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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.


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.


Guest Post: “I’m Gay.” What To Do When Your Child Comes Out

I'm Gay

The following is a guest post by Dr. Traci Lowenthal of Creative Insights Counseling.

Having a child come out (reveal that he/she is gay/ lesbian/ transgender, etc.) can be extremely difficult for parents. For Christian families in particular, these words can create a flood of intense, painful emotions. It is possible, however, to navigate this part of your family’s journey in a healthy, positive way.  Here are some ways to explore this stage of life for your family.

Just Breathe


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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