Lesbian women, gay men and bisexual people do not suddenly ‘appear’ in adulthood.
Many adolescents question and experiment sexually with their identity during adolescence. The transition for all young people from adolescence to adulthood is a challenging one. For young people who question their sexual orientation, or who identify as being gay, lesbian or bisexual, this can also be a lonely transition.
Consolidating sexual identity as part of overall identity
As adolescents mature into adults, one of the major tasks of adult development is the consolidation of our overall identity, including our sexual identity.
It is generally accepted and expected that by the time we reach adulthood, we know what our sexual orientation is and have integrated this aspect of our overall personal identity.
Asserting ourselves in the world?
Adulthood is a time when we begin to assert ourselves in the world and to engage in relationships in more meaningful ways. We begin to take on various responsibilities and make decisions as we choose how to live our lives.
As adults, whether we are gay or straight, we focus on things like finding work, organising our finances, keeping in touch with family, forming personal relationships and seeing to our living arrangements. Sexual identity, sexual relationships and sexual behaviour form part of these responsibilities and decisions. And they become crucial in mapping out the rest of our life as an adult.
The journey to overcome challenges continues
However, what may be different for us as lesbian, gay or bisexual adults is that we have to continue to overcome barriers, such as stereotypes and prejudice. Although attitudes around sexual diversity have become more positive as a result of the non-discrimination protection in our Constitution, sexual behaviour is often still confused with sexual orientation. As a result, sexual intimacy that does not agree with standards set up by heterosexual society is still seen as “sinful” by some religious groups and individuals.
In adolescence, there is a view that adolescents experimenting with same-sex sexual behaviour are in a ‘phase’ that they will outgrow. The expectation is that they will eventually ‘become’ heterosexual as an adult. However, we have seen that adolescents who consistently have feelings of attraction to the same sex, will not simply lose these feelings overnight as they journey into adulthood.
For example, if as an adult a person has not fully resolved these issues and thus have not consolidated their sexual identity:
- His/her self-concept and confidence will continue to experience trauma.
- She/he may continue to internalise society’s fear of homosexuality, and thus make it harder for themselves to integrate their sexual identity into their full personality.
Lessons for understanding adult sexual identity
- Sexual identity is based on the consistent attraction of people to each other’s sexual thoughts, fantasies, behaviour and lifestyle.
- These components may be compatible during some periods of our life, and contradictory and inconsistent at other times.
- We need to recognise these different parts of who we are as sexual beings if we want to integrate and consolidate our sexual identity.
- Triangle Project