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 into sexual beings.
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. Transsexual individuals identify with a gender that is different from their biological sex and will often - but not always - seek to transition to a different genger through sex reassignment therapy. Transgender people feel that they don't conform to the usual gender roles, but doesn't imply any specific sexual orientation. Questioning people may be unsure of their sexuality, or still exploring their feelings.
About 10% of people in this country are gay, lesbian or bisexual.
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 sexual preferences. 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.
Getting advice from your Connexions Personal Adviser is a good start if you feel you need help with identifying your sexuality.
For further information
The Equality and Human Rights Commission helpline on Telephone 0845 604 6610 offers information and advice to people experiencing discrimination.
Mermaids offers family and individual support for teenagers and children with gender identity issues. The Mermaids Information line on Telephone 0208 1234 819 is open Monday-Saturday 3pm-7pm.
GIRES - the Gender Identity Research and Education Society offers information for trans people, their families and the professionals who care for them.
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard (LLGS) 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 0207 837 7324, text-phone number is 020 7689 8501, between 10am-11pm, seven days a week.