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How to deal with the sexual dilemmas of adolescence

Published on Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to deal with the sexual dilemmas of adolescence

Experts discuss some of the issues teenagers face during this critical period in their lives

By Norma Borges

Dr. Alfonso Martínez Taboas, professor at Carlos Albizu University, talks about the teenager's sexual dilemas in this article written by Wanda Orengo.

“Mom, I am bisexual.” 

To hear these words from her 16-year-old daughter surprised Itza Román (not her real name), but that was nothing in comparison with the shock she felt when she first had an inkling of her daughter´s feelings. It happened in the mall when the teenager saw another girl and exclaimed, ¨Look how pretty she is!¨

During adolescence –from 12 to 18 years old– hormonal and physical changes create the need for emotional closeness in teenagers while at the same time awakening their sexual desires. It is a critical period during which they experience curiosity, the need for love and support and, above everything else, the urge to define their sexual identity.

"The problems faced by the majority of adolescents is that they are looking for affection and love and confuse these feelings with sex,¨  points out professor Juan Malavé, a sexologist and forensic expert currently working at the Instituto Sexológico Educativo y Psicológico de Puerto Rico. “If it is difficult for an adult to define what he or she feels for another person, imagine what happens in the case of a teenager who can misinterpret what is pleasure and what is love. At this stage in their lives, adolescents have not completely developed their sexual identity,¨ he explains.

And that is the dilemma faced by the 16-year-old girl previously mentioned. Though she has clearly stated her sexual preference, she has not had a relationship with a girl. According to her mother, though, she has been romantically involved with two boys. Both relationships have been disappointing for her and her mother feels the girl has been wounded by them.

The mother sadly explains that these bad experiences with boys, together with the domestic violence the teenager saw at home could well be responsible for her middle daughter telling her, ¨I am not lucky with men, so I might as well experiment with women.¨

What are the factors causing the confusion?

Malavé agrees with the girl´s mother that both the violence experienced in a romantic relationship as well the violence observed at home during the formative years play a significant role in creating feelings of confusion in an adolescent.

He points out also that the lack of sexual education in the schools in Puerto Rico, the influence of the mass media and the social network plus the normal curiosity of adolescents are key factors in the difficult task they face of differentiating between sexuality, love and affection. These factors might also contribute to their confusion about their sexual orientation. The sexologist adds that human beings continue to define their sexual orientation throughout their lives.

For his part, doctor  Alfonso Martínez Taboas, clinical psychologist, professor at Albizu University and former president of the Asociación de Psicología de Puerto Rico, explains that  between the ages of 13 and 16 boys and girls start to realize that they are different.

Amarilys Rodríguez, a psychologist who counsels children and adults, says that she has counseled girls 14 to 17 who have had stable and longtime relationships with both boys and girls.

Rodríguez maintains that the teenagers ¨are looking for support and somebody who understands them, and they also want to feel they are valued." Many times, says Rodríguez, they can meet these needs with someone of their own sex. But she adds that not all of them are confused and that as early as the teen years a person can define himself or herself as bisexual.

Bisexual people feel romantically and sexually attracted to members of both sexes. “Bisexuals are not confused. They categorically say they like both women and men. They feel comfortable with these feelings, they don´t feel guilt,¨ says Rodríguez.

Advice for parents

The three health professionals interviewed for this story pointed out that those teenagers facing dilemmas with their sexuality want their parents to know about them.

"Most of them want their parents to know," says Rodríguez. She tells parents –as do Malavé and Martínez- to listen without judging and to look for professional help to deal with these issues.

“As far as I am concerned, we are all equal,¨ says Itza Román, the mother of the 16-year-old girl. She recommends not to reject the adolescents who are facing these issues. Although many parents hope that this will be ¨just a phase¨, she says that in the case of those claiming to be bisexual, it might well be their sexual identity for the rest of their lives.

“It isn´t what I want, but I am not going to reject her,¨ says Román.

Rodríguez insists that ¨parents should never turn their backs on their children no matter how painful the situation is. Teenagers go through periods of sadness during which they feel the pain of rejection. These negative emotions could cause serious problems and may even lead to suicide.¨

The experts agree that parents should remember that professionals don´t provide a cure. Instead, they create a healthy and safe environment conducive to dialogue thus helping adolescents develop their personal and sexual identity.

“The professionals cannot change their child into a heterosexual¨, says Malavé in closing.





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