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Adolescence, Sexual Orientation, and Identity: An Overview
SELF-CONCEPT - What psychology says
A primary developmental task of adolescence is the development of a consolidated, positive identity. This involves learning self-acceptance and self-affirmation. This process is aided by incorporating sexual identity into all aspects of life. This can be especially difficult for youth who must overcome stigma, lack of information, sexual identity issues, and lack of a support system and role models.

Due to stigma, sexual minority youth often internalize society's stereotypes and fears, and develop self-hate which hinders self-acceptance and identity integration. Without accurate information about their sexuality, they often base their beliefs about themselves on stereotypes. Or they may become confused about their identity as they notice a discrepancy between society's stereotypes and their knowledge of themselves. Managing stigma becomes a primary task of identity development and a source of severe stress.

Youths with unusual sexualities must resolve the question of their sexual identity. This task is often complicated by the lack of opportunity to positively explore their sexuality, and by their need to separate their social and sexual identities in order to prevent discovery.

These youth often feel rejected by the usual sources of emotional support, such as families, religion, school, and peers. This leads to emotional deprivation and lack of opportunity to develop social skills. The lack of role-models means they have no example by which to understand and integrate their sexuality into their self-concept and personal ethical code.

Thus, to achieve a positive integrated identity, these youth need supportive adult role-models, socialization with peers, and connection to an accepting community. These are necessary to provide acceptance and validation, to help them develop positive coping skills, to protect them from ridicule, abuse, and exposure, and to enhance the quality of their interpersonal relationships. They also need access to reliable, accurate information about their sexuality, and the opportunity to gradually explore their sexuality.

Developing a positive consolidated identity involves learning to live fully integrated lives, integrating their social, professional, and emotional lives. This can be assisted by coming out--that is, disclosing one's sexuality to others--but such an undertaking entails definite risks.

The advantages of developing such an identity include better psychological adjustment, greater satisfaction with life, and lower rates of stress, depression, or other mental health problems.

Adapted from Caitlin Ryan & Donna Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care & Counseling, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

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