Sexual Orientation

What is Sexual Orientation?

“Sexual orientation” is a term frequently used to describe a person’s romantic, emotional or sexual attraction to another person. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity, which refers to the internal sense of whether one is male or female.

The concept of sexual orientation refers to more than sexual behaviour. It includes feelings as well as identity.

Identities associate with sexual orientation:

  • People who identify their sexual orientation as “straight” or “heterosexual” typically feel attracted to people of a different gender than themselves.
  • People who identify as “homosexual”, “lesbian” or “gay” typically feel attracted to people of the same gender as themselves.
  • People who identify as “bisexual” typically feel attracted to more than one gender, such as being attracted to both women and men.
  • “Pansexual” is a term used by people who feel attracted to more than one gender and feel that other terms don’t include people who are transgender and gender nonconforming (people who have a gender identity or gender expression that doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth).
  • People who use the term “queer” may use it to mean lesbian, gay, bisexual, or pansexual, or they may use it because other terms don’t quite describe their experiences.
  • People who’re unsure about their sexual orientation may call themselves questioning or curious.
  • People who don’t experience any sexual attraction for anyone often call themselves asexual.
  • It’s also important to note that some people don’t think any of these labels describe them accurately. Some people don’t like the idea of labels at all. Other people feel comfortable with certain labels and not others.

Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime. Individuals maybe become aware at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Some people might identify their sexual orientation one way, but experience attractions that don’t match the label they are using. For example, a person might identify as “straight,” but feel attracted to people of the same gender or more than one gender and sometimes act on those attractions. Sexual orientation can also change over time for some people. For example, a person might be attracted only to people of the same gender as themselves, and then later be attracted to more than one gender. This is normal! It just means that sexual orientation is complicated for some people.

What causes Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation is a natural part of who you are — it’s not a choice. Your sexual orientation can change over your lifetime.

Homosexuality was once thought to be the result of troubled family dynamics or faulty psychological development. Those assumptions are now understood to have been based on misinformation and prejudice.

It’s not completely known why someone might be lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual. But research shows that sexual orientation is likely caused partly by biological factors that start before birth.

People don’t decide who they’re attracted to, and therapy, treatment, or persuasion won’t change a person’s sexual orientation. You also can’t “turn” a person gay. For example, exposing a boy to toys traditionally made for girls, such as dolls, won’t cause him to be gay.

You probably started to become aware of who you’re attracted to at a very young age. This doesn’t mean that you had sexual feelings, just that you could identify people you found attractive or liked. Many people say that they knew they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual even before puberty.

Although sexual orientation is usually set early in life, it isn’t at all uncommon for your desires and attractions to shift throughout your life. This is called “fluidity.” Many people, including sex researchers and scientists, believe that sexual orientation is like a scale with entirely gay on one end and entirely straight on the other. Lots of people would be not on the far ends, but somewhere in the middle.

What is “Coming Out”?

“Coming out” is the term used to describe the experience in which a person identifies himself or herself as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Coming out is a very brave thing to do, and it’s extremely personal and different for everyone. Your emotions when coming out may range from scared and anxious to elated and relieved.

Coming out is not a one-time event, but a lifelong process. Because many people assume that everyone they meet is straight, coming out is a constant process.

Coming out can have benefits and risks. If you’re wondering whether to come out, there’s a lot to consider. Does coming out mean that you risk losing emotional or financial support from your family? Could coming out put you in physical danger? Will your family try to pressure you into being someone you’re not?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to wait until you’re in a different situation or have more support.

You, and only you, are in charge of your coming out experience. It’s up to you to choose how, where, when, and with whom to be open about your sexual orientation (and gender identity). Each person’s experience in coming out is unique and the process always stimulates anxiety as well as provides challenging possibilities for personal empowerment and emotional growth.

Does Stigma Still Exist About Homosexuality?

Unfortunately, yes. Fears and misunderstandings about homosexuality are wide spread. They present daunting challenges to the development and maintenance of a positive self-image in gay, lesbian and bisexual persons and often to their families as well.

“Homophobia” is a term that refers to the irrational fear and prejudice against homosexual persons.

Homophobia can take many different forms, including negative attitudes and beliefs about, aversion to, or prejudice against bisexual, lesbian, and gay people. It’s often based in irrational fear and misunderstanding. Some people’s homophobia may be rooted in conservative religious beliefs. People may hold homophobic beliefs if they were taught them by parents and families.

Some LGBTQ people experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This may be discrimination from religious institutions, companies, or from our government. Examples include same-sex couples not being allowed to marry, getting legally fired just for being LGBTQ, or not being allowed into certain housing.

LGBTQ people and their allies have fought for equal rights and continue to do so, especially concerning marriage, employment, housing and health care equality, and protection from hate crimes (violence against LGBTQ people because of who they are).

Support can be found:

LGBT Foundation
Mind – LGBTIQ+ mental health

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