What If I'm Gay?

In a post entitled, “The Architecture of Anxiety and Intrusive Thoughts“, I wrote:

Many of my clients suffer from the hell-realm of intrusive or unwanted thoughts. Thoughts like, “What if I’m a pedophile?” or “What if I’m a mass murderer?” or “What if I contract a deadly disease?” or “What if I don’t love my partner enough (or at all)?” parade through their minds day and night without reprieve creating a state of perpetual misery. The irony about people who are prone to intrusive thoughts such as these is that they’re among the most gentle, loving, sensitive, kind, creative, and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet. The thought is so far from reality that it’s almost laughable, except that it’s not funny at all because my clients believe the lie which, of course, creates massive amount of anxiety.

I neglected to include one of the most pervasive thoughts that plagues the anxious mind: “What if I’m gay?” When a client first shared this thought with me several years ago, I thought she was an anomaly. I worked with her the same way that I work with all intrusive thoughts – understanding that it’s a flare sent from the inner self designed to get your attention and then unpacking the feelings and beliefs that the thought is covering up – but it was only when I started hearing the same thought from other clients and courageous forum members that I understood how many people perseverate on this question.

What separates this thought from the other common intrusive thoughts is that there is, in fact, an element of truth to it. If you’ve studied human sexuality or examined your own with an observing and non-judgmental eye, you know that sexual orientation exists on a spectrum with most people having some bisexual tendencies. In our ego’s desire to delineate life into nice, neat, manageable packages, we like to say that people are either this or that: either black or white; either Democrat or Republican, either gay or straight. We don’t like shades of gray. We’re uncomfortable with ambiguity. So when it comes to sexuality, most people cringe to think that their own orientation cannot be folded inside a tightly locked box.

But sexuality is just that: it’s an orientation. Most people are oriented toward preferring one sex over the other. But many heterosexual people – more than you would ever guess – have experimented sexually with the same sex or fantasize about the same sex. And if there’s shame about this, if you don’t know that experimenting with or fantasizing about the same sex doesn’t mean that you’re secretly gay but is a normal part of healthy sexuality, the natural impulses are pushed underground where they mingle with shame and emerge, sometimes years later, as anxiety.

Love is a Choice and There Are No Guarantees

The “Am I gay?” question points to two of the most challenging concepts for the anxious mind to accept: that love is a choice and that there are no guarantees or certainties regarding the outcome of this choice.

Our culture certainly doesn’t help us accept the reality that love is choice. As I’ve written about extensively, we live in a romance-addicted culture and we’ve all, from the time we’re old enough to absorb information, been steeped in the fantasy that love is a feeling and when you meet The One, you’ll know it and be swept off into the landscape of happily ever after. (Buzzwords in italics.) So it’s often a long, hard road to recondition the mind toward the truth, and when the anxious thought of “What if I’m gay?” infiltrates into consciousness, it preys on an already faulty foundation and quickly develops into a mental earthquake of seismic proportions.

This leads to the second challenging concept to accept: in order to make the choice to be with one partner, those prone to anxiety believe that they need 100% certainty that they’re straight (or gay if the person is committing to a same-sex partnership). The anxious mind says, “How can I commit to my partner if I’m questioning my sexuality? That’s not fair to him (or her). What if, years down the road, I discover that I really am gay? Don’t I need to figure this out now so that I avoid the possibility of divorce?” And herein lies the underlying root that instigates the need for certainty: if you’re certain about your sexual orientation, then you can divorce-proof your marriage before it begins. So the fear of being gay is connected to the need for certainty, which is connected to the fear of loss and failure.

To address this second prong of the gay spike requires two parts: 1. Addressing the need for certainty and 2. Addressing the fear of loss or failure. Let’s take one at a time:

1. The Need For Certainty:

Dr. Steven Phillipson, Ph.D., the leading expert on R-OCD and H-OCD, writes clearly about treating the need for certainty in his article, “I Think It Moved: The understanding and treatment of the obsessional doubt related to sexual orientation and relationship substantiation“:

“Choices are encouraged which enable the “gay spiker” to allow for the constant reminder that they just do not have an answer to one of life’s most important questions. For those clients who are successfully treated with behavioral techniques related to this question, the best therapeutic answer that comes at the end of treatment is the ultimate acceptance of the uncertainty related to the genuineness of their sexual orientation. “I may be gay” is then the best response to the question.

“The concept of embracing a spike is paramount within this spike theme, as it is the case with all spike themes. Embracing a spike entails making an active choice to accept the uncertainty of the risk and tolerate the level of discomfort associated with the risk.”

Every client I’ve ever worked with has struggled with needing certainty before making the commitment of marriage. They ask questions like, “What if we get divorced? What if I cheat on him? What if she cheats on me?” These are unanswerable questions, and when the mind becomes stuck in the spin-cycle of trying to answer them, anxiety kicks in. If you’re stuck on, “What if I’m gay?”, the anxious mind truly believes that if you could answer this question with 100% certainty, you would be able to hedge your bets and offer yourself and your partner that you are, without a doubt, making a good choice is marrying him or her. But since the presenting question is unanswerable and the underlying questions are also unanswerable, you’re left with the highly uncomfortable challenge of learning to accept the uncertainty of taking the biggest risk of your life: namely, committing your heart and soul to one person for the rest of your life without any guarantee that it will work out. Which leads to the second strand of the second part:

2. The Fear of Loss or Failure

Another element in healing from this thought is to recognize that perseverating on this question is one of the wounded self’s best tactics for trying to convince you to run from your loving, stable, and terrifying relationship (terrifying because real love requires that you risk revealing your vulnerability and, thus, take the risk that you might lose yourself for your partner). Because if you’re gay and you’re planning to marry someone of the opposite sex, then clearly you’re making a mistake. (This line of thinking also applies to my gay clients who struggle with the converse thought, “What if I’m straight?”) So embedded in the the risk of uncertainty is the fear of loss or failure.

In my work with clients and ecourse members over the past 14 years, it’s become increasingly clear that the fear of loss lives in the very center of the intrusive thoughts. At  some point, when people remain committed to peeling away the surface layers of anxiety – the “what if” questions – they arrive at the raw, vulnerable core issues, and at the very center of these core issues lives the fear of loss. It’s not easy to get there and most people would rather remain stuck in the anxious mental loops than drop into that vulnerable heart-space where the awareness of the possibility of loss sits like a tender child, but it’s only when someone allows themselves to touch this place that the real healing can begin.

Treatment: Pulling the Thought Out By The Root

The traditional treatment of OCD-type thoughts follows two routes: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. While the success rate is high with CBT, I have also found that, unless the root cause of the thought is addressed, one healed thought will often give way to a new intrusive thought. It’s much like banging the gopher back into the hole only to find it pop out from another hole.

Our culture is passionate about addressing issues from the top layer and removing the symptom. We believe that if the symptom – i.e.. intrusive thoughts in this situation – is removed, then the problem is solved. It’s for this reason that many people opt to take medication as a way to “solve” the problem. While medication can certainly take the edge off the anxiety, it doesn’t address the root cause and, when it loses efficacy over time, it opens the doorway for another intrusive thought to enter.

I work a bit differently from the traditional treatment of ROCD or HOCD. I dig deeper into the roots of the intrusive thoughts and recognize them as a cover-up for deep wells of pain and false beliefs that need attention. They’re like flares that your inner self are sending up as a way to get your attention, but they’re not the truth. Working with the thoughts on the surface level may offer short-term relief but it doesn’t address them at the core, which requires pulling them out by the roots. This is challenging, painful work. It requires reversing the false beliefs that say, “I can’t handle my pain. If I feel my pain, I’ll never stop crying. If I feel my fear, I’ll go crazy.” While these beliefs may have been true as a young child when you didn’t have the support of a solid, loving parent to hold you as you cried, they’re no longer true as an adult. Feeling your pain is a necessary part of healing yourself from the inside out.

Addressing the root cause of OCD-type thoughts also requires developing a tolerance and acceptance of uncertainty. The wounded self is the part of us that believes it can control the outcome, which usually means trying to convince you to leave. Of course, no one can control the future, so while you have no guarantees about whether or not your relationship will last a lifetime, you can control if you stay or leave the relationship right now. Many people would rather leave a loving relationship than take the risk of uncertainty because leaving is a known variable, whereas staying pushes you into the realm of the unknown.

If you find yourself plagued with the thought, “What if I’m gay?” the first course of action is to develop a tolerance for the possibility that you may have gay or bisexual tendencies but that you’re choosing to be with the opposite sex. The next step is to recognize that attaching on to the thought is your fear/pain/uncertainty trying to protect you from the risk of opening your heart to love. You likely have an old belief that plays silently in your subconscious that says, “Love isn’t safe,” because perhaps what you knew of love as a child only felt like pain, betrayal, heartache, despair, and loneliness. The intrusive thoughts are designed to keep you safe, in a box, and protected from the risk of love. The work is about unearthing the old stories, bringing compassion to your scared self, allowing yourself to feel the old pain and sit with the current fear, developing a practice of letting go as an antidote to the wounded self that tirelessly tries to control, and finding the faith and courage to take the risk of opening your heart with your loving, present, available partner. Sound easy? It’s the work of a lifetime.

45 comments to What If I’m Gay?

  • Betsy (blm5126)

    I love this article post and it makes me laugh because the thought “what if I am a lesbian” hit me early on in this anxiety process. I ruminated on this thought for about a week and a half (among all the other thoughts that came in). I had dreams about sleeping with other women. I would go for a run and think about being a lesbian and think I found some “truth” that I was, in fact, a lesbian. There was no concrete, logical information for this thought. I have no desire to be with a woman in a long-term relationship, however, there that thought was: “What if I’m a lesbian?”
    You know what brought me out of it? Two things
    1) Saying to myself, “Well, If I have lesbian-tendencies I am at least bisexual, since I have always wanted men sexually. So if that’s the case, then I make the choice to be with my man.”

    2, and maybe most importantly for understanding it was a thought from the wounded self) The next thought that came after I resolved this thought was: Maybe I just don’t like cheese. As in, the food. Cheese. We always have cheese on our picnics. Gruyere, fancy cheddar, manchego. And picnics are *our* thing. My fear attacked the one thing I KNEW I loved: cheese. Ridiculous, but I was able to call it’s lies out right then and there, and for a while I had some anxiety free days.

    The thing about your fear, it will ALWAYS come up with new lines. It’s about building your loving adult to say: The thought that says you don’t like it when he shaves, you don’t like it when he says this or irritates you this way, you don’t want this are the same as “Maybe I just don’t like cheese.” They are lies and when you can call it out, you can find the root of this problem.

    Thanks Sheryl, for reminding me of my own path in this process. By the way, I know I love cheese. And I’m okay with not knowing for CERTAIN my orientation, but I’m quite certain now that I am not gay.

  • Absolutely fantastic comment, Betsy! Thank you for sharing your insights and what has helped you shift out of that particular intrusive thought. Your cheese analogy made me laugh out loud! You have done, and continue to do, amazing work on yourself and it’s inspiring to witness your journey.

  • Erin

    Well, this post hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve struggled with HOCD on some level since late 2007. It left me alone for a few years, but after I got married and the threat of “Maybe I don’t love him,” subsided, it came back with a vengeance.

    In June of this year, after a long talk with my husband, I decided to seek treatment through Dr. Phillipson’s center and I’m not sure I’ve ever made such a great decision. I don’t live in NY, so I do the sessions via Skype, but it’s just as effective for me.

    As soon as I fully started embracing the thoughts, “I might be a lesbian,” the anxiety slowly began to lessen. Learning to be okay with finding another woman attractive, sexually or otherwise, was hard, but now that I know more about sexuality and myself, it’s become much easier.

    Now, four months after starting treatment, I’m in such a good place and with more work, I know that I will continue to feel better and be able to use my tools to lessen anxiety in all areas of my life.

    Embrace the gray areas!

  • PbandJessie

    Oh Sheryl, once again I feel like you have written a post just for me! 😉 This is why I found such comfort in the ecourse and the forums. I remember the first time I voiced my fears and thoughts of “what if I am gay?” or “what if I am a pedophile and don’t even know it?”. These thoughts were the most horrifically painful part of my journey. All I had ever wanted was to be a wife and mom. Children and family are so important to me and I was destroyed when these thoughts kept popping up over and over again. These thoughts actually led me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with OCD. I feel like I found the courage to go to a psychiatrist when I heard other stories from posters that were so similar. It made me feel less ashamed of my thoughts. My therapist (who I have worked with for YEARS) encouraged me to go as well. I think she knew that if I actually got “diagnosed” it might lessen the anxiety. The truth is that it did lessen the anxiety, but looking back I feel like knowing that other people had the same thoughts lessened the anxiety even more.

    These thoughts WERE laughable to everyone who knew me. I love children, I love my family, I would literally never hurt a fly. I am the girl who cries at the ASPCA commercials and catches the bugs in the house to free them outside. The thoughts were so shocking to me. I am so grateful to you, Sheryl for working through them with me. I remember a phone session I had with you and I was just sobbing because I felt like my life had been taken over by anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I remember that you stressed that life is always a choice. There are no wrong choices, there are just choices. That was a big turning point for me.

    For anyone who is struggling with these kinds of thoughts…have hope! I thought I would NEVER get over it. I didn’t know how I would possibly stop having those scary thoughts. Well…they stopped. The less power I gave them the less they popped up into my head. It was a lot of work with my therapist (and a great OCD workbook) but I can say now that if those thoughts pop up I don’t give them any stock anymore. I know myself better than that.

  • Jill

    While I can’t personally relate to this post on a sexual orientation level, it’s a great piece for anyone trying to figure their own sexual orientation out. Most of the process is fear, and attitudes towards non-straight humans in our culture are hardly nurturing or supportive.

  • Laura_m_b

    Wow, what a coincidence, I contacted a CBT therapist earlier today who suspects I have OCD regarding my relationship and then you post this article! Spooky. I don’t struggle with thoughts about my sexual orientation but can certainly see the parallels in the thought processes of what I’m experiencing in my relationship anxiety/OCD. It’s given me more hope to know I’m on the right path and I would have never considered OCD as a possibility had I not started seeking solace here. Thanks again Sheryl!

  • Linda

    I actually laughed (with relief I think) when I saw this email pop up in my inbox! I too have worried myself to sickness thinking that maybe I was gay…even though I have never even experimented with the same sex or realistically wanted to outside of a fantasy. It was only when I started talking to my therapist about my anxious thoughts that I started to recognise a pattern. It’s exactly what you are talking about Sheryl – as soon as you stop worrying about one thing, or feel like you’ve resolved one anxious thought path, that you find something else to worry about! For me, I went through a phase where I worried about whether I loved his smell for instance (I remember the trigger event for that – he came in one day after working hard in the back yard and put his arm around me. I wrinkled my nose at his heavy BO smell and he said jokingly “Aww, I thought chicks are supposed to love the smell of their sweaty man!” Well, I started obsessing over it, googling, smelling his shirts and assessing my reaction to them (this must sound crazy). Anyway, when I finally resolved that worry thought, another one was there to take it’s place in no time – worrying whether I was gay! This line of thought bothered me for months until I mentioned it to Emma (therapist). We talked about it, and she gave similar advice to Sheryl, saying ‘it’s unlikely based on what you’ve told me, but even if you were attracted to the same sex, you’re choosing to be with your partner’. I’ve finally been able to let go of that fear and notice what I’m actually thinking when I see an attractive woman – it’s usually ‘oh, I wish I had her legs/stomach/bum!’ not ‘I want to have sex with her’. Like PbandJessie, I still have the thought come through occasionally, but I have learnt just to let it pass on though my mind without mulling over it or giving it any weight.

  • Betsy (blm5126)

    Linda- I’ve totally done the smelling his shirts thing too. When we first were dating, I LOVED his smell. Then all of a sudden in this anxiety I started to think I couldn’t stand the way he smelled sometimes (usually after the gym or working in the yard). I went through a short period where I would smell his shirts and then test my reaction to it. Haha, as crazy as we both sound, I have a feeling we are much more normal than you would think!

  • j. pagarnen

    I have been struggling with this thought for four months. After we got engaged someone called me to tell me i was making a mistake because I wasnt marrying a christian. That’s when the panic attacks began. I couldn’t eat or sleep and the racing obsessive thoughts would switch back and forth from being a lesbian to making the wrong choice in marrying him. The psych put me on meds (which have helped) but since there was bad weeks and good weeks we decided to just do it and get married. We planned a wedding in 4 weeks and most of those days were great. About 3 days before the wedding I was having some panic about it and contacted Sheryl. She reassured me this wasn’t about him and she was right, it wasn’t!! We got married and I love him so much. Just 3 days ago the “Am I gay ” thoughts came back full swing. Clammy hands, fast heart rate, researching til my heart’s content, questioning everything I think and why I think it, who I am attracted to and why and am I even attracted to anyone? I am even convinced I am manly and not pretty. I looked up CBT thoughts because everytime I go to my psych she ups the does and I have already gained 15 pd in 3 months from the meds. The CBT helped me realize everyone has unwanted thoughts and these are not truths, this one just seems to spike anxiety more than the others. When this popped up in my email today I couldn’t help but feel relieved that this thought is normal and not because it is the truth about me. As I read Sheryl’s article I wonder what mt “root” cause is… why this issue and how do I overcome it?

  • Celsee

    I’ve been struggling with this for a little under two years now. It started after I broke up with a guy I was infatuated with in high school and my first year of college. I had moved across the country to go to college, and I felt like I had no idea who I was anymore after he broke it off. I also questioned whether I had made the right decision in moving to go to college, even though it was something I always wanted. After a second brief relationship, I started getting this intrusive thought about being gay. It completely tormented me and scared me and confused me, even though I had previously been very secure in my sexuality and identity and I have never had anything against gay people. I didn’t understand the thoughts and was terrified to look anything up online or go to therapy for fear that I would discover I really was a lesbian. After about a year, I finally researched and discovered hocd forums which have brought me some relief. However, I still haven’t been able to heal from this. It seems like I’ve done work in identifying the problem but I still don’t know how to solve it. The thoughts still come back and are very troubling. I also just broke up with a great boyfriend who I was seeing for a year and a half because I was worried I didn’t love him and I wasn’t attracted to him. Luckily, we are still friends and he is trying to understand my anxiety as I am. Now, I have days when I obsess over our relationship, I decide that it was wrong, and then I think it was right. If I’m not doing that, the anxiety about my sexuality comes back. Reading these blogs and understanding that other people go through this is comforting but I still worry I will never get over this. I’ve lost touch with myself and my sexuality and who I am in general and I’m scared I will never get it back, or that I will lose a lot in the process. I’m very scared.

    • Erin

      Celsee, please seek help from someone who knows how to deal with HOCD and ROCD! It has saved me in so many ways. It’s hard work, but it is so worth it. You’ll learn how to work through your fears and eventually it will become second nature. OCD isn’t curable, but it is manageable. You can do it!

  • amore

    Dearest blog friends, I too have had these intrusive thoughts. When the anxious thought. “Omg what if I don’t love him enough” and “what if I don’t love him” came about, I felt that my anxious mind held onto my every move. For example, we work at a restaurant together and his family owns the place, I would catch myself saying… “he’s upstairs doing paper work and I’m downstairs laughing with the girls… Is that real love?” Or “omg we don’t fight… Is that normal?!” It took so much energy and time to “reassure” myself by saying “yes you love him. You love him so much that this intrusive thought is actually protecting you from feeling the heartache of love, it’s even protecting you from the fear of loss!” It was almost as if I had to break my predispositions about love.

    When the “omg maybe I’m a lesbian” fear came through, I was ashamed. I was mortified and truly thought I was the only one. Just as I did with the love queation, i exhibited the same behavior here… “omg I just looked at that girls ass, I must be a lesbian!” Meanwhile, when I wasnt anxious and would do the same notion, I found, as each of us know deep down, that I wasn’t looking at her ass but at her cute outfit or yes, even wishing I had that butt! Definitely not that I was a lesbian. Sound familiar? Make sense?I even remember one day asking my sister if it was “normal” to look at other women (as my head was telling me that I wasn’t “normal”) and she responded, “Duh, every girl does. We look at what we don’t have and wish we did or we look and note that what we have is much better than theirs.” lol So TRUE! But I still didn’t understand it… That wasn’t enough for my anxious mind.

    One day I questioned it. I called it out and said “what are you trying to cover up?” I found myself crying at the answer. Committing to marriage and one person is just that… A commitment to ONE person. And that is SAD. There is a sadness to that. I knew that this anxious thought was covering up to the fear of loss- not only to the type of loss we all have and Sheryl explains above (divorce, uncertainty, etc.) but the loss of a life stage. The loss of single hood, the loss of flirting, first dates, first kissies… The grief that accompanies this lost. It was as if the truth, which is so hard to sit with, was covered up with “hey, you cant look at other men as an potential opportunity, so look at women!” LOL

    The real, core feelings of this transition… The grief of single hood ending, the closing of doors, the grief of jumping into adult hood, leaving ones family of origin, always comes bottled in the form of anxious thoughts! The hardest part is pulling back from the projections, pulling back from the anxious parts and sitting in that vulnerable, heart on the table, stage. For me, the grief is so intense I literally at times find myself saying, “this hurts so much!” It hurts to grow, it hurts to grieve, it hurts to say goodbye… Infact it hurts so much, that our body and mind don’t want to go through it… They want to attach onto tangible things, things we can control because that’s better then the other painful emotions. They also think that grieving, crying, screaming, raging are not allowed to be present during this time in our lives (referring to engagement). Do I have bad days where I wish I wasn’t like this? yes. Or times where I scream, “I just want to be my old, happy self again… “?Of course. But if that were the case I wouldn’t be engaged to an amazing person. That’s what keeps me going, knowing that if I can touch the core feelings and grieve, scream, cry, rage when I need to… Without any attachments, without any shame… Love, joy, and excitement will come! Hang in there! God Bless!!

    p.s. awesome quote: “the soul always knows how to heal itself, the challenge is to silence the mind!

  • Clara

    Hello friends. I thought I should share my journey with this particular question, as I am coming from the other side, as it were…

    I am one of Sheryl’s ‘gay’ clients who is frequently assailed by the anxious thought that maybe I’m actually straight. I put ‘gay’ in inverted commas, because my Rational Adult knows that I am not ‘Gay’ with a capital ‘G’, but rather bang-in-the-middle bi-sexual – and happen to have fallen in love with a woman, who I have been with for more than 7 years. I know I could just as easily have ended up with a man.

    My partner is not the only woman I have been attracted to, but she is the only woman I have kissed, and before her, I had only been with men. As a teenager, I went to an all-girls school, and while I had the odd crush on a boy that rarely left the realm of fantasy, I had powerfully intense female friendships. I was often tormented by the fear that I was gay as a teenager. As a college student, when I started dating men – I enjoyed it – particularly the polarity, and the fact that I could fully inhabit my femininity relative to their masculinity… BUT I was very aware of my ongoing attraction to women, and worried that I was gay. When I finally plucked up the courage to explore that possibility with my now partner, I had a couple of wonderful years, before things got ‘serious’ and questions of buying a house and committing forever came up, and I started to seriously doubt again. I was now very aware of my ongoing attraction to men – one man in particular -and ‘lesbian’ was not part of my self-image. I felt okay with it as a young adult, but the thought of being a lesbian mother, or a 60-year-old lesbian just felt ‘wrong’. I’m a feminine woman, and always have been. As a little girl I always imagined my future with a husband (a Gilbert Blythe type, ideally). I don’t fit the lesbian stereotype at all. I don’t really feel at home in gay bars, and I love period dramas and romantic comedies and ballet. I started to worry that my partnership was really more of a best-friendship. I loved her mind, but did I love her body… enough? Perhaps I just fell in love with her because it was easy and didn’t involve all the mars-venus issues of a straight relationship etc etc. Perhaps I had taken the easy road (I can’t believe I thought that because there are plenty of difficulties with being in a gay relationship!). Perhaps it was just a phase I had to go through, before I settled into a proper, adult relationship with a man.

    In my work with Sheryl, and another therapist, I am developing my ability to recognise the false beliefs that underpin these doubts and anxious thoughts – thoughts like “I need a man in order to be feminine”; “if I am attracted to men, while with a woman, I must be straight”; “I should be able to express every aspect of my potential, and every one of my desires, through my partner (i.e. I shouldn’t have to compromise anything)”; “my sexuality is something that I need to man do to me, rather than something I need to explore for myself”.

    I think bisexuality is difficult. Especially for a 4 on the Kinsy Scale, like me. And espeically for somebody who is prone to anxiety and overanalysis, and sensitive to societal opinion – like me. It’s a dilemma. But just like straight women have to let go of the fantasy of being with a different kind of man, when they commit to one man, as I bisexual woman in a loving relationship with a woman, I have to let go of the fantasy of being with men, when I commit to my partner. There are times when I still struggle with this. And times when I resent that I have to struggle. But in a sense, these are good problems to have. I am fortunate to live in an age and in a culture and in a family that permitted me to explore this other side of my sexuality, and to even have the option of resting there.

    For those of us (and I agree with Sheryl, it is probably the majority of us)who are somewhere in the middle of the specturm, and have the capacity to love and feel attraction for both genders, we ultimately have to make a choice if we want a committed relationship. We don’t have to deny the other part of ourselves or make it wrong – we can allow it, give it room, but just not act on it.

    • yogi525

      Thanks for sharing! As someone who definitely is around a 2 or 3 (I think?) on the scale, I can definitely relate. And the concept of “giving it room” is a great way to put it.

    • Lalalove

      Clara, me too!!! So great to read your comment. I have only been with my girlfriend but have been attracted and had crushes on both- my anxiety has latched onto that hugely! So great to hear from a “gay” 🙂

  • Ruth

    And I thought I was the only one! I have felt so alone in my feelings and can totally relate to the first commentor and Linda. So silly when I read all of it but I too smelled my boy’s shirt 😉 Thank you for posting this topic and making me feel less alone. Thank you so much.

  • Gina Marie Alitoli

    Wonderful. Definitely put this on Huffington Post.

  • Catherine

    Read Lisa diamonds book on sexual fluidity. When we come out to someone we are letting the love in. Bisexuality is not embraced in this society and Lisa diamond argued most women tend to be bicurious or bisexual rather than straight or gay.

    • Clara

      Thank you Catherine! I have been looking for intelligent books on this topic for many years! The preview provided by Amazon already has me impressed. I will definitely buy a copy. Very grateful for the recommendation.

  • Louise

    I had to giggle at this post because I struggled with this for a *long* time . well before I got engaged, in fact I had just come to terms with the fact that although I am not 100% straight I am not gay and I do not want a relationship with a woman before I met my Fi.
    The bit that really struck a chord with me though was the wanting guarantees that its going to work. I really really struggle with this – and just to add to this fear that I think would be there anyway my FI is on submarines . . . submarine marriages have a scarily high divorce rate. He is away for months at a time. When he does come back we need to reconnect. And then we do. But its terrifying . . . any advice?

  • I can’t even imagine being separated from my husband for months at a time, so my heart goes out to you. I would encourage you to connect with other women in your position – if you haven’t done so already – so that you can build up some support and validation around your unique challenges. In the end, as you’ve already realized, the work is about letting go of control and the need to try to guarantee the outcome. So whether your partner is close or away, the fear of intimacy needs to be addressed directly and with commitment. Do you know what you’re scared of when he returns?

  • Louise

    Thank you Sheryl 🙂 I’ve been thinking about buying the e-course – put money aside for it and everything! But I’m scared that buying it will tempt fate and he’ll change his mind. That’s one fear – that he’ll go away, think and decide he doesn’t love me. Then when he comes back he is tired and in work mode and we have to reconnect and its difficult not to panic. I mean – I know what’s going on, its happened before and we’ve done it before, but I get scared we’re not going to manage to reconnect properly and obviously that fear gets in the way. I fear that when he goes away we’re both going to change so much that we can’t reconnect. I worry that when he leaves the navy we’re not going to be able to hack living together like a “normal” couple. I wanted to be practically married before we got married – you know, the paperwork being just a formality because we were tried and tested before we took the leap, but that’s not going to happen, because I know so much is going to change. I am the sort of person that hates risk. Needs guarantees . . I am struggling with a person decision (pretty much unrelated to him and us ) because of that very reason. It’s all a bit terrifying!!!

  • Louise: Everything you’re describing is textbook for people who find their way to my work, so you’re in good company. I encourage you to read as many of articles as you can so that you can get find some containment for your fears, and learn that you’re far from alone. As far as the ecourse tempting fate, that’s your wounded self trying to control the outcome! The truth is that the more you learn to open yourself to love, the higher the chances are that your loving relationship will have room to grow and thrive.

  • Em

    During my life, I have struggled with anxiety over so many things: wetting the bed, having communicable diseases, being a pedophile, becoming psychotic, losing my teeth, etc. The fear of being a lesbian was another struggle. My sexuality is somewhere in the middle. Not being able to fit myself neatly in a box caused me to analyze and compare my physical sensations towards men and women. I did so much reading on what sexual arousal *should* feel like. I would wonder if what I felt for men *really* was arousal. I pondered greatly over defining sexual attraction. I can get very turned on and quite enjoy making out with certain men. Afterward, I worry that I was not really attracted to him and the only reason why the kiss was so arousing is just because he was a good kisser. I worry that I only felt sexual desire for a man because of wanting the physical feeling. You know what happened? I analyzed this to the point where zapped out all the pleasurable magic that people feel in romantic relationships, leaving romantic and sexual numbness. Expecting my sexual feelings to fit in a long list of qualifications means there is only a very narrow and nearly unattainable place it can be. It is only when I am okay with the grey, I am not analyzing, and anxiety is not in the front seat, that I can calm down enough to enjoy my sexuality with a man. This anxiety thing sucks.

  • Chris

    First & foremost I would like to thank Sheryl for the work you do. Thank you not only for your writing, counseling, and personal insights but also for creating a forum where people with similar thinking styles can come and feel solace. I suffer from ocd symptoms, including the thought loops, Exact thinking (needing to fit things into exact places, and the need for definitive certainty. When I was 15 and going through my 1st depression, I struggled with a bit of the hocd. Now, as an adult in a long-term, committed relationship I struggle with rocd routinely. I take sertraline which is an enormous help with repetitive thought processes; however, the other half of the equation involves anxiety and negative thought patterns. That is where this site is an incredibly valuable resource. Hearing all the contributors’ input is extremely value. None of us are alone inour struggles with anxiety and intense fear…

  • Em

    Chris: I know *exactly* what you mean about having “Exact thinking (needing to fit things into exact places, and the need for definitive certainty.” That has been toward the root of my struggle.

  • Janelle

    Sheryl- I was thinking about this article recently. I’ve been having major anxiety b/c I’ve started thinking “omg, what if I have aids.” I know why this thought is popping up, it’s because I’m pregnant and read online that an Aids test is required or maybe they said it’s your choice. Obviously, I want to get it done b/c if I had it, God forbid, I wouldn’t want to infect my baby 🙁 I’ve only had sex with 2 people in my life. My husband is clean and he’s not the one I worry about. When I was 16, I lost my virginity to my ex-boyfriend and he slept around with a lot of people. We always used protection but then when we broke up I had sex with him about 5 times without protection but he always pulled out- I know, gross, TMI- I’m sorry! So, it’s been 12 years since I had sex with him but I always think, ‘what if he had aids’. I’m just a nervous wreck about this. I’ve been reading online about donating blood and it said that the red cross would have contacted me if anything was wrong with my blood and they never did- I’ve given multiple times since I was 18.

    Yesterday, I was in the ER b/c of light spotting (pretty much nonexistent) at 5 weeks pregnant. Everything was fine and the doctor told me that everything was normal. I’m so nervous about this little precious baby and I know it was my anxiety that had me in the ER. But they did an ultrasound and there is the start of a little baby in there 🙂 Then, they took my blood and said that everything went well. They gave me the results of my blood tests though and it listed a million things. One of the things said that my white blood count was low. It was something like 4.1×1000 and it’s supposed to be something like 4.3×1000. The doctor didn’t say anything to me about this at all- but yikes it just got me thinking- ugh 🙁 Mine and my husband’s life would be ruined if I had aids- omg I’d feel horrible, i’d just want to die 🙁

  • Janelle: I know you’ve received some great advice from your friends on the Conscious Weddings E-Course forum, but I’ll just add here that the way to handle intrusive thoughts and pull them out by the root is to address the root fear, which is almost always connected to feeling out of control, helpless, and grieving. So when the thought arrives of, “What if I have AIDS?” you respond with, “I wonder what this thought is protecting me from feeling?”

    I know you’ve done a TON of work on your relationship anxiety, and now, with this next transition, it’s time to address the next layer of healing (there are always more layers!). The best gift you could give to yourself, your baby, and your marriage is the Birthing A New Mother E-Course. We know that physical health is essential for the healthy development of your baby, but it’s also been proven that emotional health is equally important. You don’t want to spend your pregnancy sending anxiety currents into your growing baby and, while some pregnancy anxiety is normal, you don’t have to suffer through it for the next nine months if you learn the tools and context appropriate for this transition. Check it out again and let me know if you have any questions about it:


  • Janelle

    Thanks Sheryl. I know that all of this is connected to the fear of loss. Am I really hurting my baby when I worry about things? That makes me nervous 🙁 Also, I looked the the birthing a new mother course, is there a black friday sale on that one too?

  • It’s not that worrying will hurt your baby (worrying is the work of motherhood and it’s inevitable!) but the more consciousness you can bring to the emotional aspects of your pregnancy, the healthier environment you’ll be creating for you, your baby, and your marriage. Like the wedding, we tend to focus on the physical aspects of pregnancy and we forget to attend to the emotional realm until it hits AFTER the baby is born. And, like the wedding, it’s much harder to deal with the emotional piece postpartum (although certainly not impossible).

    No Black Friday sale on the Birthing course, but I recently lowered the price to $99!

  • Janelle

    Oh okay, phew. So worrying is not going to physically hurt my baby, you were just talking about creating a healthy environment when the baby is out of the womb, right? I almost had a panic attack from worrying about being worried. Lol!

  • It’s not worrying that harms your baby but stuffing your feelings and not addressing them consciously does have an affect on your baby even in utero. It’s not about being perfectly happy but it is about being honest and up front with your feelings, whatever they are. So you want to find a healthy way to manage the worry and express the grief, which is exactly what the Birthing Course will teach you. Don’t wait until after the baby is born to deal with the emotional side of this transition, Janelle! That doesn’t serve anyone!

  • Janelle

    I’m using a lot of the tools (like inner bonding) that I learned about from the e-course. I would say that I’m doing a really good job feeling the feelings and I’m handling them very well. I’m not having a melt down or anything like that. Actually, besides the AIDS spike, I have been doing great! There hasn’t been any feelings that have surprised me at all b/c I expected to feel all of this, actually I thought it would be just like my engagement anxiety but it’s not even close to that. I’m only 5 weeks pregnant so I’m sure that a lot of new feelings will probably emerge but my husband and I are doing really well with this transition. Thank you for all of your help. I will probably purchase the motherhood course at some point though.

  • Sounds great, Janelle. I’m so glad you’re doing well!

  • Catherine

    Clara, I’d also recommend Joanne Fleischer’s book called “Living two lives.” Not so much for it’s focus on helping married heterosexual women struggling with their identity, but for her examination of sexuality and sexual fluidity while also providing techniques to establish certainty.

  • CeeCee

    Just wanted to thank you for writing this post. I’m 22 years old and I have been struggling with anxiety and intrusive thoughts occasionally my whole life. Most of the time, it was something I was able to work through on my own and it went away. But the worst began this summer when the thought of “what if I’m gay?” popped into my head for the first time. This thought seemed to be more terrifying than the rest because it was the ultimate threat to the dream of what I always wanted…you know.. the fairytale of happily ever after with a husband and children and all that. I never thought there was anything wrong with being gay but I’ve always known that I’m not…at least until these thoughts started. When I look back on the last year now, I realize that it had been a huge year of transitions for me. There had been two deaths in my family, I just graduated from college and moved back in with my parents with no job prospects on the horizon. I felt as if I lost my identity, especially once I started constantly questioning my sexuality.
    In the midst of that struggle, I actually met the most incredible guy. It hasn’t been easy to date someone new when my anxiety is in control but a little voice inside of me motivates me saying that he is special and I should give it a chance. And he is special. He’s so kind, caring, giving, and supportive. There are no red flags at all. He is the kind of man I hope to marry someday. However, meeting him did not cure my anxiety and I think it actually scares me that he’s SO great. Since meeting him, I have gone back and forth with continued intrusive thoughts about my sexuality and with other relationship anxiety.. .analyzing everything I feel about him or don’t feel about him.
    One night when I was frantically searching the internet for answers to all the questions in my mind and reassurance that continuing to date him was the right thing.. I found a link to this exact blog post. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone and I felt hope that I could work through my anxiety.
    Through reading this and the other posts of your blog, I have found more relief and answers than anywhere else. I am starting to realize that the core of this anxiety is my attachment to our culturally fueled idea of being “in love” and “the one” which I based my life around growing up. I have a lot to work on but since finding your website, I am learning not to give this fear so much power and accept the uncertainty of life and love. Thank you!

  • Lalalove

    This was great to read tonight 🙂 helped me breathe and reaffirm what I want to be true. I love your blog!

  • Anna

    I came here because i struggle with the thought of being a lesbian for years now. I am 23 years old, and since i can remember myself i always knew that i want men. Suddenly though at the age of 15-16 one of my professors in high school(she was teaching Psychology,but not really) told me that studies have shown that women who tend to have their mothers as high in a pedastal as me , are proven to be lesbians. I remember running home crying later that day because she had said it out loud, infront of everyone and all the classroom was laughing at me. My mum told me that she should be ashamed of herself and because i look up to my mother that doesnt make me a lesbian. The thought didn’t pass my head again until 19. Then it started coming and going,and coming and going for a very short amount of time. Recently though, during the summer it became a permanent thought in my head. “What if i am lesbian?”
    “what if i like girls?” “why did that turned me on?” “does she look at me because she wants me?” “do i want her ?” “do i want to kiss her ?” “is that why i havent found a boyfriend yet?” “is that why i am still a virgin?”.
    I don’t say that being a lesbian is wrong, but i don’t believe i am one. I know i want a man, i like men, i want a relationship, i want to sleep with a man, waking up next to one and marry one. All the thoughts in my head for my future involve a man. And then it hit me. Why am i labeling myself? What is wrong with getting turned on with lesbian porn? Why do i torture myself with those fears. Because they are fears. The thoughts petrify me and i am trying to change them. You helped me a lot , because everything that you wrote are applying to me. I fear of being a lesbian, even though i like men. So i came to the conclusion that its my choice and i will continue my life the way that i want to, and if that means that at one point i might sleep with a woman(because thats the only way that it can go, i dont want a relationship with one) let it be. I tortured myself too much for no reason. And when i talked to my friends about my fears, amazingly most of them had those thoughts. Thank you for the boost of confidence that i can pass through this ugly part of my life. Love your blog

    • I’m glad it helped, Anna. One spoke of the “what if I’m gay” wheel is having inaccurate information, which means not understanding how normal it is to feel turned on by lesbian porn or fantasy. It sounds like you’ve let yourself off the hook and trusted that the choice is yours in terms of who you want to partner with!

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