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Your Teen's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

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Topic Overview

Teens want an answer to the eternal question, "Who am I?" Part of the answer lies in their sexual self. The teen years can be a confusing time. Hormones, cultural and peer pressures, and fear of being different can cause many teens to question themselves in many areas, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sexual orientation is how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people—to the same sex, to the other sex, or to both sexes. This attraction typically starts to form in the preteen years.

Gender identity is different. It's your internal sense of whether you are male or female.

Sexual orientation

During the teen years, same-sex "crushes" are common. Some teens may experiment sexually. But these early experiences do not always mean that a teen will be gay, lesbian, or bisexual as an adult.

For some teens, though, same-sex attractions do not fade. They grow stronger.

Gender identity

For some people, their gender identity does not match their physical body. Their body is male or female, but inside they feel they are really the opposite sex. People who feel this way often refer to themselves as "transgender."

Children form their gender identity early. Most children believe firmly by the age of 3 that they are either girls or boys.

The feeling that something is different may also begin early in life. Many transgender adults remember feeling a difference between their bodies and what they felt inside at a young age, well before their teen years. Others did not feel this way until much later in life.

Love and support are key

Many parents have a hard time accepting that their child may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Even if you are struggling with this possibility, remember the importance of showing unconditional love to your child.

Teens who realize that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender sometimes stay "in the closet" (do not reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity) for a long time because they are afraid of what their friends, family, and others will say and do. This can be very stressful and can cause depression, anxiety, and other problems.

Many teens feel relief when they come out of the closet and find love, support, and acceptance from parents, friends, and others. Unfortunately, some find that their fears come true.

Young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are at risk for:

  • Being shamed by society (social stigma).
  • Being shut out or excluded by peers and family members.
  • Depression.
  • Suicide.

When teens have problems related to being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, it isn't because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's usually because of a lack of support from the people they love or because they have been or are being ridiculed, rejected, or harassed.

Your teen can be emotionally healthy and happy regardless of whether he or she is heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or transgender.

If you or other family members are having a hard time accepting a child's sexual orientation or gender identity, organizations such as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) may be helpful.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 25, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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