Our sexuality can be either heterosexual (when we are attracted to the opposite sex), homosexual (when we are attracted to the same sex, usually called gay or lesbian) or bisexual (when we are attracted to both sexes).
As we are growing up, we experience changes in our bodies as they make the transition from childhood into adulthood. This is called puberty. Puberty can be a confusing period in our lives as we begin to experience sexual desires and start to develop our own sexuality.
Sexual identity shouldn't be confused with gender identity. Gender identity is about your feelings about your own gender, which might differ from the one you were assigned at birth.
Developing a sexual identity
Developing a sexual identity isn't always straightforward. When you are growing up it is normal to have crushes on other people, including members of the same sex and this doesn't necessarily mean you are gay. Feelings of attraction towards others of the same sex are common during puberty.
No one can tell you whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight - only you will know for sure. Don’t be too quick to label yourself. Take time to work out how you really feel. Don’t let people persuade you to experiment against your will - you don’t have to be sexually active to have a sexual identity.
Gay is a general term used to describe people who are attracted to members of their own sex, but is perhaps most commonly used for men who are attracted to other men. Women who are attracted to other women are often called Lesbians. Bisexual people are attracted to people of both sexes. Trans people have a gender identity which differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Although Transgender is a wider term for people whose identity, behaviour or self expression differs from what is usually associated with their birth sex, Transsexuals are people who transition from one sex to another. Neither Transsexual nor Transgender imply any specific sexual orientation. Questioning or Undecided people may be unsure of their sexuality, or still exploring their feelings.
Only you will know when you are confident enough to let others know about your sexuality. Coming out may seem like a difficult decision. You may be afraid of how your parents or other people might react, even if you are sure of your own feelings. The important thing is that you should feel happy in yourself before letting others know.
You may have a trusted friend you can confide in with whom you feel comfortable and who will understand. Sometimes it may be easier to talk to someone you don’t know. Remember that is does get easier after you tell someone for the first time, and things tend to work themselves out in time, even if some people find your sexuality hard to come to terms with initially.
No-one should feel persecuted because of your sexuality. If you’re being bullied as a result of coming out, talk to a teacher or your Connexions Personal Adviser. If you’re working, inform someone in authority. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation.
For further information
The Equality and Human Rights Commission Advice line on Telephone 0808 800 0082 offers expert information, advice and support on discrimination and human rights issues.
Mermaids offers family and individual support for teenagers and children with gender identity issues. The Mermaids Information line on Telephone 0344 334 0550 is open Monday-Friday 9am-9pm (Bank Holiday opening times may vary).
GIRES - the Gender Identity Research and Education Society offers information for trans people, their families and the professionals who care for them.
Switchboard LGBT+ provides information, support and referral services for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people and anyone who needs to consider issues around their sexuality. Call Telephone 0300 330 0630 between 10am-10pm every day.