Sex & SexualitySerious Topics

Why It's Important to Talk about Sexual Orientation

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Courtesy of Sexuality and Education Council of the United States

Whether or not you talk with your kids about sexual orientation, young people receive messages about this topic from various sources including their peers, the media, and the Internet. As parents and caregivers, you have a crucial role in dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and expressing the idea that everyone deserves respect regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

The Basics of Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to a person's physical, emotional, and spiritual attraction to individuals of the same and/or opposite gender. Some people know from a young age that they are attracted to people of the same or opposite gender. For others, it can be an evolving process. No one knows for certain why people have different sexual orientations. There are many theories including genetics, prenatal and socio-cultural influences, and psychosocial factors, as well as a combination of all of these.

But we do know that sexual orientation is not something that is chosen. Nor is it something that can be changed by medicine or therapy. Sexual orientation is one part of a person's multifaceted life.

The truth is that gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, and heterosexuals can all have fulfilling lives and establish friendships and lifelong committed relationships. People's beliefs about sexual orientation vary and are based on their religious, cultural, and family values. While some families already discuss this topic, for others the topic may be difficult.

Terms to Talk About

When talking about sexual orientation, many different terms may be used. These definitions can help make conversations clear. Heterosexual (or straight) refers to a person who is attracted to and falls in love with someone of the other gender. Homosexual (or gay man or lesbian woman) refers to a person who is attracted to and falls in love with someone of the same gender. Bisexual refers to a person who is attracted to and falls in love with someone of either gender. Pansexual refers to people who don't care about gender*.

Many people identify themselves as having a certain sexual orientation based on who they are attracted to or fall in love with, but this is not always the case. For example, there are some people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the same gender, but who do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And there are people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the other gender but who do not consider themselves to be heterosexual.

Why It's Important to Talk about Sexual Orientation

Whether or not you talk with your kids about sexual orientation, young people receive messages about this topic from various sources including their peers, the media, and the Internet. As parents and caregivers, you have a crucial role in dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and expressing the idea that everyone deserves respect regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. There are a couple of more words that you may hear when learning about sexual orientation.

Questioning: A person who is unsure of their sexual orientation. Transgender: A person whose internal feelings of being male or female differ from the sexual anatomy they were born with. Although transgender refers to a person's sexual identity, not his/her sexual orientation, one often hears about transgender individuals as part of the gay and lesbian community. This is why you may have heard the acronym LGBTQ, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender, and Questioning.

Messages for Young People Age Five through Eight:

Human beings can love people of the same gender and people of the other gender. There are men and women who are heterosexual, which means they can be attracted to and fall in love with someone of the other gender. There are men and women who are homosexual, which means they can be attracted to and fall in love with someone of the same gender. Homosexual men and women are also known as gay men and lesbian women. People deserve respect regardless of their sexual orientation. Making fun of people by calling them gay (e.g. homo, fag, queer) is disrespectful and hurtful.

Tips to Help Parents and Caregivers Talk with Their Children

Do not wait until your children ask questions. Know and practice the messages that you want to share. Seek "teachable moments" -daily opportunities that occur when you are with your children that make it easy to share your messages and values. Let your children know that you are open to talking with them about these important issues. Listen. Try to understand your children's point of view. Provide pamphlets, books, and other age-appropriate, medically accurate materials. If you don't know how to answer your children's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together. Find out what your children's schools are teaching about these topics. Stay actively involved in your children's lives. Help your children plan for their future.

*The definition of Pansexual has bee added by Whyzz and is not part of the original article.

About Sexuality and Education Council of the United States
The Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to affirming that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of life. SIECUS develops, collects, and disseminates information, promotes comprehensive education about sexuality, and advocates the right of individuals to make responsible sexual choices.