Sexuality is a complex concept which combines how you feel about your body and body image, your gender, your feelings, who you’re attracted to and what you want from life.
Sexual orientation is how you choose to express your sexuality in relation to others.
It is really important that you and others understand that gender identity is separate from your sexual orientation or identity, although it may affect it.
- Irrespective of your identified gender, you may see yourself in terms of sexual identity as straight/heterosexual – fancy the opposite sex
- gay/lesbian/homosexual – fancy the same sex
- bisexual – fancy both
- have no sexual identity at the moment
- something else
About the term ‘LGBTQ+’
LGBTQ+ is a term currently used to describe sexual orientations other than heterosexual/straight.
It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes ‘questioning’) and the + represents ‘others’.
Knowing your sexual orientation
Some young people know their sexual orientation from an early age, others take longer to work it out.
As with other areas of human development, sexual orientation may change as we get older – it is not necessarily something which is set in stone.
Sexual orientation is an individual choice and young people should not feel that the sexual preferences of others should affect the choices that they make in this regard.
Feeling confused or unsure about your sexual orientation
When you’re feeling confused about your sexual orientation, it can make you feel:
These are completely normal responses to uncertainty and are usually possible to manage with support from parents/carers and friends.
You shouldn’t feel under pressure from others to go against your feelings and you may need to accept a degree of uncertainty for a while until you feel you have come to a clear decision.
Whatever you are, you know best and it’s OK. Be proud of who you are, regardless of what anyone might say.
Arriving at a decision you are happy with
Go at your own pace when it comes to exploring your sexuality.
For some young people, worries about their sexual orientation can become really difficult to manage.
If this is the case, it may well be a good idea to discuss things with an adult you can trust. This may be a family member of carer, a professional such as a school nurse or a GP, or someone else you trust.
These kinds of difficulties are not seen as specific mental health problems and are usually a normal part of growing up. However, in some cases the level of distress that such uncertainty can cause may need additional support.
If you think that this may apply to you, you should ask for this, (if possible with support from a family member or carer, or alternatively by yourself) from a professional such as a school nurse or a GP.
Non-urgent advice: Further support
There are some helpful websites with information about sexuality.
- Childline: Sexuality
- YoungMinds: Sexuality and mental health
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Page last reviewed: 12 January, 2023