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Understanding Human Sexuality

In honor of Pride month, I wanted to share some knowledge about human sexuality that can be quite confusing. Although some of these Frequently Asked Questions may seem obvious to some, I think most people would be surprised at how little they really understand about the differences between these words and phrases.

Q: What is the difference between sex and gender?

A: Sex is defined by our biological position on the spectrum of femaleness and maleness. Gender is defined by our psychological and sociocultural attributes that are associated with being female or male.

Q: What does gender identity mean?

A: Gender identity is defined by one’s personal, subjective sense of their gender, which is different from our biological sex.

Q: What is sexual orientation?

A: Sexual orientation is the unique pattern of sexual and romantic desire, behavior, and identity that each person experiences.

Q: Doesn’t sexual orientation consist of just three categories, heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual?

A: No it does not. After several studies, Alfred Kinsey discovered that sexual orientation is more of a continuum so he developed the Kinsey Scale. On the Kinsey Scale, 0 represents exclusive patterns of heterosexual behavior and attraction, and 6 represent an exclusive pattern of homosexual behavior and attraction. The numbers in between the two represent varying levels of bisexuality.

            Many people use sex and gender interchangeably without realizing the difference. While sex refers to our biology, gender defines our expectations about what makes us feminine or masculine and is determined by psychological, social, and cultural characteristics. Knowing the difference is not only important in order to fully understand what someone is talking about but also important in order to inform someone who may be confused about this. Additionally, many people believe that our sex should determine our gender. This is where understanding sexual identity comes into play. Sexual identity refers to a person’s individual perception of being female or male. A person could have an outward appearance of a male but have female sex organs and instead of identifying as female, identify as male, which is a form of transgenderism. Sexual orientation is often lumped into three categories such as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. However, thanks to Alfred Kinsey, we now know that sexual orientation is much more complex than this and should be described as being a continuum as shown below.

            New research has shown that sexual minorities such as bisexual, gay, transgender, and lesbian individuals are at a higher risk for depression than heterosexual individuals. The reason being that they are (for varied reasons) less open about their sexual orientation. Knowing this can help aid people in their journey to discover their sexual orientation and become more comfortable and supported in being open about it. It can also help you to be more aware of things to be looking for like signs of depression, anxiety, suicide, and stress in a friend, family member, co-worker, etc. who may be exploring their sexual orientation.

With more support and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in this day and age, brings about those who have been hiding their true gender identity or sexual orientation. Now more than ever, it is important to understand important terms and meanings of these terms in order to better serve this community and also family members and friends of the LGBTQ community who may not understand the research behind these terms and the importance of supporting them despite their beliefs. By sharing our knowledge of sexual orientation, we can work together to end hate and discrimination.

References

Crooks, R., & Baur, K. (2017). Our sexuality, thirteenth edition. Cengage Learning. Boston, MA.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2013). The psychology of human sexuality. Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

van der Star, A., Pachankis, J. E., & Bränström, R. (2019). Sexual orientation openness and depression symptoms: A population-based study. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1037/sgd0000335

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Three Great Ways to Explore and Embrace Diversity with Children…

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Sharing diversity with children can have a woven like presence in the basic fabric of your life if you allow it. It is not a particular or singular act. I have found that there is somewhat of an approach or framework to how families can successfully embrace diversity and cultural competence as a family. These are ideas I share with clients as well as use with my own children and family.
Exposure: As a family embrace the diverse world around you. Spend time in various environments that host various ethnicities. Enjoy and participate in various events throughout the community and celebrate exploring these varying cultures as a family. Select and enjoy books, music and shows in your home that introduces various ethnic backgrounds and their customs.
Inclusion: Embracing others ethnic backgrounds goes well beyond talking about ethnicity and cultural differences. Go out of our way to spend time in places and spaces that welcome diversity and display inclusiveness and cohesion amongst varying cultures. Build friendships organically with all types of families from various backgrounds.
Modeling: By way of language, dialogue and behaviors. Children do as we do not as we say. Walk the walk of inclusion, acceptance and welcome open dialogue about ethnicity and diversity related topics in your home. Create an open fluid dialogue about current events, differences in lifestyles, ethnicity and customs within your home and family.
As our society evolves into a very polarized place remember that you have the power to create and set the tone for the environment in your home. Breathe love, acceptance and tolerance into your world and the world of your children.
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Accept Yourself, Commit to your Values, and Take Action to live a Vital Life

TRIUMPH

I speak with my students about vital signs and vital living when we talk about happiness. When we go to the doctor, they take our vital signs – heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration – to see if we are living beings. This is what checks our vitality on the surface. Our vital signs say nothing about how full, rich, or meaningful we feel about how life and how our life can or how we believe it “should” be.

We talk about how there is “feeling happy” and there is “living happily” and many of us often struggle with living happily if we aren’t feeling happy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been one of the best ways I’ve seen my clients – and myself! – shift from feeling to living. One of the most powerful quotes that I came across about the idea of being happy is that it is a feeling like any other feeling – joy, anger, disgust, fear, sadness, etc. It doesn’t last forever. And you can almost feel the collective gasp of humanity if someone has the audacity to believe that you can’t be happy forever! We all know that *one* person who seems to always be happy no matter what, but is it that they are happy regardless of the circumstance or are they living their life happily because they include the ups and the downs and the lefts and the rights?

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Why Therapy?

Safe Haven

WHY THERAPY?

Before I write about the benefits of therapy, let me be clear. Your decision to go to therapy (or not) is a personal decision, and it is yours to make. Some people are intimidated, nervous, excited, relieved, anxious, or even resentful that they even have to think about going to therapy in the first place. Oftentimes, it is all of the above and more! That is completely understandable and human.
So, if you choose, what is the benefit of therapy? Why face all of these emotions? Here are my beliefs and thoughts about the benefits of therapy:

Confidentiality. Have you ever been worried that your most vulnerable story will be told to others after you have confided in someone? Or worse, has that actually happened? Therapists are bound by confidentiality regulations to ensure your safety and privacy. A therapist cannot share your story with others without your express permission. This can be a relief to a lot of clients who want to explore their experiences, but aren’t ready for others reactions who are close to them.

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Supporting Loved Ones In Coming Out: KSL News

Holly Willard was featured on KSL about the importance of unconditional love and understanding when a family member comes out of the closet. The issue is very emotional and difficult so here are some tips when a family member discloses their homosexuality to you:

1. Let them know that you love them.  They need your acceptance and unconditional love.  They have felt alone and rejected for a long time.  Saying you love them defuses the fear and provides healing.

2. Tell them they belong and will always be a part of your family.   The decision to come out of the closet takes a lot of courage because of the many horror stories of families who disown their children.  They need to know that they are yours and will always be.  They need to know they belong.

3.  Don’t Lecture.  They are probably aware of your religious beliefs/values.  Most likely they have done a lot of research on the topic because they are trying to reconcile their beliefs and feelings.

4. Recognize that they have come out to you because they care about your relationship.  When someone comes out of the closet, they are asking, ” Can you see me for who I am and accept that.”  They are being open and honest. The emotional message that they are trying to convey is that they want to be closer to you.

5.  Find a safe and supportive place to explore your feelings.  Acceptance is a process, be patient with yourself.  Find someone you can talk to i.e. support group, friend, or therapist.  The process can be especially difficult when your child discloses.  Most parents grieve who they thought their child was or what they wanted for their future. Parents want to protect their child and they  might be scared of the societal challenges their child may face. It is usually not helpful to talk through these issues with the person because they may see it as rejection or you wanting to change them.

6. Have an open dialogue about what they want for their future.  Keep the door open to continue the conversation so you can discuss their goals and how you can support them.

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