Sexual orientation identity
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Sexual orientation identity describes how persons identify their own sexuality. In addition, they may choose not to identify their sexual orientation, or dis-identify with a sexual orientation. This may or may not relate to their actual sexual orientation. In a 1990 study by the Social Organization of Sexuality in the USA, only 16% of women and 36% of men who reported some level of same-sex attraction had a homosexual or bisexual identity.
Sexual identity is more closely related to sexual behavior than sexual orientation is. The same survey found that 96% of women and 87% of men with a homosexual or bisexual identity had participated in sex with someone of the same sex, as contrasted to 32% of women and 43% of men who had same-sex attractions. Upon reviewing the results, the organization commented "Development of self-identification as homosexual or gay is a psychological and socially complex state, something which, in this society, is achieved only over time, often with considerable personal struggle and self-doubt, not to mention social discomfort."
Most of the research of sexual orientation identity development focuses on the development of people who are attracted to the same sex.
Many people who feel attracted to members of their own sex "come out" at some point in their lives. "Coming out" is described in three phases. The first phase is the phase of "knowing oneself," and the realization emerges that one is sexually and emotionally attracted to members of one's own sex. This is often described as an internal coming out and can occur in childhood or at puberty, but sometimes as late as age 40 or older. The second phase involves a decision to come out to others, e.g. family, friends, and/or colleagues, while the third phase involves living openly as an LGBT person. In the United States today, people often come out during high school or college age. At this age, they may not trust or ask for help from others, especially when their orientation is not accepted in society. Sometimes they do not even inform their own families.
According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun (2006), "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process. Unlike members of other minority groups (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities), most LGB individuals are not raised in a community of similar others from whom they learn about their identity and who reinforce and support that identity. Rather, LGB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality."
Some individuals with unwanted sexual attractions may choose to actively dis-identify with a sexual minority identity, which creates a different sexual orientation identity than their actual sexual orientation. Sexual orientation identity, but not sexual orientation, can change through psychotherapy, support groups, and life events. A person who has homosexual feelings can self-identify in various ways. An individual may come to accept an LGB identity, to develop a heterosexual identity, to reject an LGB identity while choosing to identify as ex-gay, or to refrain from specifying a sexual identity. In a Wall Street Journal article on reconciling faith and homosexuality, Dr. Judith Glassgold, who chaired the task force, is quoted as saying "‘We're not trying to encourage people to become ex-gay’" and "there has been little research on the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is ‘no clear evidence of harm’ and ‘some people seem to be content with that path’".
- Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. pp. 63, 86. "sexual orientation identity—not sexual orientation—appears to change via psychotherapy, support groups, and life events"
- Laumann, Edward O. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-226-47020-7.
- "The Coming Out Continuum". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2007-05-04.
- Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E., Hunter, J., & Braun, L. (2006, February). Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research, 43(1), 46–58. Retrieved April 4, 2009, from PsycINFO database.
- Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, pp. 60-61.
- A New Therapy on Faith and Sexual Identity: Psychological Association Revises Treatment Guidelines to Allow Counselors to Help Clients Reject Their Same-Sex Attractions