Gay and Lesbian Adolescents
Growing up is a demanding and challenging task for every adolescent. One important aspect is forming one's sexual identity. All children explore and experiment sexually as part of normal development. This sexual behavior may be with members of the same or opposite sex. For many adolescents, thinking about and/or experimenting with the same sex may cause concerns and anxiety regarding their sexual orientation. For others, even thoughts or fantasies may cause anxiety.
Homosexuality is the persistent sexual and emotional attraction to someone of the same sex. It is part of the range of sexual expression. Many gay and lesbian individuals first become aware of and experience their homosexual thoughts and feelings during childhood and adolescence. Homosexuality has existed throughout history and across cultures. Recent changes in society's attitude toward homosexuality have helped some gay and lesbian teens feel more comfortable with their sexual orientation. In other aspects of their development, they are similar to heterosexual youngsters. They experience the same kinds of stress, struggles, and tasks during adolescence.
Parents need to clearly understand that homosexual orientation is not a mental disorder. The cause(s) of homosexuality are not fully understood. However, a person's sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. In other words, individuals have no more choice about being homosexual than heterosexual. All teenagers do have a choice about their expression of sexual behaviors and lifestyle, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Despite increased knowledge and information about being gay or lesbian, teens still have many concerns. These include:
- feeling different from peers;
- feeling guilty about their sexual orientation;
- worrying about the response from their families and loved ones;
- being teased and ridiculed by their peers;
- worrying about AIDS, HIV infection, and other sexually transmitted diseases;
- fearing discrimination when joining clubs, sports, seeking admission to college, and finding employment;
- being rejected and harassed by others.
Gay and lesbian teens can become socially isolated, withdraw from activities and friends, have trouble concentrating, and develop low self-esteem. They may also develop depression. Parents and others need to be alert to these signs of distress because recent studies show that gay/lesbian youth account for a significant number of deaths by suicide in adolescence.
It is important for parents to understand their teen's homosexual orientation and to provide emotional support. Parents often have difficulty accepting their teen's homosexuality for some of the same reasons that the youngster wants to keep it secret. Gay or lesbian adolescents should be allowed to decide when and to whom to disclose their homosexuality. Parents and other family members may gain understanding and support from organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Counseling may be helpful for teens who are uncomfortable with their sexual orientation or uncertain about how to express it. They may benefit from support and the opportunity to clarify their feelings. Therapy may also help the teen adjust to personal, family, and school-related issues or conflicts that emerge. Therapy directed specifically at changing homosexual orientation is not recommended and may be harmful for an unwilling teen. It may create more confusion and anxiety by reinforcing the negative thoughts and emotions with which the youngster is already struggling.
For additional information about Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) contact:
PFLAG National Office
1726 M Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 467-8180
Fax: (202) 467-8194
Last Updated: 19 March 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD