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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 holistic term for someone’s sexual behaviours, attractions, likes, dislikes, kinks and preferences. Sexual orientation makes up a part of someone’s sexuality, and sexuality is sometimes used interchangeably with sexual orientation. However, it covers more than just who a person is attracted to. Your sexuality is what you enjoy and how you enjoy it, whether that is about partners or activities.
Holistic is the idea that things should be considered as a whole and not just as a sum of their parts. It sees the different parts of something as closely interconnected, meaning we need to look at the whole picture and not just certain aspects. For example, a holistic approach to health care is based on the idea that you should take care of the whole body and mind, rather than just treating a part of the body that is ill.
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, which you can read more about here. However, if you are ready to get into relationships and have sex and you need information or advice, see our pages on relationships and sex.
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.
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, transgender and queer. The ‘+’ is used to be more inclusive of other identities beyond those in the acronym.
Sexual activity is not necessarily representative of sexual orientation; people who have sexual relations with someone of the same gender may not identity as LGBTQ+.
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 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 LGBTQ+ 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.
Many people feel very comfortable with their sexuality and are supported by friends and family. However, if you are worried about coming out, we have professionals at Brook with expertise in gender identity and sexuality who you can talk to. Find your local Brook service. There are also lots of organisations who specialise in providing advice and support for people in LGBTQ+ communities.
Find LGBTQ+ support near you. Read our page on coming out.Read our advice on getting help with LGBTQ+ related discrimination and bullying.
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