Questioning Youth and Developmental Influences

Sexuality is very complex, and we know far too little about sex for our good
LGBTQ youth report double the rates of sexual abuse before age 12. (Glass, Smith,
and Wiegel, 2013)
Sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior
sexual experience. However, premature exposure to sexual activity can lead to
considerate confusion around sexual orientation.
Since there is no way to know whether exposure to either pleasant or unpleasant
sexual experiences at an early age lead to same sex orientation it is not useful to
engage in speculation at the expense of working with a young person to deal with
their current feelings.
 Pleasurable experience (orgasm, affection) during an abusive same-sex
relationship can cause a young person to wonder if that means they are gay
 Unpleasant experience (fear, shame, guilt) during an abusive opposite sex
relationship can cause a young person to conclude that all opposite-sex
experiences will be the same and therefore they must be gay
We do not know what “causes” homosexuality, or gender discomfort, which
unhappily leads to rampant opinion and speculation that can cause distress to youth
struggling with sexual issues.

Most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is the result of a complex
interaction of environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.
The evolution of one’s identity is a web of interconnecting and interdependent
features, including gender, ethnicity, class, ability, sexual orientation, thoughts,
feelings, and experiences; the picture is fluid and always being negotiated (White

Realizing that development is fluid and cannot be dictated causes anxiety not only
in young people but in some adults who walk the developmental journey with
An adolescent may be in a stage of “exploration” or may feel in a stage of
“confirmation” when they are in our care. A young person may be feeling a same
sex attraction, but not feel comfortable labeling themselves as gay or lesbian.
The pressures of dating can lead to severe stress for a young person who is not yet
sure about their affections and attractions.