How to react when you think your daughter may be questioning her sexuality

Reacting badly when your child is showing signs of questioning their sexuality makes everything worse, so it pays to be prepared in some key ways, no matter the outcome.

Parents need to understand that questioning ones sexuality is a normal and healthy part of growing up, and it doesn’t mean your child is going to swing – or not swing – a certain way.

It’s likely throughout their life they will repeatedly question, just as you may have (even in secret!).

What is ‘questioning’ of one’s sexuality?

Questioning one’s sexuality occurs when a person isn’t sure exactly how their sexual orientation – who they like to have sex with – swings. It could be a question of being gay, straight, bi, or ‘queer’, which just means, ‘not sure’ or ‘all’. It could mean questioning if one is asexual, meaning having no sexual orientation at all.

A study has found that while we assume that ‘hetero’ is the default, many people will actually question if they are in fact heterosexual, since they may understand themselves to be gay or bisexual.

A study of heterosexual-identified women reported that most were ‘deliberately identifying as heterosexual after contemplating alternative possibilities’.

What this tells us is that questioning is very common and normal, and is a questioning process that teenagers face.

Bisexual vs sexual fluidity – what’s the difference?

Sexuality changes throughout our lives – or can do. Partner choices can shift around, and we often see this as a big bold statement about who we are.

What’s strange is that we expect people to stick to their one choice, announced early on, and never change, unless it’s to ‘go gay’ later in life.

This is unfair, since we change many of our other tastes across the course of our lives, explore other options, and have adventures. Our sexuality should be allowed the same flexibility.

We sometimes confuse elements of sexuality, particularly being sexually fluid and being bisexual. Bisexuality is a sexual orientation that includes sexual attraction to one’s same gender, and other genders.

Being sexually fluid means that sexual attraction is situational, depends on the partner, environment, and life situation. How sexually fluid someone is is separate from sexual orientation. This means that someone who may identify as straight, but sometimes has sex with someone of the same gender, is not bisexual, but sexually fluid.

Being attracted to someone of the same gender does not make us automatically homosexual, but in fact may indicate sexual fluidity instead.

Sexual orientation doesn’t mean sex itself

Often, young people are not engaging in sexual activity, but may understand sexual orientation. It’s not that important who is having sex with whom. This means when you talk to your kids about sexual orientation, don’t focus on actual sex. It’s usually not the most important thing.

Sexual orientation does not mean ‘having sex’. It means concepts about self, romantic interests, and one’s identity. On top of this we have gender norms to deal with, which could mean our child isn’t sure if they are asexual or even transgender. Sex with another person may not be how they identify themselves.

Questioning sexuality doesn’t mean they’ve done it

You may worry that your kids have just had sex with someone, and are now in the process of questioning their sexuality. This often isn’t the case. Most kids have questions well before the sex stuff happens.

Parents don’t question a kid’s heterosexuality doesn’t involve sex – it’s assumed that a child knows they are heterosexual prior to any sex happening – so naturally the same applies to all kids.

Supporting your child

It’s not a phase.

They won’t ‘grow out of it’. So don’t say it and don’t tease them. Dismissing or humiliating your child like this can be devastating to them.

Are you homophobic? 

It can be hard to admit to being homophobic, but you really need to check this at the door when it comes to talking to your kid about sexuality. You need to realise that your child needs you to tell them you love and accept them 100 per cent no matter what sexual orientation they are, and that means don’t say that homophobic thing!

Just don’t say it. If you are stuck for positive words, just repeat: I love you and accept you no matter what. Then, rush yourself to a counsellor to get help digesting this information, and learn how to talk about it later.

It’s ok to find it challenging, but don’t pass that challenge on to your kid. Learn how to do better. If your life revolves around a group (usually religious) with anti-LGBTQIA+ beliefs, it’s time to leave and find a more open, less literal interpretation of religion.

Your child needs you. Join a support group – you aren’t the only parent going through this.

It’s ok for your child to be having sex.

We all know how hard it is to find out your child is sexually active, but as long as they are being safe – and know how to be safe – they are entitled to do this. You don’t get to decide this.

Risky sex typically comes from ignorance, so make sure you educate your child on safe and healthy sex. Teenagers having sex is not inherently dangerous, and most parents would be surprised to find how safe and conscientious their kids were in practice. Education is key.

Your child may already know their sexual orientation.

In this case, some of the hard work is already done, and the questioning process may be over, very short, or non-existent.

Nobody thinks it’s weird if you like vanilla one day, then switch to chocolate, then later start to love strawberry. Allow your kids the flexibility to change their minds. 

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)