What is sexuality?
Sexuality refers to how you feel and act in terms of sex. There are some related terms that may be confusing to understand:
Sexual orientation. This refers to the sex, or gender, of people you are sexually attracted to. There is no wrong type of orientation.
- You may be homosexual, gay, or lesbian if you are attracted to people of the same sex as yourself.
- You may be heterosexual if you are attracted to people of the opposite sex as yourself. The word “straight” may be used to refer to heterosexual men and women.
- You may be bisexual if you are attracted to both sexes.
- You may be pansexual if you are attracted to people regardless of their sex, or gender. The word “queer” may be used to refer to pansexual men and women. This is sometimes called polysexuality or omnisexuality.
- You may be asexual if you are not attracted to either sex.
Sexual preference. This refers to specific qualities in people you are sexually attracted to. For example, tall, blonde, or muscular. There are no wrong preferences.
Gender identity is different from sexuality. This refers to how you view yourself in terms of gender. You may see yourself as male or female. This can be the same as the genitalia you were born with or different. Or you may see yourself as both male and female, or neither.
Researchers who study human sexuality believe that sexual orientation can grow and change in a person’s lifetime. Having feelings about or having a sexual experience with a person of the same sex does not necessarily mean you are homosexual. It is common for people to experiment with their sexuality. This occurs more often during adolescence and young adulthood.
Path to well being
Below are common questions and answers related to homosexuality.
What causes sexual orientation?
No one knows why our sexual orientation is what it is. There is no scientific research to prove a cause. Some researchers believe that sexuality is a result of genetics, social, and individual factors, alone or in combination.
Sexual orientation is not a disease, defect, or mental disorder. The idea that family issues can change one’s sexuality is a myth. Try not to let it worry you or cause stress and anxiety. It is common to be unsure or uncomfortable with your sexuality. Talk to people you trust about how you feel. This includes family, friends, doctors, or counselors. They can help you process your thoughts and feelings, and make you feel better and not alone.
Can people be forced or convinced to change from gay to straight, or the other way around?
No. Some people feel pressured to change their sexuality. This is not possible. Trying to be someone you are not can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. It can be harmful to your mental, physical, and emotional health.
I think I might be gay. How do I know if I really am?
Over time, you will figure out if you are gay, straight, neither, or both. You may experiment to see what makes you comfortable and happy. The process may take a while. Your decision may be hard for you and/or others close to you to accept. It is important to be honest with yourself and with others.
What does “coming out” mean?
The process of telling people about one’s sexual orientation is often referred to as coming out. This process can be easy or hard. The phrase “in the closet” may be used to refer to someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but hasn’t told friends and family members yet.
When and how do I come out?
When, how, and to whom you tell about your sexuality is your decision. It is healthy for you to share your feelings with others. It is important to know that telling others-even people who are close to you-may not always be easy or pleasant. If you feel you can’t tell your parents, talk to a friend or someone else you trust. It is possible that people close to you already suspect and are waiting for you to be comfortable enough to talk about it.
Things to consider
Homophobia refers to fear, prejudice, or discrimination toward persons who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It can take many forms, from name-calling and bullying to serious crimes like assault and murder. It is not okay for people to be treated this way because of their sexuality and in some cases may even be illegal. Talk to someone in law enforcement if you are being physically or verbally abused or discriminated against.
The process of developing and experimenting with your sexuality can be hard and confusing. It may cause stress and anxiety. It could lead to a period of depression. If this happens, it is important to talk to others and get help. It may help to join a support group so you don’t feel alone in the process. Keep in mind that every type of sexuality is normal and okay. There is nothing to be ashamed about.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor if you:
- Are depressed or are thinking about suicide
- Have questions about sexuality or gender identity
- Have questions about protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Questions to ask your doctor
- How does my sexual orientation affect my health?
- Is there a support group you recommend?
- What if my gender identity does not match my birth sex?
- How can I learn more about gender identity and sexual orientation?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.