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Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to – physically and emotionally. Everyone has a sexual orientation and this might change over time. There is no set age that people get to know their sexual and emotional feelings. Everyone is different.

Two boys walking and holding hands


Some people know when they are very young how they feel and whether they fancy boys, girls, both sexes or people who identify themselves as transgender. For other people it is not so simple and it might take some time to work out what your sexual orientation is. There’s no such thing as normal and you don’t have to feel pressured or rushed to give yourself a label.


Telling someone

When lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people tell someone else about their sexual orientation, it’s often called ‘coming out.’ People who haven’t come out are sometimes described as being ‘in the closet’ or not ‘openly’ LGB.

Life in the closet can be very isolating for young LGB people but you don’t have to go through it alone. You can talk to a ChildLine counsellor or check out what other young people are saying on the sexual identity message boards. We also have tips for telling someone you are transgender.

Coming out

The first step to coming out is being able to tell yourself that you are lesbian, gay or bisexual. The next step is telling someone else. Coming out is about being honest to yourself and those around you. You may come out in little ways every day.  

Many LGB people talk about how much more positive their lives became after they came out. Keeping such a big secret can be a lot of pressure and hiding your sexuality can stop you being the person you want to be. Some young people have a really easy time coming out. It can be harder for others because people around them have negative views on being LGB or use it as an excuse to be unkind or discriminatory. Coming out can be a scary time, but support is always available.

  • I want to come out, but I don't know how

    Coming out doesn’t happen just once, so it’s good to work out what you feel comfortable telling people. Some LGB people might decide to only come out to certain people in their lives. Other people are out to everyone they meet. It depends on how you feel and how accepting those around you are. 

    Think about who you want to tell and how you might go about telling them. It can help to come out in stages. You may want to come out first to someone you think will be supportive and let you tell others in your own time.

    You could also try having a general conversation with someone to test their reactions. Drop in references to gay pop stars, sports personalities or TV characters. This can give you a good idea of who might be a good person to come out to first.

    Some people will be very supportive. Others might be surprised, shocked or even hostile - but that doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. 

    Some young LGB people might pretend to be heterosexual in order to fit in with friends and family. Coming out is generally a big issue for a lot of LGB people as it marks the point when you give up keeping a secret and become public about who you are.

    We are always here to support you and can help you think about how you might like to come out. Call free on 0800 1111 or chat to a counsellor online. You might also find it helpful to chat to other young people on the message boards about their own experiences of coming out and what worked best for them.

  • What is Homophobia?

    Homophobia is a fear or dislike of LGB people or people who are thought to be LGB. It’s based on prejudice and it can result in LGB people being bullied. LGB people can sometimes be discriminated against by people who are ignorant or are scared about sexual orientation.

    Homophobia can take many forms. It can sometimes make young people feel like there is something wrong with being LGB – even though this isn’t true. An example of homophobia is someone saying things like “It’s just a phase you’re going through,” or “How can you know your orientation at your age?”

    Other examples of homophobia include people telling you that LGB orientation is a choice or an illness and that you can change your sexual orientation. Sometimes people might pretend to be homophobic because they are confused about their own sexuality. Whatever their issue is, you have a right to be who you want to be. 

    Discrimination against LGB people could also include things like not getting the same treatment at school as straight people or not getting paid the same at work. You shouldn’t be treated any differently because of your sexual identity.

    Today, there are laws to protect LGB people from homophobia. Your school should treat homophobic bullying seriously and help things get better if you’re experiencing bullying. If you have a bad experience with homophobia, you can report it to your local police or online through the Report It scheme.  

  • What is biphobia?

    Biphobia is a fear or dislike of people who are attracted to both sexes (usually known as bisexual people).

    Some people may say that bisexual people are just trying to be ‘cool’ or ‘different’. Sometimes bisexuality is seen as being just a phase. Other people might say bisexual people are greedy for liking both sexes. There are lots of bisexual people in the world and it is completely normal to like both sexes. Many people have relationships with both men and women at different times throughout their life but are still bisexual.

  • What is heterosexism?

    Heterosexism is linked to homophobia. It’s when people think that relationships between boys and girls are more important than LGB relationships.

  • I have LGB parents

    Some young people live with lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) parents. Children with LGB parents sometimes have to answer questions from their friends who are curious or ignorant about different kinds of families. Questions might include “Why do you have two mums?” or “Why do you have two dads?” Other people may ask “How can you have a family without a mum/dad?”

    Your friends might think that because your mum or dad is in a same-sex relationship, that you will also be LGB. This is an argument that is sometimes used by people who have homophobic views and it is not true. Just like everyone else, you could grow up to be any sexual orientation.

  • What if I want to come out but my parents are homophobic?

    Coming out is a big, brave step in anyone’s life and it can be even harder if your parents (or other people in your life) are homophobic. If you are coming out to someone who you think may react badly, it’s important to make sure you don’t get into a dangerous situation.

    You could start by telling someone who you really trust and who you know will support you. You could then ask that person to help you come out to more people. Doing it in stages like this can help you feel in control of the situation. Only you will know when you feel ready to tell people.

    Sexuality isn’t a choice and your sexual orientation doesn’t have to define who you are. Remember, someone’s first reaction to you coming out might not reflect how they will truly feel as time goes on. This can be a big piece of news and people might take a little while to adjust. Being LGB doesn’t change who you are and your parents should accept that.

  • My friend has come out

    If your friend tells you they are lesbian, gay or bisexual, it might come as a surprise at first. However your friend being LGB shouldn’t change anything. They are still the same person you’ve enjoyed a friendship with.

    It’s important to remember how brave they have been in coming out to you. Being there to listen to and support your friend (and not pressuring them to tell other people if they don’t want to) can show how good a friend you are.

  • What is Pride?

    Many LGB people around the world celebrate who they are through pride festivals, youth groups and political activism. These things happen to help stop homophobia, educate people about LGB issues, strengthen community spirit and show the world that LGB people are everywhere.

    The rainbow flag is a symbol of the pride movement. Its different colours represent diversity among LGB people and communities. It is because of the work of LGB people over the years that many homophobic laws have been changed, which helps more people to live happy and safe lives.

    There might even be a LGB youth group in your area. These groups can be a great way to get support, meet similar people and get involved in making your own community a better place. You can always join the community on the ChildLine message board on sexuality.

  • The people I play sport with seem homophobic

    Lots of people who play or watch sport are completely accepting of LGB people. However some people may occasionally say homophobic things. Homophobia is not okay. Saying it is just ‘banter’ is not an excuse. The important things in sport are trying hard and wanting to do well – not what your sexuality is.

    If you feel people are being homophobic towards you, it is okay to tell an adult you trust. This could be your coach or another adult involved in your team. If you don’t feel you can talk to them you could try talking to a teacher or family member.

    There are some sports clubs and organisations set up for LGB people. You could take a look at Pride Sports for more information.

    Sometimes when people are watching sport they might shout abuse or make homophobic chants towards the players. Even if lots of people are doing it, chants against gay people are not okay. You shouldn’t feel like you have to join in. There are ways to report homophobic abuse without anyone knowing it was you who made the report. For example, if you are at a football match and see homophobic abuse (or any other kind of discrimination), you can use the Kick it Out app on your phone to report what happened. You can also report any abuse you hear to a steward during or after a sporting even you are at.

  • Some definitions

    There are lots of different types of sexuality. Some of them are quite similar, but feeling comfortable with your own sexuality (and the label you put on it) is what matters.

    Heterosexual people are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the opposite sex. An example would be girls fancying boys and boys fancying girls.

    Gay people are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same sex. Gay is usually used to describe boys fancying boys, although some women may describe themselves as gay.

    Lesbian refers to girls who are emotionally and physically attracted to other girls.

    Bisexual people are emotionally and physically attracted to both sexes.

    Asexual people don't feel sexually attracted to anyone, although asexual people can still enjoy close, intimate and emotional relationships.

    Bicurious people see themselves as either straight or homosexual, but may also sometimes be curious about the gender they are not normally attracted to.

    Heteroflexible people think of themselves as straight but may also sometimes be attracted to people from the same sex. For example, a heteroflexible boy would mostly be attracted to girls but may occasionally be drawn to other boys when the situation feels right.

    Homoflexible people think of themselves as gay but may sometimes be attracted to someone from the opposite sex if it feels right. For example, a homoflexible girl may have come out as being lesbian but might sometimes find boys attractive too.

    Demisexual people don’t have any sexual attraction unless they have a strong emotional connection with someone first. This isn’t a choice – demisexuals can’t experience sexual desire unless there is an emotional relationship first.

    Pansexual people can be attracted to people from any gender or sexual orientation, including transgender people.

    Crossed orientation/mixed orientation refer to someone who has a romantic or emotional attraction that is different from their sexual attraction. For example, someone may feel emotionally attracted to girls but sexually attracted to boys.

Other sites that can help

A website for all young people to find out more about issues affecting lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Young Stonewall

The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach.
It Gets Better Project

Provides free & confidential support & information to lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgendered communities.
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard

The largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland.
LGBT Youth Scotland

A youth setting in Northern Ireland, specifically for the LGBT community, which caters for 14-25 year olds.
GLYNI – Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland

Information about hate crime or incidents and how to report.
True vision - report It

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Sexual orientation 


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