Essays · Life & Stuff · Mental Health

Sexual Identity Part Two: Sex & Mental Health

*Part of the Identity Series*

*Ensure to check out Sexual Identity Part One before reading this post…

 

Exploring one’s sexual identity can be scary. In our watchful world, rife with stigma and judgement, it can be difficult to be open and honest with yourself and others about your sexual status. Our modern world may be heading in the right direction, in terms of rights for all people of all sexualities, but our obsession with labels can be damaging. Individuals feel forced to define themselves, which can lead to the wrong labels and damaging beliefs (externally and internally).

 

All over the world, it is decidedly acceptable to be Heterosexual (straight), where you are attracted to the opposite sex. The main reason for this is because sex is used as a means for reproduction. A means for expanding relationships, creating a family unit, and giving something to the world. But what many people can’t seem to understand is that sex, and definitely who you’re attracted to, isn’t (just) about creating a family.

 

If everyone who had sex only focused on bringing new life into the world, then there would be a significant decline in sexual activity. There would be no rapes, no unexpected/unplanned pregnancies, less young pregnancies, and definitely a decrease in the population. Because the fact of the matter is: sex is not just for conceiving a child. Sex is for pleasure, too.

 

If sex is for pleasure, and if everyone accepted this, then no one should ever take issue with any kind of non-heterosexual relationship. Think about it, the most important thing that seperates a friendship from a romantic relationship is sex. Everything else that you do with your partner is something that you could do with a friend: go out to eat, go to the cinema, work out together, live together, get a pet together, do hobbies together, save money together, travel together, laugh and cry together…the list goes on.

 

No one in the world seems to have a problem with same-sex friendships; it is only a problem when sex is added into the mix. That’s my point here.

 

Bringing it back to identity, exploring your sexual identity in this world is still tough. You’re allowed to be friends with all kinds of people, but once you have sex with them (which we have established is done for pleasure), it becomes a problem. All of a sudden, the labels come out and the stereotypes and prejudice and assumptions come along to cause harm.

 

I have a quote from a young gay man named Declan Coley, who experienced bullying and ridicule during the time of developing his sexual identity and accepting it.

 

“I developed OCD due to the experience of bullying at a young age. I spent a long time feeling confused, sad, and secluded because everyone had an issue with my sexuality. I felt sad about that, and ashamed of it for a long time.

 

“My flamboyant walk and high-pitched voice caused me to receive ridicule; heckling and shouting of homophobic slurs in the corridors at school. I think it was even harder to deal with because for years, I was told by my father that it was wrong to be effeminate. That if I was gay, then I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a boyfriend home. He’d even hit me for my ‘gay’ mannerisms.

 

“Once I pulled a girl’s hair for slapping me, which my dad beat me for because I was ‘reacting like a girl.’ I didn’t want to be gay for this reason; I set out to not be gay. School was then a tough place to be; branded as gay and bullied for something I didn’t even accept or recognise in myself yet. Even a teacher said that I sounded like a girl in front of the whole class, and everyone laughed at me.

 

“Now, I am mentally strong. I’ve learned how to harden my skin. I love me; love the person I’ve become and I accept who I am. I didn’t come out until after school because of that tough, judgemental environment. I was the fat, gay, glasses-wearing ginger: I didn’t stand a chance.

 

“I still have trouble with public speaking, as I hear people sniggering due to my voice. I wear headphones when I walk down the street by myself because of the abuse I’ll get from people or those driving past. By myself I feel exposed to their foul mouths and it’s scary, but I mostly need the headphones to block out their vulgarness – I didn’t need to hear it.”

 

From Declan’s brave account of his experiences with his sexual identity, we can clearly see how one’s sexual labels, self-expression, and the truth of who they are is exposed in this world, and to some, open to ridicule. This ridicule is not “just a joke.” It’s not in any way justified. Instead, it hurts little boys and girls who don’t even know who they are yet. From a very young age, many are taught that who they are is wrong. That exploring the sexual paradigms of anything outside of heterosexuality is worthy of judgement and prejudice.

 

What a person experiences during their time of establishing or exploring their sexuality can be long-lasting. Worst still, it can cause serious mental harm. The development of mental illnesses such as: anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and PTSD can come from negative experiences during the vulnerable time of sexual exploration.

 

Aside from mental illnesses, things like bullying, abuse, judgement, assumptions, and stereotypes can lead to a decline in mental health in general. This means lasting experiences of poor anger management, low moods, low self-esteem, self-loathing, isolation, strained relationships, and a negative outlook on the world. All stemming from their sexual identification, and how it is seen in the world.

 

These problems are not just from bullying. They come from:

  • Assuming someone’s sexual identity
  • Assuming you know something about a person’s life because of their sexual identity
  • Telling someone who they should be (act, talk, even think) due to their sexual identity
  • Telling someone that they are “too gay” or “not gay enough”
  • Asking questions like, “do you have a boyfriend?” (to a girl) instead of the more inclusive, “do you have a partner?
  • Acting uncomfortable or treating someone differently due to their sexual identity (doesn’t have to be full-on bullying to be damaging)
  • Asking someone if they’re attracted to you, or assuming that they would be, just because they are gay (a girl comes out as a lesbian or bisexual to her female friends, then her friends automatically assume that she could be attracted to them)

 

This is not about Political Correctness. I know a lot of people are struggling because they feel like they can’t say anything without offending someone these days. I think it is really quite simple, though. If you truly don’t want to offend, then don’t assume. Don’t make rash judgements or use slurs. If you wish to joke around with a friend who you know will be OK with it, then go ahead; but don’t use those same jokes on strangers.

 

And perhaps the most important thing is: don’t tell someone that they can’t be offended. You have no right to tell them how to feel, and you have no right to assume you know anything about their personal experiences.

 

In order to relieve some of the stress, anxiety, worries, and experiences of those who explore their sexual identity, we need to use a little humanity. It shouldn’t be very difficult for us to do three simple things: don’t judge, don’t label, don’t bully. If you choose to do so, you are contributing to the mental decline of another person’s health. And yes, that is your responsibility. Can you live with that?

 

Exploring one’s sexual identity is sometimes hard enough as it is. You are putting yourself out there, perhaps in front of a new group of people. Not only are you exploring yourself sexually, but you’re exploring yourself in regards to who you are. Identifying as a homosexual does not mean that you are anything in particular; as in, being gay does not mean you are automatically X, Y, and Z.

 

But who you are is affected by your sexual identity, because it will shape your experiences with sex, love, family, and even friendships. These things are human connection, and perhaps one of the most important parts of being human. We are social beings by nature, and so how we socialise, how we love, and how we form relationships is important. It is beautiful, and it is just as important to explore this as it is to explore anything else in life.

 

Make this easier for yourself and your fellow beings by taking the pressure off. By seeing the beauty that is sexual identity and sexual exploration. Quit with the labels and categories and assumptions and just be. This is how sexual identity (and sexual exploration) can have a positive, instead of a negative, effect on mental health.

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