sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is how you are romantically and sexually attracted to other people. There are different types of sexual orientation. For example, a person could be:

  • Heterosexual: attracted only or almost only to the other sex (male/female) binary. “Binary" is the idea that there are only two sexes, male and female.
  • Gay: attracted only or almost only to those of the same sex.
  • Bisexual: Attracted both to people of her own binary sex and to those of the other binary sex.
  • Pansexual: attracted to those of either sex.
  • Asexual: Not sexually attracted to either sex. This is different from deciding not to have sex with anyone (abstinence or celibacy).

Many people find out more about their sexual orientation over time. For example, some girls date boys in high school, only to find later that they are more attracted, romantically and sexually, to members of their own sex.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. Here are some definitions of terms and phrases you may hear.

  • Bi: Short for “bisexual."
  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity matches the sex assigned to them at birth (for example, female and female gender). It can be shortened to the “cis" form.
  • Gay: A man or woman (either cisgender or transgender) who is attracted only or almost only to those of the same sex.
  • Gender identity: Your internal sense of being male, female, both, neither, or some other sex. For transgender people, their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Sometimes gender identity falls outside of the two most common categories of male or female. People who feel this way may use the term “nonbinary."
  • Lesbian: A woman (either cisgender or transgender) who is gay.
  • LGBT: Abbreviation for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender." It can also be found as “GLBT". Often a “Q" (LGBTQ) for “queer" or “questioning" is added. Those who “question" are still exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Nonbinary: This term can be used when gender identity falls outside of the two main categories of male or female. Non-binary people may identify as both male and female, as neither, or as a gender in between. For some people, gender identity can change or be “fluid." For example, they may feel more like a man one day or more like a woman the next.
  • Queer: Can be used by those who consider themselves to be outside the binary categories of masculine or feminine and gay or “straight". Some LGBT people find this word offensive, but others have reclaimed it. Related terms include “genderqueer," nonbinary, and “gender nonconforming."
  • Straight: Another term for “straight."
  • Transgender: Generally speaking, those who are not cisgender. They are people whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth. Sometimes the abbreviation “trans" is used (as in trans man or trans woman).
  • Transsexual: A term sometimes used to describe people who use medical treatments, such as hormonal drugs or surgery, to make their body match their gender identity.

How do people find out their sexual orientation?

Many people first become aware of their orientation during their pre-teens and teens. For example, it's common to experience your first romantic feelings early in puberty, when you're first attracted to someone at school.

During adolescence, it is common to have same-sex attractions. Some teens may experiment sexually with someone of their own sex. These early experiences do not necessarily mean that a teenager will be gay as an adult.

For some teens, same-sex attractions don't go away. They get stronger.

Remember: You are not alone

No matter what your orientation or gender identity is, it's important to know that there are many people just like you. Many of them have the same emotions and questions that you have.

It can be comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you are going through. You can find these people through local groups or online. If you don't know where to find support, check with:

  • Your doctor.
  • A trusted school counselor or instructor.
  • A therapist or other advisor.
  • LGBTQ clubs and organizations in your community.
  • Websites and online organizations. You can find a list of such organizations on the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) website at www.pflag.org.

Why is it important to understand stress and know how to cope with it?

Stress is part of life. Most of us have periods of stress at various times in life. But the added stress can have a serious effect on your health, especially if it goes on for a long time.

If you are not heterosexual, you may be under a lot of additional stress due to discrimination in the community. Rejection, prejudice, fear, and confusion cause long-term stress for many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Ongoing stress can be linked to headaches, upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, so you may have a hard time fighting off illnesses. If you already have a health problem, stress can make it worse. It can make you feel moody, tense, or depressed. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at especially high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.

People under long-term stress are also more likely to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol excessively, and use other drugs. These habits can lead to serious health problems.

It is important that you recognize the effects that stress can have on your life, learn how to cope with stress, and know when to get help.