Healthy lives for young people

What is sexuality?

Sexuality describes how you express yourself in a sexual way. Part of your sexuality is your sexual orientation, which refers to who you’re attracted to, want to have sex with and fall in love with.

No one really knows what influences our sexuality, but every single one of us has a sexual orientation and who we are attracted to is not something we’re in control of or can choose.

Some people fancy the same gender as them (and are commonly described as gay or homosexual), some people fancy the opposite gender to them (heterosexual), some people fancy all genders (pansexual), some people don’t fancy anyone (asexual)! Sexuality is as diverse as people are.

Here are some terms you may have heard of, and what they mean:

  • Asexual (or ace): People who are asexual or ace have a variation in levels of romantic and/or sexual attraction. This includes no feelings of sexual attraction towards anyone and no desire to have sex.
  • Bisexual or bi: People who are bisexual are attracted towards more than one gender.
  • Cisgender: Cisgender refers to someone for whom their gender and biological sex are the same.
  • Heterosexual: A woman who only fancies men, or a man who only fancies women is called heterosexual.
  • Homosexual (gay/lesbian): People who are homosexual are attracted to the same gender (men fancy men and women fancy women). Homosexual men are often called gay and homosexual women are often called lesbians but can also be called gay.
  • LGB: LGB stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual.
  • LGBT+: LGBT stands for ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, plus’. At Brook, we use the term LGBT+ to cover people who are not heterosexual and/or who are not cisgender. The ‘+’ ensures all gender identities and sexual orientations are included.
  • Pansexual: Pansexual people’s attraction towards others is not limited by sex or gender.
  • Queer: The word queer is a term covering all non-straight sexualities. It was originally used as an insult, but now some people choose to call themselves queer because they don’t feel like other labels for sexuality fit them properly.

For more information about sexuality and gender identity, including other terms used to describe sexuality, see Stonewall’s Glossary of terms.

Figuring out your sexuality

Like with so many things in life, it can take time to explore your sexuality and make decisions about what you do and don’t like. Your sexuality can be expressed through your emotional and physical desires, behaviours, attitudes and relationships. These feelings and experiences are often influenced by factors such as your friends, culture and religion, so take your time to figure it all out, and don’t worry if it takes you a while to understand it, or if what you feel changes from time to time.

Your sexuality is unique to you. And remember that you may know who you are and who you fancy, way before you want or are ready to have sex.

Figuring out your sexual orientation can seem hard because we live in a world where a common, automatic assumption is that people are straight (heterosexual).

It can feel like you are just expected to be straight, and that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or anything else is somehow wrong. It’s not. It’s just who you are and there is a world of people out there who know exactly how that feels. Population statistics on sexuality vary:

Many people feel very comfortable with who they are and are supported by friends and family without question. But not everyone feels this way or has this experience. You may feel like you have to pretend to feel things you don’t in order to fit in, and hide how you are feeling from your friends or family. This can actually be more stressful than coming out and will inevitably involve pretending or lying about who you really are.

Get advice on coming out, including how and when to say it and dealing with the reaction.

If you are ready to get into relationships and have sex and you need information or advice, see our relationships and sex sections.

If you’re experiencing discrimination and bullying about being lesbian, gay, bi or trans* (LGBT), read our advice to dealing with bullying and getting help.


    Other Stuff you might find useful…

    Real Story
    Being bisexual: Gareth’s story
    Real Story
    Realising I was bisexual: Pippa’s story
    Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying
    Advice on coming out


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