Being your Authentic Self: The Complexity of Sexuality |

Being your Authentic Self: The Complexity of Sexuality

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD
November 3, 2019

One of life’s greatest journeys as humans travel through development is determining who they will become. There are many ways to characterize this milestone, from occupation to roles in a family, people seek to define and to help them understand themselves for who they really are and what they want. One of the most complex and difficult developmental stages that humans go through is determining their sexual identity. Sex and sexuality are important parts of human life for a lot of reasons! From an evolutionary perspective, sex is the way that we procreate and continue the human race; that is why sex is something that people have urges to participate in! Sex is designed to be pleasurable to help humans find mates and continue the growth of the human population.

Somewhere along the line, though, humans began developing non-procreation related interest in sex due to the pleasure that comes from it as well as the hormone excretion that leads to emotional closeness and enhancement of relationships with others, among other things. The “feel good” hormones that are excreted during sex confirm that sex is not just for procreation, but it has other social and physical benefits that help improve a person’s quality of life! Throughout this exploration and realization about people’s desire for sex outside of procreation, evolutionary scientists have discovered many centuries worth of data that confirmed this very fact! One of the ways scientists have confirmed this does, in fact, relate to sexuality. Throughout history, people have experimented and explored relationships with members of the same sex, and as the world becomes more and more open to the fact that this is not a sinful or shameful act and is actually a normal part of development for some, this continues to affirm the fact that sex and sexuality are not just within us for procreation, but are obviously there for something more.

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Because of early social dynamics and connections to religion, our history as a human race is filled with many discriminatory, abusive, and violent experiences toward people who do not fit in with typical heterosexual sexuality; people have been beaten, murdered, and threatened throughout history for having interpersonal relationships with someone of the same sex. This was usually done under the guise of “protecting the world from sin”, as many believe that most major religions denounce homosexuality as something that is sinful and heathenistic. Their rationalization is that sex and sexuality should only be pursued in attempt for procreation and that, no matter how pleasurable, sex is designed for that purpose only. Throughout time, researchers and scientists have tested this theory and attempted to gather information to confirm that this is the case, but time and time again they struggle to find any validity to this theory, in part because of the fact that sex does have so many other social and emotional benefits aside from simple procreation. Thus, as our human history continues on, more and more cultures are becoming more understanding and accepting of the spectrum of sexuality and attraction that a person can experience.

While most cultures are moving toward a more understanding position, the vile and dangerous history that the LGBTQ community has experienced does cause some to be hesitant to live authentically and help them to be comfortable acknowledging their sexuality out in the open to anyone who is around. There are many places still today, even in the United States, where coming out as queer, in any form, can be life threatening. So, how do you live your life authentically and develop a sense of who you are in a world that is not yet 100% accommodating? The answer to this question is tricky, because it will vary from person to person. Living authentically basically means coming to terms with your own sexuality and being confident in the choices you make as a result. This can be hard because society still does try to fit us all into the same, chaste, heterosexual box; those who struggle with identifying and accepting their sexuality often have shame or guilt surrounding their sexuality that makes it hard for them to come out and feel confident about who they are. Religion and other factors can also impact their ability to feel secure in themselves. Here are some tips for how you can work to live an authentic life and accept who you are, no matter what your life looks like sexually:

  • Assess Safety
    • There are many places in the world that are still unsafe for LGBTQ and others that challenge the status quo. Among all things, being able to assess and determine your safety is the most important part of living an authentic life. While you may want to display who you are like a proud peacock to the world, if you live in a place where this will put you at risk of injury, you may need to find a way to express yourself while prioritizing safety.
  • Be Honest and True to Your Feelings
    • Trying to push down or avoid thoughts or feelings related to sex and sexuality can only harm you in the long run and complicate your relationships with others, both intimately and otherwise. Really understanding your thoughts and feelings related to sex and sexuality without judgment can help you to perspective take about how you want to live and who you want to share your life with.
  • Figure Out Who You Are and Stick with It!
    • The process of discovering who you are is a long one and is different for everyone. Depending on your upbringing and the ways you have been raised to think about sex and sexuality, this may be a lifelong journey of acceptance. It also may require some assistance from support networks or a trusted mental health professional to truly help you understand yourself wholly and completely. Once you do, though, the most important thing is to figure out how to do is to accept yourself for who you are. While this can be hard, focusing on radical acceptance will be the best way to feel confident about your life and the decisions you make throughout it.
  • Surround Yourself with Positive People and be Positive Yourself!
    • Finding safe, loyal, trustworthy people who understand and love you for you is the best way to develop the strength to live authentically. Humans are designed as a social species and need the love, attention and comradery that comes from socialization. Finding “your people” will help you to understand that, 1. You are not alone, and 2. You can be accepted for exactly who you are. Those realizations help you to find the confidence to live authentically.
    • Researchers continue to find that the more positive someone is, the more positive their lives will be. Continuing to focus on the good of your life and doing the things that make you feel happy will help you to life a full and authentic life.
  • Be Open to Experiences and Change
    • As mentioned above, the process of human development is a lifelong one. There are many decisions and ideas we come to about ourselves and our lives that are flexible and change as we age. Sexuality is a spectrum, which means that depending on where you are in your life you may experience some shifts in how you feel about your sexuality. Being open to the ways that you identify and keeping yourself in a place of acceptance will help you to experience less guilt and shame with changes and help you to continue to make choices about sex and sexuality that make you (and your partner!) feel good, no matter who it’s with.

Shannon V. McHugh, PsyD

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events

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