What is Sexual Identity and what should we do with it?

What is sexual identity? I’m so glad you asked because I just received a PDF of the short article I wrote for the The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies. Sexual identity, according to yours truly, “can be defined as a label that helps signify to others who a person is as a sexual being and includes the perceptions, goals, beliefs, and values one has in regard to his/her sexual self.” (p. 1). Sexual identity is a multidimensional construct; it is not just gay or straight. It involves many factors such as gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual attraction, sexual behaviors, and even fantasies & desires. Sexual identity exploration is 100% normal and is an expected aspect of human development.

Understanding sexual identity is pretty important in today’s political climate. Youth is a time of identity exploration, and for many, that includes sexual identity exploration. The issue of sexual identify is often the difference between inclusion and exclusion. Many youth that identify as a sexual minority, which includes orientations such as lesbian, gay, bi, pan, etc., experience exclusion. They are bullied, made fun of, and have laws passed that exclude their protection from such negative behaviors. These youth are four-times more likely to attempt suicide than there straight peers. That is why I can’t help but worry about how sexual minority youth might be feeling about North Carolina’s new law, HB2, a law that limits protections for LGBTQ+ populations. The tone of this law is exclusive, and I know that youth that are exploring their sexual identity are negatively impacted by what they are hearing and seeing.

Understanding sexual identity is a first step, but as adults in the lives of youth, we have an obligation to teach inclusion and kindness. In many ways, this can be a matter of life and death. Parents and caregivers are the number 1 most important protective factor for youth. When the adults closest to these youth love and protect them, their chances of success are greatly improved. All adults can play a part in building inclusive environments that are accepting and supportive. In fact, these environments are essential if we want to promote mental and physical health of our future. Not just for sexual minority youth, but for all youth.

If you would like to learn more or read the article in full, check it out here: wbefs073


Allen, K. (2016). Sexual identity. In C. Shehan (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Family Studies. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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