Sexual Orientation in Children: A Guide for Parents

January 15, 2020
Childhood is a stage of vital importance in a person's development. And sexual orientation in children is connected to the influence of their social environment and upbringing. Some theories also refer to genetics and hormonal aspects.

During childhood, children carve out their adult behavior. And this is true when it comes to their sexuality as well. Sexual orientation is the result of each individual’s relationships, circumstances, and way of acting. This is attributed to the relationship that children have with their parents and their surroundings. And some point to genetic and hormonal factors as well.

Theories regarding sexual orientation in children

There are a number of theories that attempt to explain how children develop their sexual identity. The biological theory refers to pre- and post-natal hormonal factors, genetics, and neuroanatomy.

The behavioral theory points to learning during an individual’s development. And meanwhile, the interactionist theory looks at intrapsychic conditions. None of these theories is considered conclusive.

Sexual orientation isn’t something you can modify or transmit

As we know, sexual orientation has to do with the attraction we feel towards other people. If this attraction is towards members of the same sex, then we consider it homosexual. At the same time, when sexual attraction occurs between members of opposite sexes, then it’s heterosexual.

Before going any further, there’s something we want to make perfectly clear. Sexual orientation isn’t something that you can modify or transmit. In other words, people don’t decide to be homosexual or heterosexual.

From childhood

Sexual identity is something that develops from infancy. Although in some cases, people don’t reaffirm their true sexual orientation until they reach adulthood.

During infancy, children have an asexual condition. Except for their genital organs, there is little differentiation in regard to sexual behavior during early infancy. The motor and sensory behaviors of boys and girls are practically identical.

Among the ages of 2 and 3, the differences between the feminine and masculine begin to appear. And awareness of personality traits appears around the age of 5.

From age 5 and on, children begin to ask questions. No matter how deep these questions are, it’s important to respond to them sincerely and without laughing.

At the same time, parents should avoid stifling behaviors having to do with the development of this identity. These behavior make up part of a person’s healthy sexuality… And stifling them can negatively affect this development.

A family discussing sexual education.

As children grow, they inevitably begin to take on gender roles. During the final stage of childhood, or in preadolescence, sexual attraction and desire appear. Teenagers begin to discover their own bodies, taste, preferences, and feelings. And all of this is part of the construction of sexual identity.

But that discover is immersed in a continuous process of knowledge that occurs in several stages. In the case of homosexuality, individuals begin to feel different, and this difference surprises them. In later stages, they begin to assimilate social contact and accept their condition.

When that discovery takes place during adolescence, it tends to produce a great deal of anguish. The lack of people with whom to talk to about the issue has a decided influence on this fear. They know they’ll experience the approval or disapproval of social norms.

Parents’ fears regarding sexual orientation in children

The stigmatization of homosexuality is a source of great concern for parents. This is because they fear that their children will become the victims of criticism, discrimination, and a lack of opportunities.

In young people, confusion reigns. Resentment and a sense of deception often appear. If there aren’t positive homosexual paternal models, the situation worsens.

What’s more, the unconditional love of parents for their children often comes up against the rejection of their homosexual condition. It’s best to move past this stage in order to generate a climate of trust for children. This support will be greatly beneficial for parents as well as children.

Communication is key

In some cases, parents silence their communication with their children. Sometimes they do this because they’re ashamed. And sometimes it’s because they believe their children aren’t old enough to understand certain issues. But it’s important to be aware that silence, condemnation, and prohibition only generate more problems than they solve. And the same is true for distance.

The belief that being homosexual or heterosexual is something people inherit also affects the relationship between parents and children. This is an absolutely false belief. At the same time, parents should stay away from the belief that psychological treatment will “cure” their child’s homosexuality. Homosexuality isn’t an illness.

The feelings of guilt that so often arise in parents lack substance. It’s not the fault of parents that their children have different sexual preferences.

A same sex couple with their children.

Times have changed

In recent years, attitudes towards homosexuality have changed quite a bit. While society still has a way to go, marginalization has gone down, as well as aggression. In fact, many same-sex couples maintain lifelong relationships and are able to adopt children.

Whether it’s the result of environment, upbringing, or biology, a child’s sexual orientation is of vital importance… It defines their sexual identity later on in life. No one can define a child’s sexual identity, nor does it have to do with learned or reproachable behaviors. Rather, it’s the result of a complex process that begins during childhood, and that others should accept.