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Understanding sexuality and sexual orientation

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in life

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Everybody has a sexuality, it is a central part of who we are. Your sexual identity is something which may stay the same troughout your life or change over time. Although many people identify as straight, gay or lesbian these are not the only sexual identities and many people in life choose not to use a lable to define their sexuality. 

What is sexuality?

Aspects of sexuality

  • sex 
  • gender identity and roles 
  • sexual orientation
  • pleasure 
  • intimacy 
  • reproduction

Expressions of sexuality

  • thoughts
  • desires 
  • attitudes
  • behaviours
  • practices 
  • roles
  • relationships

Influences of sexuality 

  • biology
  • psychology
  • social settings 
  • economic factors like money 
  • culture, history, religion and spirituality or how you see yourself.

Sexual attraction

Most people have sexual desires in some way or another. This means we find other people attractive and think about them in a sexual way. Some people want to have sex with other people, whereas others are happy to just think about it. Sexuality is about how you think and feel about sex.

Healthy sexuality is about having a confident, comfortable and communicative attitude towards yourself and your sexual desires, whether you want to have sex or not.

What does sexual orientation mean?

Part of your sexuality is your sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who you fancy, this can mean someone of a different gender or someone of the same gender. Gender is how you identify yourself, examples of gender are Male, Female, Trans, Queer. During your teenage years, you may start exploring your sexuality and sexual orientation, to find out what you’re into.

You might feel unsure about your sexual orientation, or what gender you find attractive might change during your life. This is totally ok - many people are attracted to different genders or like different things sexually at different stages in their lives.

Remember, sexual orientation is different from gender identity. This article deals largely with sexual orientation. For more information on gender identity and being transgender, check out our article here.

Being LGBT

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

  • Lesbian means a woman who is attracted to other women.
  • Gay means a man who is attracted to other men, and is sometimes used to describe women who are attracted to other women too.
  • Bisexual means a person who is attracted to more than one gender.
  • Transgender means someone whose gender is different from the gender they were given at birth.
  • Straight or heterosexual means a person who is attracted to the opposite gender.

Some people know from a young age whether they are gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual, some people find out at different points in their life, and some people change their mind multiple times during their life. It’s important to remember that not everyone fits neatly into one of these categories, and some people don’t identify as either LGBT or straight.

It’s ok to take your time to experiment and think about what you like. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and proud of who you are, no matter what way you identify.


If you are usually emotionally and sexually attracted to the same gender, you may be gay or lesbian. If you feel attracted to more than one gender or have relationships with more than one gender, you may be bisexual. If your gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the gender assigned to you at birth, you may be transgender.

If you are LGBT, it can be difficult to tell someone and working out whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight can be a confusing time. You don’t have to tell your friends anything about your sexual orientation or who you fancy unless you want to, but remember it can help to talk. These things take time and there are trusted professionals who can help you if you want to chat. BeLonG To Youth Service is an organisation that supports LGBT young people, and they are a good first port of call.

If you think you are gay, lesbian or bisexual, there’s nothing wrong with exploring those feelings and having relationships to help you decide.

Many people will experience crushes on someone of the same sex as they are growing up and this can mean that they are gay or lesbian, but their feelings may also change and they can find that they are more attracted to the opposite gender, or both gender.

Coming out

Coming out is the process of accepting yourself as LGBT and being open about this with other people. Coming out can be difficult, but it can also be totally worth it. For more information and advice on coming out, check out our article here.

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Published March 7th2013
Last updated May 22nd2018
Tags sexuality coming out gay lesbian lgbt
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