What is sexuality

By  ReachOut     |    Updated: 3rd November, 2020    |    8 min read

Sexuality is diverse, and deeply personal. Understanding our sexuality is about the sexual feelings and attractions we feel towards other people, not about who we have sex with. There are different types of sexuality, and it can take time to figure out what fits right with you. If someone is giving you a hard time about your sexuality, find out what to do and who you can talk to.

 This can help if:
  • You want to know what sexuality is
  • You want to learn about the different types of sexuality
  • You want to better understand your own or other people’s sexuality

Understanding sexuality

Everyone’s sexuality is different, and it’s not necessarily as simple as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. Some people are attracted to only one sex, and others are attracted to a diversity of people regardless of sex or gender, with a lot of different preferences in between. Some gay, lesbian or bisexual people say from an early age that they “felt different”, and had crushes on friends of people of the same sex, only associating these feelings with being gay or bisexual later on. Many people don’t discover their sexual attractions until much later into adulthood and it can be just as confusing then.

Sexuality can be confusing. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure. Being young is a time of figuring out what works for you and strong feelings and exploration are often part of that. In time, you’ll find that you’re drawn mostly to men or to women or to both or to neither, and you’ll know then.

How do I work out who I am and what it means?

When you have that first moment of questioning your sexuality, you may wonder what it means and what you should do about it.

First up, you don’t have to do anything straight away. Take whatever time you need to work out what these feelings mean for you, your identity and your future. There’s no time limit, so hit pause and give yourself a break.

You could take some time to look at other people’s experiences of discovering their sexuality. QLives has a great series of videos, and celebs like Troye Sivan have also shared videos on YouTube.

It might help to read up on sexuality – it’s a broad spectrum of feelings and experiences, and is definitely not as black and white as some people might think.

Settle in with a book or a movie that explores the lives of LGBTQIA+ young people.

Types of sexuality

People use a few common labels to identify their sexuality. Your sexuality isn’t defined by who you have sex with – it’s about how you feel and how you choose to identify yourself. The important thing is that you choose what label feels comfortable, or you choose no label at all. You might find, like many others have, that the label you choose changes over time.

  • Straight/Heterosexual
    Attracted mostly to people of the opposite sex or gender.
  • Gay/Homosexual
    Attracted mostly to people of the same sex or gender (refers to guys – and often to girls, too).
  • Lesbian
    Attracted mostly to people of the same sex or gender (refers to women).
  • Bisexual
    Attracted to both men and women.
  • Pansexual
    Attracted to romantic and sexual partners of any gender, sex or sexual identity. (‘Pan’ means ‘all’.)
  • Polysexual
    Attracted to romantic and sexual partners of many but not all genders, sexes or sexual identities. (‘Poly’ means ‘many’.)
  • Asexual
    Not really sexually attracted to anyone.

Some people also choose the labels ‘queer’ or ‘fluid’ as a way of expressing themselves by their own personal feelings.

Your sexuality can be confusing

Don’t worry if you aren’t sure about your sexuality. Being young is a time for figuring out what works for you. Exploring and managing strong feelings is often part of the experience. Whatever is going on, questioning and exploring your sexual identity can be confusing and scary. You might be worried about how the people you love will react, or what it means for your future. It’s important to remember that, while it might feel overwhelming, you’re more than capable of getting through this tough period – and it won’t last forever.

Do I have to ‘come out’?

The phrase ‘coming out’ is often used for the conversations we have about sexuality. Most of the stories we hear about LGBTQIA+ people relate to how and when they ‘came out’ – and it can make it feel like a big event or announcement. While that can feel right for some people, it’s not for everyone.

You are the most important person in this situation, so don’t feel like you need to do or say anything that puts other people’s needs before yours. It’s entirely up to you whether, when and how you share your thoughts on your sexuality.

Twenty10 suggests that, rather than ‘coming out’, ‘inviting in’ can be a good option for some people. This way, you can share your thoughts on sexuality and what it means to you with the people closest to you.

Rather than feeling like you have to announce exactly who and what you identify as, you can just have a conversation about where your head’s at and what you think about sexuality, and take people on a journey with you.

I’m ready to talk – but how do I actually have the conversation?

If you’re ready to come out or invite in, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Think about how you will look after yourself after the conversation. You might want to put your feet up and indulge in a show that celebrates the queer community, or perhaps you’ll debrief with a support service.
  • Be clear with yourself about who you’re ready to share with.
  • Let those people know what you need from them. Do you want them simply to listen, or to share their experiences, or offer advice or support, or even help you talk to others?
  • Give yourself the time you need to have this chat – you don’t want to feel hurried or rushed.
  • Prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time so you feel as confident as possible.
  • Allow people to be surprised. Give them time to process the information, and remember that it may take more than one conversation.
  • Be aware that first reactions won’t always last. You may not get the reaction you want, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

If someone reacts negatively, be patient but remember that you can walk away. You don’t have to cop poor treatment, so get yourself out of the situation if you need to.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these things, so what has worked for other people may not work for you. It’s up to you to find your own way of handling it – to decide what it means for your life and how you eventually choose to identify. There’s no right or wrong way to be you, and you’re now well on your way to celebrating what makes you unique.

One of the hardest parts is deciding to get some support – and you’ve done that. We’re so proud of you! You’ve been courageous and strong just opening this webpage, so we know you’ve got what it takes to handle whatever comes next.

Dealing with people who don’t like your sexuality

It’s important to recognise that we’re all different and that the things that feel right for us are different from the things that feel right for someone else. We should be respectful of and positive about other people’s sexuality or sexual relationships, and support their right to explore their sexuality in a safe, consensual and responsible way.

If you need help

It’s never okay for someone to harass you or make you feel bad about your sexuality. You never have to deal with this kind of treatment from others on your own. There are a number of services that can offer you support if you’re being harassed or bullied based on your sexuality.

What can I do now?

  • Take time to figure out what works for you.
  • Get personalised support options for sexuality with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Find out about being attracted to the same-sex.
  • Talk to someone if you’re struggling.

Also check the related topics:  

Sexuality & Gender Sex

Factsheet provided by ReachOut


Have we missed something?