The dilemma I’m a 16-year-old girl and in need of advice concerning sexuality. I’ve only been questioning it since I was 15, and I frantically search the internet for answers all the time, even though I know it’s not that simple (especially for someone as young as me who has had little experience with relationships). For a while I’ve settled on the term “bisexual”, because I know I’m not straight, but even that doesn’t feel right. I’m physically attracted to boys, but I’ve only had one real crush and that was four years ago. I’m definitely physically attracted to girls, too, although some days I’m not into it as much, and other days I’ll be all for it. This might lead you to think that bisexual is a good label for me to stick with, but I’ve never had a proper crush on a girl, and I don’t know if I could be romantically attracted. I know it sounds pretty silly and that I have time to figure out who I am and what I like, but I’m anxious all the time over it.

Mariella replies Thanks for writing. I’m sorry, but not surprised, to hear that you’re feeling confused. As our once-binary world loosens its shackles on our sexuality it sometimes seems to be piling up almost as much pressure as it relieves. With so many choices and tribes to consider, it must be positively baffling to be a teenager awakening to the myriad paths before you. I’m not suggesting we revert to the landscape of my teenage years when, as a girl, even admitting to sexual desire marked you down as a bad ’un, but with so many options, how are you to make your selection? And how much do you want to get bogged down in the “research”?

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The easiest way to dial down your stress levels would be to remove the pressure you feel to come to a concrete conclusion. Internet trawling for an answer won’t help. It’s one of a number of dilemmas that no search engine can solve and the tsunami of propaganda that flows forth is more likely to exacerbate your quandary. Do you really want adverts to start popping up for sex aids and self-help groups? I’m increasingly wary of seeking any information online that offers marketing potential to interested parties.

There’s a whole heap of affiliations more focused on their own agenda than your journey of self-discovery and the genuinely confused are the perfect prey. There are also genuine organisations that exist solely with the intention of providing advice and a like-minded group to communicate with. But they’re just getting harder to locate. If you want someone to simply talk through your concerns I suggest Childline (childline.org.uk), a confidential advice service that covers all subjects.

My feeling is that you’re actually in an ideal situation, with your possibilities open and a delightful period of experimentation ahead – if you can manage to put your worries about sexual definition aside. You are the epitome of the thoroughly modern young woman; aware of your untapped sexual desires and inquisitive about where they might lead you. In today’s inclusive world to have identified and graded your desires to the extent that you could define them by your mid-teens would be premature. You’ve only just reached the age at which sex is legal and there’s a reason for that beyond protecting you from potential abusers – it’s about protecting you from yourself.

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Anyone who says they are sure about anything in their teens runs the risk of having to eat humble pie later on. The ways we change through the decades are myriad and so often the roads we take can turn out to be diversions or dead ends. You are allowing one of the big adventures, and indeed pleasures, of growing into adulthood to become a burden and it’s either because others are putting pressure on you, or you are putting pressure on yourself. Neither are conducive to your happiness.

Sexuality, far from being fixed, exists on a scale, so settling on any term, even one as loose as bisexual, seems unnecessary and unhelpful. Society has changed dramatically since I was your age in its encouragement and acceptance of the shades of grey involved in who we sexually partner with. Once upon a time teenagers had to fix in their minds their intended career, their chosen sexuality (though anything other than heterosexual came with enormous consequences) and, by the age of 20, were supposedly on the path to settling down.

These days there are no such certainties and while that can increase your sense of confusion it also means life is truly what you make of it. There is no point at which you can’t throw everything up in the air and see where it lands, or take a diversion, go full speed ahead or reverse slowly. The point is that you shouldn’t have to decide, and if you do you can change and change again. Rather than fretting about who you might fancy and fall in love with, you’re better employing your energy investigating the great, wide, wonderful world out there for all it has to offer, romantically, physically and intellectually.

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Do so on your own terms and demand respect for your choices along the way, because it’s on that journey you’ll find out who you are going to become.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1





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