Ask the Experts: How can I help my 16yo son who is questioning his sexuality?
31 Mar 2019
Ask the Experts! How can I help my 16yo son who is questioning his sexuality?
Ask the Experts is your chance to get advice from specialists/experts in the field of adolescence. So if you've got a question/ issue/ conundrum around parenting teens, send it in and we will ask a specialist in that field to provide a response to be published here on the website. Your question will remain anonymous and the advice will be tailored to the scenario presented.
It is our hope that this is another way we can help parents, help their teens...
My 16 yo son has been out of sorts this week and obviously has something on his mind but we hadn’t been able to get him to open up. Well today he has. In short he is questioning his sexuality.
He started by saying that one of his good friends was “pissing him off” this past week but he’s now told me that this good mate has basically been flirting with him at school and over Snapchat, making suggestive comments etc. for a few months.
My son believes his friend is bi sexual and is now questioning his feelings towards him. He doesn’t know how he feels. When I asked him how he feels about him he said he does think he’s good looking and loves his personality. I told him that this is much the same as how he feels about his female friends and that it’s not unusual to love your friends and think they're attractive. I asked him to compare how he feels towards his female friends (which he’s always had very good friendships, even more so than boys). I then asked him if he could picture kissing his friend. He kind of cringed about it but then said he hasn’t had any sexual feelings about anyone, male or female which is why he’s confused.
From our conversation I feel like he does have a possible crush on his friend, but as he hasn’t kissed or been with any girls I explained that he shouldn’t jump to conclusions about his sexuality at his age.
Are there any books he can read or help he can get? He doesn’t want to speak to the school counsellor.
What can I do to help him?
He asked me not to mention our conversation to his Dad but my husband knows there’s something going on and is frustrated because he tries to talk to our son but he pushes him away. So I’m also torn as to whether to tell my husband what’s going on.
Can they really not know at 16 or do you think deep down they do know??
Image by Sameera Madusanka from Pixabay
For this parent of teens and any other parents/carers, please know that this is a very typical stage when a teen is discovering the infinite spectrum of sexuality, sexual attraction, sexual identity and orientation.
We use labels to describe absolutely everything in our lives. So it shouldn’t be a big shock when we or other people try to put labels on our sexuality as well. Common labels like lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, straight and pansexual all describe a person’s sexuality.
Sometimes when we choose a label for our sexuality, other people have certain expectations about what it means. Sometimes other people may label us and our sexuality, based on their own beliefs.
During the puberty years, most young people will begin to experience romantic and sexual attractions to others – but some may not. It’s all OK. It’s very common for adolescents to be attracted to physical characteristics (handsome, hot, pretty) as well as personality traits they admire. It’s also very common for young people to be attracted to lots of different people of different genders. For this reason, I personally feel it is detrimental to be jumping to any conclusions about sexuality or applying labels to any sort of sexual feelings – or no sexual feelings – during the adolescent period.
I love the fact that some teens feel comfortable enough to discuss their sexuality with their parents and carers – but I can pretty much guarantee you that you don’t need to suggest books they can read, or help they can get because they live in the age of the internet, and instant access to articles, stories, websites and more. I think you might find that young people also value the advice and encouragement and feedback of their peers as much as that of their trusted adults; and young people with questions about their sexuality are very likely to be discussing this – either in person, or anonymously on the myriad of apps and websites such as Huddle, Quora, Askfm, Reddit and many, many more. [Exploring Teens: this is neither an endorsement for these websites or a suggestion to refer teens to them, it's an observation of what they are using]. Ask him what he wants from you! It may be advice, a hug, nothing at all.
I know we worry about our kids. We don’t want them to be hurt by the choices they make, or other people judging them, but I also know, professionally and as a mum of 4, that we need to let our kids sort it out for themselves if they want to. Humans can make decisions about their sexuality at any stage of their lives – but in my opinion teens need to go with the flow, gather their life experiences and make mistakes and celebrate triumphs along the way.
As parents and carers our biggest job is to be available, listen, love and believe. We need to respect their privacy if they ask us to, at the same time explaining that your own intimate relationship with your partner means that you don’t keep things from them because you also require support and a sounding board. But we don’t need to fix anything. If parents/carers want to they can read information or direct teens to some of the sites below.
Books for teens include:
- GLBTQ: the Survival Guide for Queer & Questioning Teens. Kelly Huegel
- The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality, 2nd Edition: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens, and Their Parents! By Michael J Basso
- Doing It Right: Making Smart, Safe and Satisfying Choices about Sex, 2nd Edition. By Bronwen Pardes
- LAID. Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture. Shannon Boodram
- Love, Sex and No Regrets for Today’s Teens. Elizabeth Clark
- 100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents: Straight Answers to Teens’ Questions About Sex, Sexuality, and Health. Elisabeth Henderson & Nancy Armstrong
- QUEER: the Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens. Kathy Belge & Marke Bieschke
- S.E.X. The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, 2nd Edition. Heather Corinna
- The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: an Essential Guide for Today’s Teens and Parents. Michael Basso
Books for adults:
- For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens about Sexuality, Values, and Health. Al Vernacchio
I also note that the parent here stated that her 16-year-old boy hadn’t had any sexual feelings about anyone. This is OK. Some people start to have romantic and sexual feelings at an earlier age, others much later, and some people will not experience these feelings at all. If we really want to add another label, we can find out more about asexuality.
Our identity is made up of a HEAP of different traits that are personal to us. Things like our sexuality, culture, religion, gender, our age, our body, and more.
The great thing about our identity is that it’s ours to decide. No one else can tell you how to identify, because it’s who you are.
One of these traits is sexuality, which is who we are attracted to. This could mean romantically (who you love) or sexually (who you want to kiss or be sexual with).
For those wanting to better understand the different ways that sexuality, sexual attraction, sexual identity and orientation can be described, I’m going to overwhelm you with a few definitions. Let me tell you, times have changed and LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex, Queer and/or questioning) doesn’t really cover the spectrum any more. Nevertheless, here goes:
Heterosexuality is the sexual orientation in which a person is attracted (affectionally, sexually, romantically) to partners of the opposite sex. This is sometimes referred to as being “straight.”
Homosexuality is the sexual orientation in which a person is attracted (affectionally, sexually, romantically) to partners of the same sex. Many LGBTIQ people prefer to use the terms “gay and lesbian” to identify same sex orientation.
Bisexual means being attracted to the gender the same as your own, AND to other genders - some people use it to mean "attracted to two or more genders. Research has repeatedly shown that many people are in fact bisexual.
Transgender, or simply “trans,” is an umbrella term used to describe those who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression. A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not correspond with their biological/physical gender.
Born with aspects of both female and male genitalia, often referred to as “ambiguous biological sex characteristics.”
When a person is in the process of exploring their sexual orientation, they may choose to identify as Questioning. Whether done consciously or not, this process is a healthy part of understanding one’s own sexual orientation. Typically, this happens during early puberty, but can happen at any time during a person’s life.
Genderqueer individuals are people who view their gender identity as one of many possible genders beyond strictly male or female. Such people feel they exist psychologically between genders or beyond the notion of only male and female. People who feel this way may or may not pursue hormone therapy and/or surgical body modification and sometimes prefer using gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. “ze,” hir”). Some people prefer this label because it is a rejection of traditional gender labels. Related terms include gender fluid, gender neutral, bigendered, androgynous, or simply gender diverse.
An asexual person (“ace”, for short) is simply someone who does not experience sexual attraction. That’s all there is to it. They can also experience romance and longing and even take part in any form of sexual activity. In short: There is no asexual "type".
Margie Buttriss is the managing director of HUSHeducation in Melbourne. She has four adult children including a daughter who identifies as lesbian, and another who is bi-sexual. Every day Margie speaks with young people in school and community settings about topics such as healthy decision making, sexuality, puberty, respectful relationships and much, much more. Margie can be found at HUSHeducation and in the Exploring Teens Directory