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Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is a way to describe the feelings you have for someone you fancy, want to date or be in a relationship with. You might fancy people of a different gender, the same gender or more than one gender. You might not fancy anyone at all and that’s fine too!

Sexual orientation is a part of who we are.

You can’t tell what someone’s sexual orientation is by looking at them – the only real way to know is if they tell you.

Someone else can’t tell you what your sexual orientation is – only you know how you feel and you should never feel pressured to label yourself.

Some people know their sexual orientation from a young age and some people take a while to work out what makes them feel comfortable. This is completely fine – everyone is unique.

Because these feelings are personal and because everyone is different, there are a lot of different labels used to describe sexual orientation. The labels many people (and organisations) use are:

  • Lesbian: girls who fancy girls. Some girls may prefer to be called gay; others prefer to be called a lesbian.
  • Gay: when boys fancy boys or girls fancy girls. Although more commonly used for boys, 'gay' applies to girls too.
  • Bisexual/bi: when people fancy a range of people. This could mean a boy fancying other boys and girls, or people who are non-binary
  • Straight/heterosexual: when girls fancy boys or boys fancy girls.

A lot of people don't like labels. But sometimes it’s useful to have some common words that everyone understands. It can make life a bit easier. For example, a sexual health clinic might hold a ‘lesbian drop-in’ session to offer help to women who fancy women. The fact that everybody knows what is meant by a service for lesbians means that the right people will use it, which is really important.

There are other labels – some you might have heard of, some you might not. Here are a few more. There are many others.

  • Queer: a term that some people use who aren’t straight. Although some older people find this word offensive (as it was often used to insult gay people), a lot of people nowadays have reclaimed the word and use it because they don’t like other labels.
  • Pansexual/pan: people who fancy people of any gender. This might be someone who says they don’t think someone’s gender is important when they fancy people.
  • Asexual/ace: people who don’t fancy others. Some people find that they don’t want to date or be in a relationship with other people because they don’t feel any attraction to them.

While some people feel these words describe their feelings properly, others don't. Your sexual orientation is personal and it’s your business – whether or not you decide to use a label.

‘Coming out’ means telling someone something about yourself that isn’t immediately obvious. With regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, this means sharing with others that you are lesbian, gay, bi or trans. The process of coming out can be very different for everyone and it can take some time to get to a point where you feel comfortable and confident enough to have those conversations with people.

How to come out

There are different ways to come out and there is no right or wrong way to do it. If you’re thinking about coming out, it’s important that you find a way that feels right for you.

Some people come out with no problems at all. Others experience obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes, those close to you might need some time to get used to the news. It can be difficult if the people you care about have a hard time accepting who you are. Everyone's coming out journey is different. You might find some of the following support useful.