Sexual Identity Development Process:  Observations by Michele O’Mara, PhD


A distraction develops. Sometimes this occurs in childhood, during puberty, young adulthood, or even after a heterosexual marriage.  This can be repressed, denied, or otherwise delayed, or perhaps right on time, whenever that is. This stage is marked by awareness and an increased focus on one’s attractions and feelings. Sometimes it’s a feeling of difference; sometimes it is a new sensation, awareness, distraction, or other experience that piques one’s interest 


During this period of active exploration, a person moves from simply being curious, to actively gathering info from his or her environment, and seeking out information and connections that relate to being gay 


From the beginning, we are all conditioned to believe we are heterosexual; this is the “norm.” When evidence begins to accumulate that heterosexuality does not fit perfectly, disclaiming heterosexuality is often an easier next step than claiming bisexuality or same-sex attractions.


Clarification usually occurs once a person has had a defining experience. This can be a physical experience, an emotional experience, or a combination of the two. Sometimes a person can fall in love (whether requited or not), or become consumed by a new attraction that serves as confirmation of his or her sexual identity.


This is the stage of sexual identity development where a person decides, yes, I am attracted to at least one person of the same gender. This acceptance may involve telling close friends, family, dating, or committing to a new relationship(s), or it may simply involve a personal shift into a new way of seeing oneself.


Once a person has accepted his or her attraction to at least one person of the same gender, the next step in sexual identity development is to integrate this identity with rest of life (work, family, friends, etc). Some people bridge their identity with the rest of their lives entirely, others are selective about with whom they will share this new information.


Once a person has accepted his or her sexual orientation and integrated their professional, personal, and family lives, there is a gradual lessening of censorship about one’s sexual orientation. Eventually, life is viewed as life. It’s not a gay life, or a lesbian life, or a bisexual life, it’s just a life, without funneling first through a “gay” or “bisexual,” or “pansexual,” etc. lens)


Some people experience an intermittent re-assessment of their sexual orientation and feelings of same-sex attractions. Sexuality is being seen as more fluid, less stable than it was once thought, and people are not as inclined to cling tightly to one specific sexual orientation as much as they are inclined to cling to the truth of who they are and how they feel, whatever that may be.