Sex; sexual; identity; orientation; gay; lesbian; bisexual; transgender; transsexual; transvestite; homosexual; queer; faggot; lemon; dyke; poof; heterosexual; GLBTIQ; intersex; cross-dressing; homophobia;
Sexuality is a combination of people's sex, their sexual feelings for others, their feelings about themselves as sexual beings, their sexual orientation and their sexual behaviour.
Exploring and discovering your sexuality can be confusing, exciting, difficult and wonderful. Sexuality is a complex issue and this topic alone will not cover every aspect, so make sure you check the resources at the end too.
the meaning of words
Note: The meanings and uses of many of these terms are in a state of flux, that is they change from time to time.
Sex - whether a person is biologically male or female.
Gender - the cultural and social behaviours for men and women related to sex, for example what men learn about how to behave, what clothes men wear and what women learn about how to behave and dress. These are different in different places in the world.
Sexual Identity - is sometimes called gender identity and usually means the sense of belonging that a person feels to the male or female sex.
Sexual Orientation - means a person's emotional and sexual feelings for members of the opposite sex, same sex or both.
Sexuality - is the combination of people's sex, their sexual feelings for others, their feelings about themselves as sexual beings, their sexual orientation and their sexual behaviour.
Same sex attracted – people who are emotionally and sexually attracted to the same sex.
Heterosexual - people who are emotionally and sexually attracted to the other sex.
Homosexual - people who are emotionally and sexually attracted to the same sex - although this word more commonly refers to men.
Homophobia – the irrational fear or hatred of someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Homophobia is a form of discrimination.
Gay - this usually refers to men being emotionally and sexually attracted to other men.
Lesbian - women who are emotionally and sexually attracted to other women.
Bisexual - women or men who are emotionally and sexually attracted to both sexes.
Transgender – the use of this term is constantly changing, however, it is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity does not match their biological sex, ie. male or female.
Transvestite or cross-dressing – someone who wears the clothing of another gender, but typically does not want to change sex.
Intersex (previously termed hermaphrodite) – someone born with full or partial internal and/or external genitalia from each of the two sexes. Usually if someone is born with characteristics of both sexes they are assigned a sex. When this happens people can often grow up with a sense of loss or confusion.
GLBTIQ – stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer. It is used to try and be inclusive of all of these 'alternative' sexualities.
Note: The terms homosexual and heterosexual are clinical terms, and many young people prefer to use the terms: gay, lesbian, bisexual or more recently, same-sex attracted. Some young GLBTIQ people have 'reclaimed' or started using slang words to describe their sexuality that could be considered 'put-downs'. Such words include queer, faggot, dyke, lemon, and poof.
Be careful if you use these words that you are not offending anyone. Not all gay, lesbian and bisexual people are comfortable with using these words in a positive way.
Another word for heterosexual is straight.
A person's sexual behaviour does not always represent his or her sexual orientation. Often people jump to conclusions and try to 'box' people into certain categories because of their behaviour, appearance, beliefs and so on.
People may choose to be sexually active with a person from the opposite sex, but actually wish they were with the same sex. Other people can behave in ways that are more or less traditionally 'masculine' or 'feminine', eg women may play football or men enjoy needlework. This does not mean that they identify as GLBTIQ.
It is very difficult to imagine how sexual orientation, or other human behaviours and emotions, can be expected to be 'permanent'. It is much more realistic to have an open mind and accept that each individual will have his or her own lifestyle and it cannot be 'boxed' into a category. For some people, sexual orientation does not stay the same. Instead they change during their lives, depending on circumstances, other people in their life and the environment.
- Are you noticing changes within yourself that are making you feel like a sexual person all of a sudden?
- Do you feel like the changes in your body have changed the way you are feeling emotionally?
Discovering your sexuality means "getting in touch" with who you are sexually. You may start to want and desire things or people that you didn't before. For example, when you were a young girl you might have hated all the boys at school, just because they were boys. But now you are feeling an attraction to boys.
You may be experiencing different sensations in your body that make you want to be intimate with another person. This is all related to your developing sexuality.
Because developing sexual feelings and attractions happen at a different rate for everybody, it is important to explore your sexuality at a rate that you feel comfortable with. Don't let anyone pressure you into anything that you do not want to do. (See our topic Pressure to have sex). If you are worried talk to someone you trust about it.
If somebody contemplates their sexuality and identifies that they may be same-sex attracted (or GLBTIQ) then understanding and developing their sexuality can be especially difficult.
Although the challenge of coming out (see our topic Coming out) about your sexual identity may be frightening, having to mask your real feelings can also be very difficult. Many people have positive experiences of disclosing to loved ones that they are GLBTIQ. If you can identify with these issues in your life at the moment, try and talk to someone who can support you and listen to you – check out the resources section below.
Some of the questions you might be asking yourself about your sexuality could include:
- What is happening to me?
- Why is this happening to me?
- Am I GLBTIQ?
- Is there anyone I can tell?
Accepting yourself may take some time. It may take weeks, months or years to move from those initial feelings/thoughts to identifying as GLBTIQ.
Like most things, there are many myths surrounding sexuality and sexual orientation. Take the time to be a myth buster.
Myth No. 1
There are very few bisexuals. People are either completely homosexual or heterosexual.
Research suggests that few people are predominantly heterosexual or homosexual in their actions, feelings, thoughts, or sexual fantasies. Most people fall somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes and have the capacity to experience both affection and sexual feelings for members of both sexes.
Myth No. 2
GLBTIQ are only a small percentage of the population.
Research has also shown that approximately 10% of the population is predominantly same sex attracted. Approximately one in every four families has a member who is predominantly same sex attracted.
Myth No. 3
Same sex attracted people can ordinarily be identified by certain mannerisms or characteristics.
The vast majority of same sex attracted people cannot be identified by looks or effeminate/masculine characteristics. The small number of same sex attracted people who behave like this do so because they want to be known as same sex attracted or in rebellion of traditional sex roles. Many straight people appear to be same sex attracted for this last reason. Stereotypes persist due to the way same sex attracted people are portrayed in the media.
Myth No. 4
Going through puberty and developing your sexuality is easy.
No way! Some people have forgotten how difficult and confronting this time can be in your life. It means getting used to a whole new set of feelings and learning about who you are and what it is you like and dislike.
Myth No. 5
Same sex attraction is not "natural"; it does not exist in nature and is therefore dysfunctional.
From a scientific point of view, it is 'natural'. Any animal, including the human species, is capable of responding to homosexual stimuli. Research suggests that same sex attraction is almost universal among all animals and is frequent among highly developed species. One anthropological study of non-western cultures found that 64% of their sample cultures considered same sex attraction 'normal' and 'acceptable' for certain members of the society.
Myth No. 6
Same sex relationships don't last.
Many people believe that same sex relationships are just short flings and never long lasting relationships. This is not true. They are relationships just like any other, and like any other, some last and some do not. However they may be under more social pressure than other relationships and this may affect how long they last.
Myth No. 7
People chose to be GLBTIQ.
There are many theories about how people 'become' GLBTIQ. Some suggest there is a genetic reason, that is people are born with a tendency towards a certain sexuality. But sexuality is just one aspect of person, and the different ways of being reflect the diversity in humans in general. It is interesting that people don’t often look for a 'cause' of heterosexuality, eh?
sexuality and your family and friends
Your family will probably notice the changes that you go through relating to your sexuality. (They will see the change in your behaviour, lifestyle, personality, values and so on). If this time in your life is difficult, try to let them know that you are going through a difficult time and that you don't want to be teased and that you have the right and desire to be respected. You could even give them a copy of this topic.
Heterosexism is the belief that people who aren't heterosexual are not 'normal' and they are therefore excluded, joked about, hated and so on. Many societies support heterosexism by not portraying GLBTIQ people as 'normal', happy or without disease.
Try to think of a movie you have seen lately that showed a GLBTIQ person to be happy and healthy and without there being a special 'theme' about gay life. In many cases, if a GLBTIQ person is in a movie, then the movie is about their sexual identity, and not about anything else. Heterosexism will be reduced when the focus is on who we are and not what our sexual choices are.
Many people who are open with their sexual orientation encounter discrimination, prejudice, put downs and disappointment from people they don't know and from people they love because of homophobia, (a fear of homosexuality). If you are experiencing homophobia or questioning your sexual identity or orientation and don't feel supported, try linking into a support group or talk to a counsellor who can help you with your situation. Homophobia is discrimination. Check out our topic Diversity and discrimination in Australia to learn more.
and supporting sexuality
You may or may not know anyone who is GLBTIQ but you can still contribute to an equal, supportive and non-discriminatory society. Here are some tips to accepting any identity.
- Be open in conversations about your acceptance of GLBTIQ people. Make sure your friends know that you are accepting of people's choice.
- Assume that 10% of people you go to school with, play sport with, work with and socialise with have GLBTIQ family members and friends.
- Respond to anti-GLBTIQ comments just as you would defend any other injustice.
- Try to educate people about the issues surrounding sexual identity.
- Read this topic with others.
- For immediate help and advice, call
the Youth Healthline 1300 13 17 19
the Gay and Lesbian Community Services
- 7pm - 10pm every day
(08) 8193 0800
- The Inside Out Project (same-sex attracted young men)
The Second Story Youth Health Service
Contact is via the Youth Healthline during business hours
(Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm) 1300 13 17 19
- Evolve (same-sex attracted young women)
The Second Story Youth Health Service
Contact is via the Youth Healthline during business hours
(Mon - Fri, 9am - 5pm) 1300 13 17 19
- Bfriend (Support service for people who are coming out and their family and friends)
(08) 8202 5192
- SHine SA - Sexual Health information, networking and education
- Sexual Healthline: 1300 883 793 Country callers 1800 188 171
- Police Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLO) are available in many places in Australia. These officers are there to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities to get support around homophobia, abuse and human rights issues. Check with your local station. The South Australian Police have an online GLLO list
Doyle, James A (1985). 'Sex and Gender The Human Experience'.
Hershberger, Scott L, D'Augelli, Anthony R & Pilkington, Neil W (1998). 'Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth and their Families: Disclosure of Sexual Orientation and Its Consequences'. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 68 (3).
Hillier, L., Turner, A., Mitchell, A. Writing themselves in again: 6 years on. The 2nd national report on sexual health & well-being of same sex attracted young people in Australia. 2005. Online (cited 1/5/06):
Liggins, Sally, Wille, Annemarie, Hawthorne Shaun & Rampton, Leigh (1994). 'Affirming Diversity - An Educational Resource on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Orientations'.
Owens, Robert (1998). 'Queer Kids - the Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth'.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).