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Sexual Orientation

What is The Next step
February 1, 2018
Costa Rica
November 5, 2017

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is about who you’re attracted to and want to have relationships with. Sexual orientations include gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, and asexual.Sexual orientation is different from gender and gender identity. Sexual orientation is a natural part of who you are — it’s not a choice. Your sexual orientation can change over your lifetime.

Not everyone knows their sexual orientation or how to label themselves. If you feel this way, know that it’s common and you’re not alone.

Sexual orientation is about who you’re attracted to and who you feel drawn to romantically, emotionally, and sexually. It’s different than gender identity. Gender identity isn’t about who you’re attracted to, but about who you ARE — male, female, genderqueer, etc.

There are a bunch of identities associated with sexual orientation:

People who’re attracted to a different gender (for example, women who are attracted to men or men who are attracted to women) often call themselves straight or heterosexual.

People who’re attracted to both men and women often call themselves bisexual.

People whose attractions span across many different gender identities (male, female, transgender, genderqueer, intersex, etc.) may call themselves pansexual or queer.

People who’re attracted to people of the same gender often call themselves gay or homosexual. Gay women may prefer the term lesbian.

People who’re unsure about their sexual orientation may call themselves questioning or curious.

People who don't experience any sexual attraction for anyone often call themselves asexual.

It’s also important to note that some people don't think any of these labels describe them accurately. Some people don't like the idea of labels at all. Other people feel comfortable with certain labels and not others. It's up to you to decide how you want to label yourself, if at all.

What does queer mean?

The term queer can include a variety of sexual identities and gender identities that are anything other than straight and cisgender.

In the past, “queer” was a word used to hurt and insult people. Some people still find it offensive, particularly those who remember when that word was used in a painful way. Others now use the word with pride to identify themselves.

You may not want to refer to someone as “queer” unless you know that’s how they identify themselves. When talking to someone about their sexual orientation, use the terms that they use. It’s okay (and often encouraged!) to ask what labels folks prefer.

What’s asexuality?

People who identify as asexual don’t really feel sexual attraction towards anyone. They may think other people are physically attractive, or they may want to be in romantic relationships with people — but they’re not interested in having sex or doing sexual things with other people. Asexual people sometimes use the word “ace” for short.

Asexuality has nothing to do with romantic attraction. Many asexual people feel romantically attracted to people — so they may identify as asexual, and also as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight. They just don’t feel any desire to act on these feelings in a sexual way.

Asexual people have emotional needs just like everyone else. Some asexual people have romantic relationships, and others aren’t interested in that. They get close to people or experience intimacy through ways other than sex.

There are also people who don’t feel romantic attraction or want to be in romantic relationships — they may identify as aromantic. Being aromantic and being asexual are two separate things.

Some asexual people do get aroused (turned on), but they don’t feel the desire to be sexual with other people. And some asexual people masturbate. But others may not feel arousal at all.

It’s totally normal to go through times when you don’t want to have sex, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re asexual. And asexuality is not the same thing as being celibate. Celibacy is a choice you make, and asexuality is a sexual identity — who you naturally are.

Like other sexual orientations, asexuality isn’t always black and white. There’s a spectrum between being sexual (having sexual attraction) and being asexual. Different people fall into different places on that spectrum. Some people who have very little sexual attraction to other people identify as gray-a. Some people who are only sexually attracted to people they’re in relationships with identity as demisexual. Want to know how someone identifies? Ask them.

There is nothing “wrong” with people who are asexual, and there’s no evidence to support that people are asexual because of any kind of mental health or trauma. It’s actually kind of common — some research says that 1 out of 100 adults is asexual.

Sometimes we go through stages and there is a stage that we do not want to know about sex. To be more accurate i will talk about me, I go through a stage that sex is out of my mind and that can last a week maybe two and once it lasted for six months and I won't mention the time I spent in prison, then it lasted two years but it was not the same feeling. I didn't have a choice then. That's how it feels to be asexual it's something that you don't really care

What if I don’t want to be labeled?

It’s okay if you don’t want to be labeled. Only you can decide what sexual identity best describes you. But some people may feel that none of the common labels feel right to them.

Your sexual orientation and identity can remain the same throughout your life. Or it can vary depending on who you’re attracted to, or romantically partnered or sexually active with. This is completely normal. Once you claim a label, there’s no reason why it can’t change as you change.

Changing how you identify doesn’t mean that you’re “confused.” Many folks, old and young, experience changes in who they’re attracted to and how they identify. This is called “fluidity.”

What causes sexual orientation?

It’s not completely known why someone might be lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual. But research shows that sexual orientation is likely caused partly by biological factors that start before birth.

Sexual orientation isn’t a choice and can’t be changed. People don’t decide who they’re attracted to, and therapy, treatment, or persuasion won’t change a person’s sexual orientation. You also can’t “turn” a person gay. For example, exposing a boy to toys traditionally made for girls, such as dolls, won’t cause him to be gay.

You probably started to become aware of who you’re attracted to at a very young age. This doesn’t mean that you had sexual feelings, just that you could identify people you found attractive or liked. Many people say that they knew they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual even before puberty.

Although sexual orientation is usually set early in life, it isn’t at all uncommon for your desires and attractions to shift throughout your life. This is called “fluidity.” Many people, including sex researchers and scientists, believe that sexual orientation is like a scale with entirely gay on one end and entirely straight on the other. Lots of people would be not on the far ends, but somewhere in the middle.

How many people are LGBTQ?

LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning.

Although researchers try to study how many people are LGBTQ, it’s very difficult to get an accurate number. This is because gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sexual behavior are complicated for people. Let’s break it down:

Gender identity is who you feel you are inside and how you express those feelings through how you act, talk, dress, etc.

Sexual attraction is the romantic or sexual feelings you have toward others.

Sexual identity is how you label yourself (for example, using labels such as queer, gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual).

Sexual behavior is who you have sex with and what kinds of sex you like to have.

Sometimes all of these things are in line for a person. For example, a woman may feel attracted only to women, identify as a lesbian, and have sexual relationships with only women.

But these things don’t always line up. Not everyone who has sexual feelings or attractions to the same gender will act on them. Some people may engage in same-gender sexual behavior but not identify themselves as bisexual, lesbian, or gay. In some situations, coming out as LGBTQ can provoke fear and discrimination, and not everyone is comfortable coming out. For some people, sexual orientation can shift at different periods in their lives and the labels they use for themselves may shift, too.

So it’s difficult to measure how many people are LGBTQ when sexual orientation and gender are so complex for so many people. And not everyone feels safe or comfortable telling someone else that they’re LGBTQ.

Recent research suggests that 11% of American adults acknowledge at least some same-sex attraction, 8.2% report that they’ve engaged in same-sex behavior, but only 3.5% identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This shows that what people feel or do is not always the same as how they identify themselves.

What if I’m unsure about my sexual orientation?

This is really common, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. For some people, understanding their sexual orientation can take years or even a lifetime. Often, people find that they're “questioning" for a while, or that none of the labels used to describe sexual orientation fit them.

Some people may try a label to see if it fits, and then change it to another one if it doesn’t. This is okay, too. You don’t have to decide on one label, and it’s okay if someday in the future you feel differently from how you feel now.

Some people struggle with coming out to others or even themselves because they’re afraid of homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination. These are very real issues that many LGBTQ people face.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Am I gay/bisexual?” you’re not alone. Talking with a trusted friend or family member may help you figure it out.

Can other people tell what my sexual orientation is?

No. A person only knows your sexual orientation if you tell them. Sexual orientation describes how you feel inside, and only you know what it’s like to be you.

Some people may think they can guess if a person is lesbian, gay, or bisexual based on superficial factors like how they look, dress, or behave. These are stereotypes, or very simplified judgments, about how lesbian, gay, and bisexual people act.

But just like heterosexuals, there are many different ways that homosexual and bisexual people look, dress, and behave. Using stereotypes to label someone else’s sexual orientation can be inaccurate and hurtful.

What are homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination?

The homophobia definition is the fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Biphobia is fear, hatred, discomfort, or mistrust, specifically of people who are bisexual. Similarly, transphobia is fear, hatred, discomfort with, or mistrust of people who are transgender, genderqueer, or don’t follow traditional gender norms.

Although transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia are similar, they’re not the same thing. Both gay and straight people can be transphobic and biphobic, and people can be transphobic without being homophobic or biphobic.

Homophobia can take many different forms, including negative attitudes and beliefs about, aversion to, or prejudice against bisexual, lesbian, and gay people. It’s often based on irrational fear and misunderstanding. Some people’s homophobia may be rooted in conservative religious beliefs. People may hold homophobic beliefs if they were taught them by parents and families.

Homophobic people may use mean language and name-calling when they talk about lesbian and gay people. Biphobic people may tell bisexual people that it’s “just for attention,” or that they’re inherently cheaters. In its most extreme forms, homophobia and biphobia can cause people to bully, abuse, and inflict violence on lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Some LGBTQ people experience discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This may be discrimination from religious institutions, companies, or from our government. Examples include same-sex couples not being allowed to marry, getting legally fired just for being LGBTQ, or not being allowed into certain housing.

LGBTQ people and their allies have fought for equal rights and continue to do so, especially concerning marriage, employment, housing and healthcare equality, and protection from hate crimes (violence against LGBTQ people because of who they are).

What is internalized homophobia?

Internalized homophobia refers to people who are homophobic while also experiencing same-sex attraction themselves.

Sometimes, people may have negative attitudes and beliefs about those who experience same-sex attraction, and then turn the negative beliefs in on themselves rather than come to terms with their own desires.

This may mean that they feel discomfort and disapproval with their own same-sex attractions, never accept their same-sex attractions, or never identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

People dealing with internalized homophobia may feel the need to “prove” that they’re straight, exhibit very stereotypical behavior of straight men and women, or even bully and discriminate against openly gay people.

Outing is the act of revealing someone else's sexual orientation without their permission. If you share information about someone's sexual orientation against their wishes, you risk affecting their lives very negatively by making them feel embarrassed, upset, and vulnerable.

You may also put them at risk for discrimination and violence. If someone shares their orientation with you, remember that this is very personal information and it’s an honor that they trusted you enough to tell you. Always ask them what you’re allowed to share with others and respect their wishes

Where can I get support if I’m dealing with homophobia?

People who experience homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic harassment often feel alone and are afraid to tell anyone what’s happening. You should never have to face harassment.

Online communities of LGBTQ people

Trusted LGBTQ adults that you may already know, such as family members or teachers

A Gay/Straight Alliance at your high school, if applicable

Not everyone lives in a place that has a Gay/Straight Alliance in their high school, or an LGBTQ community center. In this situation, the Internet is super useful in finding communities and support in dealing with homophobia and discrimination.

If you’re a young person who’s experiencing harassment in school, it’s important to tell someone, even if that seems scary. If you don’t seek help and just accept it, the harassment will probably continue, or maybe even get worse over time. This can make it hard to keep up with grades, activities, and school in general.

Some schools may have an anti-bullying and harassment policy, and some states have adopted a Safe Schools Law, which means that your school administrators are legally required to stop the harassment. If possible, find a trusted teacher or adult who is an ally to LGBTQ students and ask for their help.

What can I do to help stop homophobia?

No one has the right to discriminate against or bully another person, or to hurt them emotionally or physically. There are several things you can do to help stop homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia:

Don’t ever use negative or offensive language to describe LGBTQ people


Be careful of how even casual language — such as saying “that’s so gay”— can hurt others.

Don’t believe stereotypes about LGBTQ people or make assumptions about them.

Be a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community, regardless of your own sexual orientation and identity. This is called being an ally.

Let the LGBTQ people in your life know that you’re a friend and ally.

Educate yourself on LGBTQ issues.

Respect LGBTQ people’s decisions about when and where to come out.

Remember that being LGBTQ is just one part of a person’s complex identity and life.

Show as much interest in your LGBTQ friends’ or family members’ partners as you would show in a straight person’s partner.

If you feel safe doing so, speak up when other people are being homophobic or biphobic, such as making offensive jokes, using negative language, or bullying or harassing someone because of their sexual orientation or identity.

When addressing homophobia in others:

Decide if it’s safe to address the issue. Some things to consider: Will you be confronting a stranger in public? Or a friend or family member in private? Do you want to speak up now or save it for later, when you’re alone with the person? Would it be safest for you leave it alone and walk away?

Ask questions and stay calm. Often, people don’t know that the language they’re using is insensitive. Avoid insulting them and tell them why you find their words offensive.

Remember you are not alone help is all around you!

M I Ro

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