A person’s sexual orientation is determined by the gender(s) of the people they are romantically and sexually attracted to. Many people may first become aware of their sexual orientation during puberty. Hormonal changes associated with puberty can trigger new feelings of romantic or sexual attraction. This can be confusing and even a bit scary for many tweens and teens. These romantic and sexual feelings are often intense and not necessarily directed toward particular types of people. Sexual feelings for some may be provoked without cause during puberty. This can confuse tweens and teens as they begin to question their own and others’ sexual orientation. It is essential to help young people understand that it may take time to understand what gender(s) they find romantically or sexually attractive. It is also important to let them know that there are no right or wrong answers and only they can determine their sexual orientation. As they get older, they will be better able to figure out who they find attractive.
People who identify as lesbian or gay find that over time their attraction to people of the same gender gets more clearly focused. Those who are bisexual find they are attracted to people of the same and a different gender. People who are asexual do not experience sexual attraction, though they may be interested in a non-sexual romantic relationship. Further, some people’s understanding of their sexual orientation changes over time, and some young people may resist labeling themselves in any way.
It is important that you show your children that you will support them, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual or heterosexual as this will be key to them feeling safe and confident about their identity to the rest of the world. Do not share information about your child’s sexuality with others without permission. Respect them and their decision to come out when and if they feel comfortable and safe.
We have made great advances in rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people in South Africa, but homophobia continues to exist, so it’s important for a young person’s home to be a safe space and for them to know that their parents or guardians accept and respect them. They have the right to live with dignity and without fear from stigma, discrimination and violence.
It is important that your children know that you are open to talking about sexuality and sexual orientation with them. You could start these important conversations with your children using some of the following: