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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.

‘Sexuality’ is a term for someone’s sexual behaviours, attractions, likes, dislikes, kinks and preferences.

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 explore it all, and don’t worry if it takes you a while to understand it, or if what you feel changes. Sexuality can be fluid, which means it can change day to day or in different situations. Remember: your sexuality is unique to you.

You may have a good understanding of your sexuality some time before you feel ready to have sex, and this is completely normal. There are lots of ways of exploring your sexuality without engaging in sexual activity with another person, such as through masturbation.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is how a person feels sexually about people of various genders. The term describes who they are likely to pursue a sexual relationship with.

Sexual orientation makes up part of someone’s sexuality but it is not the same thing. Sexual orientation refers to who you are attracted to, while sexuality is what you enjoy and how you enjoy it.

No one really knows what influences our sexual orientation, 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 are attracted to people who are the same gender as them, and might identify as gay, lesbian or queer. Some people are straight, meaning they are only attracted to people who are a different gender to them, specifically if they are a man who is only attracted to women or a woman who is only attracted to men. Some people are bisexual, meaning they fancy people of more than one gender. Some people aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, which is called being asexual. These are just a few ways of describing people’s sexual orientation.

Read more about these and other terms relating to sexuality.

This is the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The ‘+’ is used to be more inclusive of other identities beyond those in the acronym. It is also sometimes written as LGBTQ+, in which case the Q stands for ‘queer’ or, less often, ‘questioning.’

Sexual activity is not necessarily representative of sexual orientation; people who have sexual relations with someone of the same gender may not identity as LGBT+.

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 ‘abnormal’, but it’s not. Your sexual orientation is valid.

Telling others about your sexual orientation

Telling other people about your sexual orientation, also known as ‘coming out’, is entirely your choice.

‘Coming out’ is when someone tells someone else about their LGBT+ identity. In relation to sexuality, this means telling someone that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or any other sexuality which isn’t straight. This process exists because we live in a society where most people assume everyone is straight and cisgender.

Coming out is personal and different for everyone. For some people, it isn’t an issue at all. For others, it can be incredibly difficult. Some people decide not to ‘come out’ to anyone, ever. Others decide not to ‘come out’ to their family, and only do so with friends.

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