Sexual Orientation

If you fancy people then you have a sexual orientation. Most people will either fancy people of the opposite sex, people of the same sex or people of both sexes. The labels that are most often used to describe these types of sexual orientation are:

Straight (or heterosexual) This means people fancy people of the opposite sex – so a boy who fancies girls or a girl who fancies boys.

Gay (or homosexual) This means people who fancy people of the same sex – so a boy who fancies boys or a girl who fancies girls. Gay doesn't just refer to boys!

Lesbian This means girls who fancy girls. A girl who fancies other girls might call herself lesbian or gay.

Bisexual (or bi) This means people who fancy people of both sexes.

Sometimes other words are used to describe people’s sexual orientation, but these words are the ones that organisations like schools and health services usually use. It’s useful to have some common words that everyone understands just to make life a bit easier. For example, a sexual health clinic might hold a ‘Lesbian Drop-In’ session to offer help just to women who fancy women. The fact that everybody knows what is meant by a service for lesbians means that the right people will use it. 

Sometimes people may not be sure what their sexual orientation is and that's fine as well. Every gay or bisexual person had to go through a process of realising that they weren't straight and this can be a confusing time. We use words like those above to make life easier but that doesn't mean that you should ever feel under any pressure to label yourself. Many people experience confusion over their sexuality and this is really normal. Some people may go through a phase where they have an attraction to someone of the same sex or experience strong feelings towards a same-sex friend. This may or may not mean that you are gay so never feel pressured to fit into a particular group. Feelings are complicated things! 

If you do feel that you are either gay or bisexual you may decide to come out to friends or family. 

Click here for our section on coming out.

Who needs to know my sexual orientation?

You’ll notice that sometimes on forms you’ll be asked to tick a box to say what your sexual orientation is. You might wonder why you’re being asked for such personal information, but it will only be a positive reason – for example, to find out who’s using the service so they can help them properly. We call this ‘monitoring’, and it’s really important because it helps make sure everyone is treated equally, whatever their sexual orientation, age, sex, religion or ethnic origin. Stonewall has written a guide on monitoring called ‘What’s it got to do with you?’.