Parenting in the Age of Sexual Fluidity

The key is to support your kids as they figure out who they are, without backing them into a corner

Illustration: Natalia Vetrova/Getty Images

I was unprepared when my 12-year-old daughter told me she might be bisexual. We were on a hike, and she confided that she “knew she liked boys but also found girls in the locker room very pretty.”

My daughter and I have always been close, and I was probably overeager to show her my support for her sexual orientation. Over the next few months, I would occasionally ask if she had crushes on any boys or girls. I think I overdid it a bit. About two years later, she started dating a girl and told my wife, “Don’t tell Dad. He’ll make too big a deal of it. He’s way too interested in who I go out with.”

It’s tricky to navigate parenting an adolescent. It’s great that young people are embracing their sexual and gender fluidity, but it can be complicated for a parent to know how best to show support without intruding. Sexual fluidity is omnipresent, but sexuality remains private and personal. My daughter attends a small all-girls school. By her estimation, about half of her classmates are gay or bi, and “everyone has been bi at least at some point.”

This can create some tricky situations. For example, my daughter has been having sleepovers for years, sleeping together in her queen-size bed. But what if her girlfriend or crush comes over? Do the rules change? We took the path of least resistance and decided to just let it go. She has told us she’s not yet sexual beyond making out a bit. I’m not sure it was the right call. But I’m also not sure it wasn’t.

It can be complicated raising kids in these more enlightened sexual times. I’ve read the science. Sexuality is fluid. None of us is 100% straight or gay. Even the spectrum between straight and gay has many dimensions. We can be physically attracted to both sexes but only want intimacy or emotional relationships with one. And without question, what we want changes over time. This is no less true for teens as it is for adults.

But while our individual sexuality is ever-changing, society seems to love putting labels on us that imply permanence. This is the mistake I made when my daughter “came out” as bisexual to me. I was so eager to support her that I unintentionally pushed her to double down on that identity. I wanted to show that my support for her sexuality was unwavering, but by talking about it so frequently, I may have made her feel like she was already defined in my eyes.

But there is one aspect that I think I handled pretty well. I reinforced that it’s totally normal to find both boys and girls attractive, and there is no need to decide if you are gay, bi, or straight when you’re a kid (or, probably, ever). It can be something that changes over time.

Society’s acceptance of all sexual orientations is a huge step forward. But given that these orientations are so fluid, we also have to give kids the privacy and space to figure out their sexuality on their own. We’re so proud of our kids and every part of who they are that we’re inadvertently making it hard for them to back away from a label if and when they change.

eclectic guy - likes sexuality, politics, business, relationships, celebrity trivia...

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