What you can do

Sexual orientation

Your sexual orientation is a way to describe the feelings you have for someone you fancy, want to date or be in a relationship with. You might fancy people of a different gender, the same gender or more than one gender. You might not fancy anyone at all and that’s fine too!

Some interesting things to think about:

  • We don’t know what causes someone’s sexual orientation, but we know that it isn’t a choice – no one can change who they fancy. Sexual orientation is a part of who we are.
  • You can’t tell what someone’s sexual orientation is by looking at them – the only real way to know this is if they tell you.
  • Someone else can’t tell you what your sexual orientation is – only you know how you feel and you should never feel pressured to label yourself.
  • Some people know their sexual orientation from a young age and some people take a while to work out what makes them feel comfortable. This is completely fine – everyone is unique.

Because these feelings are personal and because everyone is different, there are a lot of different labels that are used to describe sexual orientation. The labels that a lot of people (including organisations) use are:

  • Lesbian – girls who fancy girls. Some girls may prefer to be called gay, but others prefer to be called a lesbian.
  • Gay – when boys fancy boys or girls fancy girls. Although more commonly used for boys, 'gay' applies to girls too.
  • Bisexual/bi – when people fancy a range of people. This could mean a boy fancying other boys and girls, or people who are non-binary (for more information on what non-binary means, click here).
  • Straight/heterosexual – when girls fancy boys or boys fancy girls.

A lot of people don't like labels but sometimes 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, which is really important.

There are a lot of other labels that are used - some you might have heard of, some you might not. Here are a few more, but there are many others:

  • Queer– a term that some people use who aren’t straight. Although some older people might find this word offensive as it was often used to insult gay people, a lot of people nowadays have reclaimed the word and use it because they don’t like other labels.
  • Pansexual/pan – people who fancy people of any gender. This might be someone who says that they don’t think someone’s gender is important when they fancy people.
  • Asexual/ace – people who don’t fancy others. Some people find that they don’t want to date or be in a relationship with other people because they don’t feel any attraction to them.

Some people will feel that these words describe their feelings properly while others won't. Your sexual orientation is personal and it’s your business – whether or not you decide to use a label.

For further information please call Stonewall's Information Service on 08000 502020, tweet to @StonewallUKInfo or email info@stonewall.org.uk