Sexual orientation refers to whether you are sexually and romantically attracted to men, women, or both. Some people feel certain about their sexual orientation from a very young age, whereas others take some time to experiment and explore before they figure it out. Many people feel like their sexual orientation is fluid and changeable, meaning that they are attracted to both men and women at different times in their lives.
It’s totally normal to explore your sexual orientation, and to try different experiences which work for you. As long as you are safe and feel in control, you should feel perfectly comfortable trying out different things whilst you explore your sexual orientation, and perfectly happy fluctuating between experiences if you decide that you like both men and women.
The main sexual orientations are described below, although it is really important to remember that everyone will identify with different things and may choose to describe themselves differently. Just because a man sleeps with other men doesn’t mean that he will identify as gay, and just because a woman sleeps with only men doesn’t mean she will necessarily identify as straight. How you define your sexual orientation is completely up to you, and you should never feel ashamed of who you are or scared to explore what you might like.
Remember, there’s no need to put yourself in a box if you don’t want to. It can take time to figure out what you like and don’t like, and taking the time you need is perfectly normal and healthy.
People who are heterosexual are normally attracted to the opposite sex. People who are heterosexual generally call themselves straight.
People who are homosexual are attracted to the same sex. Homosexual men often call themselves gay, whereas homosexual women often call themselves gay or lesbians.
People who are bisexual are attracted to people of both sexes, sometimes at different times and sometimes at the same time. Bisexual people often call themselves ‘bi’. Bisexual people are often thought to be sexually confused or transitioning towards homosexuality; but, these are only myths and misconceptions and most people who identify as bisexual are genuinely attracted to both sexes. Some people think that everyone is a little bit bisexual, but that is a matter to be debated another time!
Being transgender is not a sexual orientation as such, although many people often think it is. The term transgender actually refers to people who are born as one sex (male or female), but feel that they identify more with the other sex. So a man may feel like he should have been born a woman, or a woman may feel like she should have been born a man. In some cases, transgender men or women will choose to live as the opposite sex by changing their physical appearance and lifestyles, but by maintaining their natural bodies. Other times, if the feeling is really strong, transgender people may choose to have a medical sex change, which means that they will undergo a lengthy process of changing their bodies from male to female, or vice versa. Transgender people can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
Unsure or questioning
People who call themselves unsure are just that- they aren’t sure whether they are attracted to men, women, or both. Being unsure of your sexual orientation can be quite scary and confusing, and it can help to talk to a counsellor or peer support group to help you figure out your sexual identity in a healthy way.
It’s hard to define what it means to be ‘queer’, as it means different things to different people. Generally, it refers to anything that doesn’t fit into the normal ‘sexual orientation categories’, and people often identify as queer if they have alternative sexual practices or lifestyles. For example, a woman might call herself queer when she has a long-term boyfriend but is in a relationship where they both sleep with other women, or a group of people might call themselves queer if they live in partnership with two or three different people of different genders. Alternatively, some people who are gay or lesbian may call themselves queer.
For a list of local LGBT support services see here.