How you see yourself or who you like, sexually and/or romantically, determines your sexual identity.

What is sexual identity?

Sexual identity is how you see yourself and who you like, sexually and/or romantically attracted towards.  There is a strong link to sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. 

There is still a lot we don’t know, however research suggests that our sexual identity develops in our early years of life and therefore isn’t a choice.  Sexual identity can change during our life, particularly during our adolescent years, where we may be experimenting to find out who we are and who we are attracted towards.

Sexual identity forms a much larger part of our overall identity. 

What is identity?

Identity is our affiliation with a group, sameness as well our self concept about who we are.  There are many different identities we can associate with e.g. cultural, gender, national identity, but what makes us unique is how we feel inside and how the world outside influences us.

Identity is formed by our values and the decisions that we make in life, however we do not generally choose our identity because we are strongly influenced by our parents and the cultures where we are brought up.  When we do not feel fulfilled in life, then it is possible that our true identity is out of alignment with how we have been influenced.  This identity confusion is very subtle as it is generally hard to describe and it felt differently by everyone.

We are continually forming and refining our identity over time, from the time we are born to the time we die.  According to Eric Erikson’s theory we go through different stages of development.   Each of these development stages influences the results of succeeding stages.  So if we have a crisis during our development, then our later stages of growth will be impacted and show as problems in the future.  For example, if a teenager is not allowed to experiment, they may struggle with intimacy later in their life.

As you would have guessed much of our development takes place in our early years, things like trust, autonomy and initiative are developed by 6 years old.  If they are not developed e.g. mistrust, shame, doubt and guilt, then there will be an impact in the later stages of development.

These early years are critical in development as they help us develop our hope, will and purpose.

During our school years and adolescence is the time we are asking ourselves, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who can I be?’  These are critical times in our development and if we are not fully allowed to experiment at this stage, then we may face the implications in our adulthood. 

Sometimes you may say to yourself in adulthood, what is my purpose in life and the way to find this is out is by doing a timeline analysis of your early years.  This involves reviewing the highs and lows of your past.  This can be very rewarding and revealing as well as set you on the right path.

If you feel a lack of motivation and low self-esteem in adulthood, it may be because you were not allowed to discover your own talents.  Each one of us has talents, however if we are not given the opportunity to discover them, it can mean that we have to explore this later in our life, by going back over our early years timeline.

Sexual identity is thought to be formed in the later stages of adolescence.  The transition from childhood to adulthood is a time we can explore our role in the adult world.  It is not uncommon for role confusion to occur, with the adolescent having mixed feelings about how they fit into society and are likely to experiment with lots of different activities and behaviours.  All these experiences help develop a sense of identity regarding who they are and where their lives are headed.

This is a crossroads in development, with the merging of what an adolescent wants to be intrinsically with what is expected of them extrinsically.  Where there is a gap between their internal feelings and external expectations, can be a cause of identity confusion.  If not resolved at this stage of development, there is the possibility of an identity crisis.

If you have been through this stage of your life, you will probably understand how important it is to have enough space and time to explore your feelings and desires as from this will emerge a firm sense of identity of who you are.

If you are experiencing feelings towards to same sex, but your external environment expects you to behave in a certain way, it can result in adolescents hiding their true identity, for fear of what others will say.  This can be an extremely difficult time for some if they are not supported to explore their feelings fully.  

This stage can result in conflicts and if the parents are forcibly expecting their adolescent to be a certain way.  If an adolescent can not fully experiment, then they are unlikely to undergo a true self-discovery and leading a life of conformity will lead to consequences later on in their life.

It is hard to describe when we feel out of alignment with our true identity.  Some say they feel different and it can show itself in so many different ways, such as depression and other negative thoughts.  To find more happiness in our life means that we need to be at one with our true self.  In other words, we need to close the gap between who we really are and who we are in the world.

For those whose identity is aligned, they can live a harmonious life and for those who are struggling, then it’s important to take some time out to explore your feelings much more.  It is a good idea to talk to someone who you trust and won’t judge you.  Everyone is unique in their identity and it’s important to recognise your value in the world.

Everyone has potential and sometimes it is a matter of testing out what you like and do not like, so it can help form your own identity and not that of what is expected of you.

The most important thing to remember is that identity is never ‘final’ and continues to develop through your life.  If you understand your own true identity, then there is evidence that your self-esteem increases and depression and anxiety reduces.  It is so important to be yourself as being someone you are not is exhausting and unnatural.  If we aim to please others and not be in alignment with our own feelings, there is a risk of endangering our health, such as eating disorders and alcohol or even drug abuse or overeating.

What is your take away after reading this article.  Put your comments below or contact david@davidharborne.com for a chat.   

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David Harborne 

I’m David Harborne and I was born near Birmingham in the UK.  Whilst the UK is my home country, I spend most of my time travelling around the world, leading a laptop lifestyle… Read More

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