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Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to both 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 whether they fancy boys, girls or both sexes. For other people it's not so simple and can take a while to work out.

  • Gay people fancy people who are the same sex as them.
  • Lesbian is another word used to describe gay women.
  • Bisexual people fancy both men and women.

There are many more different kinds of sexuality. You can read more about some of them at the bottom of this page.

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.

Questioning your sexuality?

It’s very normal to need time to work out who you are and it’s okay not to be sure.

Liking a film, book or music video about same sex relationships doesn’t necessarily mean you must be a certain sexual orientation. It’s possible to find a lot of different things sexually attractive. Only one person can decide who you fancy and that’s you.

Being gay or bisexual doesn't mean you have to do sexual acts a certain way or do anything people do in films, TV shows or porn you might have seen.

No one should pressure you into acting a certain way, having a relationship, having unsafe sex or doing anything you don't want to do. 

Coming out

Telling someone else that you are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) is 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. Keeping such a big secret can be a lot of pressure. Coming out can be harder if people around you have negative views on being LGB or use it as an excuse to be unkind or discriminatory.

The first step to coming out is being able to tell yourself that you are LGB. You might prefer a different word to describe yourself, such as pansexual or even asexual. You can find out more about these words at the bottom of this page. You might also choose to identify as 'questioning' while you work things out.

If you feel ready to tell someone else or are worried about it, 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.

  • 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 safe you feel coming out to those around you. Coming out doesn't mean you have to start being sexually active.

    Here are some things to think about which you might find helpful:

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

    2. Try having a general conversation to test their reactions. It might help to drop in references to famous LGB people or TV characters. This can give you a good idea of who might be a good person to come out to first.

    3. Think about how they may react. Do you feel safe telling them? Some people will be very supportive. Others might be surprised, shocked or even hostile. This doesn’t mean you are in the wrong. No one should ever blame you or make you feel wrong for your sexual orientation.

    We are always here to support you with thinking 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 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.

    Sometimes people pretend to be homophobic to fit in with peer pressure. Homophobia can make you feel like there's something wrong with being LGB. This isn’t true and you have a right to be who you want to be.

    Homophobia can take many forms but some examples include:

    - insulting you or threatening you because of your sexual orientation 
    - saying things like “It’s just a phase you’re going through,” or “How can you know your orientation at your age?”
    - telling you that being LGB is a choice and you can change your sexual orientation
    - telling you that being LGB is an illness.

    In the UK there are laws to protect people from homophobia. Your school should take homophobic bullying seriously and help things get better. If you have a bad experience with homophobia, you can also 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 bisexual (attracted to both men and women). Just like homophobia, it's a form of discrimination.

    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 or that they should 'make their minds up'. All these ideas are biphobic.

    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 or more 'normal' than LGB relationships. Heterosexism is a form of discrimination.

  • 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 (or dad)?” Young people with a transgender parent may also face these kinds of questions. If this is your situation and reactions like this are causing you stress, or if you want to talk about it, ChildLine is always here for you.

    Some people might think that because your mum or dad is in a same-sex relationship, 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 do this at a time that is right and safe for you.

    You could start by telling someone you really trust, 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.

    Your sexual orientation is only one part of what makes you the person you are. 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 family should accept that.

    The Albert Kennedy Trust supports young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are dealing with abusive situations at home, or worried about being homeless.

  • My friend has come out. How can I support them?

    If your friend tells you they are lesbian, gay or bisexual, it might come as a surprise at first. However, it 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. Remember they have trusted you and don't tell other people without checking with them first. Being there to listen to and support your friend will make a difference to them. It's a good idea to avoid pressuring them to tell other people if they don’t want to.

  • What is LGB pride?

    Many LGB people around the world celebrate who they are through pride festivals, youth groups and campaigns to change homophobic laws around the world. These things happen to help stop homophobia, educate people about LGB issues, stand up for the rights of LGB people and show the world that LGB people are everywhere. When LGB people get together to do these things as a community, this is often called the 'pride movement'. Transgender people often also are part of the pride movement, as many LGB trans people face transphobia as well as homophobia.

    The rainbow flag is a symbol of the pride movement. Its different colours represent diversity among LGB people. Over the years LGB people have worked hard to get many homophobic laws changed, helping more people to live happy and safe lives.

    There might be a youth group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people 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. What can I do?

    Lots of people who play or watch sport are completely accepting of LGB people. Many will be LGB themselves. However some people may occasionally say homophobic things. Homophobia is not okay. Saying it is just ‘banter’ is not an excuse.

    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 especially 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, this is 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. 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 sport event.

  • 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 (or 'straight') 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 often used to describe boys fancying boys, although girls can also describe themselves as gay.

    Lesbian is another word to describe girls who are emotionally and physically attracted to other girls.

    Bisexual (or 'bi') people are emotionally and physically attracted to both sexes.

    Asexual people don't feel sexually attracted to anyone, although they can still enjoy close, romantic, 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.

    Questioning people are unsure about their sexual orientation. Often they are still working out whether they might be LGB, straight, or something else.

    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 of the opposite sex if it feels right. For example, a homoflexible girl may have come out as a 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 often isn't a choice. They may feel they can't experience sexual desire unless there is an emotional relationship first.

    Pansexual people can be attracted to people of any gender or sexual orientation, including transgender people or people who feel they are neither male nor female (sometimes called genderqueer or non-binary people).

    Crossed orientation or mixed orientation people experience 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

Find out more about issues affecting young LGB people.
Young Stonewall

Supportive stories from lesbian, gay, bi and trans people all over the world.
It Gets Better Project

Advice about being LGB for people under 25.
Being Gay Is OK

Advice about sexuality, from fitting in and coming out to bullying and getting help.
Brook - Sexuality advice

Free, confidential support and advice.
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard

Report homophobic or biphobic hate crime online.
Report It

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Sexual orientation 


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