realise they are gay until they are much older, or they refuse to accept their sexuality.
One of the biggest steps is accepting yourself for who you are which can be very difficult for some people. Once you have accepted the circumstances and feel more comfortable about it, you may want to tell people about it so they are able to accept you too. This is known as 'coming out' and is usually the hardest part of being gay. When a person chooses to come out it will depend on when they feel it is the right time.
Everyone is different and from different backgrounds, some people will be very accepting when a person chooses to 'come out' yet others may not. The best person to confide in first is someone close to you that you can trust to keep it to themselves until you are ready to tell others.
When someone chooses to 'come out' may depend on some of the factors listed below:
- If the individual feels comfortable about their sexuality and how happy they are to talk about it.
- How well the person knows their parents and how close they are as a family.
- Whether the timing seems right or not.
- The support available from friends.
- Family issues such as religion.
- How dependent someone is on his or her parents.
- Safety at home.
- How much the person knows about the issue.
- If an individual is uncertain for many years they may choose to wait.
What determines sexual orientation?
It is thought that biological, cognitive and environmental factors all play a part in influencing an individual's sexual direction. However there has always been a huge debate regarding nature versus nurture and no definitive reasons have ever been conclusive. A persons sexual orientation is often recognised by themselves at an early age however, everyone is different and the reasons are therefore likely to be slightly different in each individual.
Help for sexuality issues
Many individuals who are gay, lesbian or bisexual find the experience very confusing and at times quite lonely. There are a great deal of support groups and counsellors available to help people in this situation where you can talk through your feelings without having to confide in someone you know. A useful website with helplines is shown below and a number where individuals can speak to someone anonymously, in confidence.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Currently there are no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a counsellor dealing with sexuality needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in issues regarding sexuality.
- London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard: 020 7837 7324
What our experts say
- Sexual orientation
Justin Lee Slaughter. MBACP (Reg)11th October, 2016
- Are you he, she or non-binary in gender identity?
Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP5th September, 2016
- The LBGT journey
Jacqueline Karaca M.Sc. Hons Counselling Psych; MBACP Reg.19th April, 2016
- Sexuality fluidity
Owen Redahan. MBACP. B.Sc.(Agr)27th October, 2015
- Questioning sexuality - No age limit
Step1Counselling. Isabel Fulcher Registered MBACP14th August, 2015
- Sexuality, guilt and anxiety
Simon Parritt C.Psychol, AFBPsS, MSc, BSc(Hon), MBACP1st June, 2014
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