I want love and intimacy – but I am struggling with my sexual identity

<span>‘Even with this freedom I feel lost'.</span><span>Composite: Getty/GNM design</span>
‘Even with this freedom I feel lost'.Composite: Getty/GNM design

I came out as gay in my late 20s, after years of deep repression (I had a traditional family, plus feelings of shame and fear). I very quickly fell into a relationship with another woman, who I loved dearly, but struggled to find the desire to explore my sexuality with her. I felt I could only do this on my own. After four years I ended the relationship. I was jealous of her freedom to explore her sexuality without shame. Depression and confusion followed. I questioned my queerness and my self-worth and set out to explore my sexuality without worrying what other people think. But even with this freedom I feel lost. I am trying to become part of a more queer culture and find my tribe but I don’t know who I am – I know I am gay, am I also non-binary? I’m now in my mid-30s and I’m worried this exploration of different lovers and ideologies and roles within sex is taking me further away from what I actually want: love and intimacy, plus the freedom and independence to know who I am sexually. But I am struggling to find independence free from shame and guilt.

You really DO know what you want: “love and intimacy”. Try to set aside the pressure of following ideology, of searching for a tribe, of trying to find a self-description; none of that is as important as knowing that you are a person with ordinary human needs who deserves to find love, pleasure, understanding and acceptance … and who is highly worthy of self-love and self-acceptance. Follow your intuition rather than your mind. Let it guide you to finding ways to getting your simplest needs met. You may not be able to choose your identity but you CAN choose to be happy – by ignoring the political voices around you and holding on to what is authentic for yourself.

• Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

• If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Each week, Pamela chooses one problem to answer, which will be published online. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.