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Understanding Sexuality and Sexual Orientation

Understanding sexuality

Table of Contents

Summary

Sexuality refers to how you understand your sexual and romantic feelings towards another person. These are all common parts of puberty and human development, including your hormonal and physical feelings regarding sex and sexuality. Being more informed about your sexuality is empowering and can help you feel more comfortable in your own body.

What is Sexuality?

Developing your sexual self can be confusing, especially during adolescence and young adulthood. Questioning who you are attracted to is normal. Being close with people, feeling attractive, sexy, and playful are exciting emotions that often come along with growing up. Exploring questions about your sexual orientation does not determine if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight. There is no shame in wanting to explore your sexuality.  

During this time in your life, you may be having thoughts, conversations, and feelings about sex and your sexuality. Sexuality is a broad term referring to how you understand your sexual and romantic feelings towards another person. These are all common parts of puberty and human development, including your hormonal and physical feelings regarding sex and sexuality. Being more informed about your sexuality is empowering and can help you feel more comfortable in your own body.

Common terms related to sexuality: 

  • Intimacy is your emotional connection of closeness with other people. 
  • Self-identity is your sexual orientation and can include your gender orientation
  • Sexualization is using sexuality to influence behavior or attitudes. This could be done by flirting or by harassment. 

Sexual Orientation is a sexual attraction to males, females, or both.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual Orientation

Your sexual orientation refers to who you are physically attracted too. It is normal to have questions regarding your sexual orientation. Your sexual orientation is your business and you should not feel pressured to identify in one particular category.

Trying to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity can be confusing. Feeling boxed into a specific category can cause distress. Give yourself time and get the support you need from friends, family, or school professionals to gather more information about what makes you, “you.” 

Here is a list of common terms used to help you express sexual orientation.

  • Heterosexual or “Straight”: Attracted to the opposite sex or gender (ex: man attracted to women)
  • Homosexual- “Gay” or “Lesbian:” Attracted to the same sex or gender (ex: woman attracted to women)
  • Bisexual: Attracted to either sex or gender (ex: man attracted to both women and men)
  • Asexual: Do not experience sexual attraction
  • Pansexual: Attracted to others, regardless of sex or gender
  • Queer: Does not necessarily fit in the other categories

Coming Out

Coming Out

It’s a scary thing to Come Out and be honest about who you are attracted too. Sometimes people are shamed, bullied, or even physically hurt for having feelings for people of the same sex. The stress related to Coming Out can lead to increased anxiety, panic attacks, and depressive symptoms. 

Taking caution in who you explore your sexual identity with, how you express your sexual identity, and how you Come Out is an important part of protecting yourself and your relationships. Not exploring your sexual identity can be lonely as well.

Below is a basic guide for the Coming Out process.  

  • Exploration of your sexual orientation and acceptance: Actively seek information about your sexual orientation. Some may feel they need to deny this part of themselves for religious reasons or family norms or even confused by what they feel towards others. Eventually, being honest with yourself will lead to acceptance of your sexual orientation. 
  • Telling Others: Usually, after you have educated yourself more about your orientation and have begun to accept it, you may want to tell a close friend or family member. Choosing who to tell is very important in the beginning. The potential of being rejected is real and should be considered seriously before disclosing. 
  • Being with other gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals: Being with others can help to strengthen a positive sense of self and that you are not alone. This can also help with your own sexual identity formation.
  • Positive Self-Identification: Feeling good about yourself, your sexual orientation, having positive relationships, and feeling fulfilled. 
  • Integration and Acceptance: Your sexual orientation is only one part of you. Integrating your orientation with the other parts of you such as; being an athlete, a student, a son or daughter, music and movie tastes, and your purpose and goals in life. In other words, your sexual orientation matches how you feel inside and how you choose to express it.

If in the Coming out process you don’t feel or aren’t accepted by others, know that there are others who are and have gone through this process.  You might feel lonely now, but it’s not forever.

Why Do I Feel This Way?

Why Do I Feel This Way

Having questions about your sexuality is normal and natural. Everybody explores their sexuality at some point in their life and the more informed you are about your sexual health the more comfortable you will feel about yours. 

Don’t worry if you are not sure yet about your sexuality. Being young is the time to figure it out. Strong emotional feelings during adolescence and young adulthood are often a part of going through this stage in your life. Over time you will learn who you are attracted to and what feels normal for you.       

Wellbeing Strategies

Talk to a Counselor or TherapistIt can be difficult to address your emotions and thoughts, experiences, and life challenges. Reaching out to a counselor or therapist can help you feel better and less alone. Find a therapist near you here or try online therapy!

Talk to a trusted adult: Parents, mentors, school employees, and religious leaders can provide you with additional support and guidance to work through your life challenges.

Exploration of your sexual orientation and acceptance: Actively seek information about your sexual orientation. Some may feel they need to deny this part of themselves for religious reasons or family norms or even confused by what they feel towards others. Eventually, being honest with yourself will lead to acceptance of your sexual orientation. 

Telling Others: Usually, after you have educated yourself more about your orientation and have begun to accept it, you may want to tell a close friend or family member. Choosing who to tell is very important in the beginning. The potential of being rejected is real and should be considered seriously before disclosing. 

Being with other gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals: Being with others can help to strengthen a positive sense of self and that you are not alone. This can also help with your own sexual identity formation.

Positive Self-Identification: Feeling good about yourself, your sexual orientation, having positive relationships, and feeling fulfilled. 

Integration and Acceptance: Your sexual orientation is only one part of you. Integrating your orientation with the other parts of you such as; being an athlete, a student, a son or daughter, music and movie tastes, and your purpose and goals in life. In other words, your sexual orientation matches how you feel inside and how you choose to express it.

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