Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is one of four recognised components of sexuality which include:

  • Biological sex – whether we are born as male, female or intersex (someone with both female and male characteristics);
  • Gender identity – our psychological sense of being male or female;
  • Social gender role – the extent to which people conform to culturally expected masculine or feminine behaviours;
  • Sexual orientation – emotional, romantic, sexual or affectionate attraction to individuals of a  particular sex.

Generally there are three recognised sexual orientations:

  • homosexual which refers to being same-sex attracted, often described as being gay or lesbian;
  • heterosexual which refers to being attracted to the other sex, often described as being “straight”;
  • bisexual which refers to being attracted to both men and women, sometimes shortened to “bi”.

Sexual orientation and identity are distinct from behaviours as people might or might not decide to act on attraction. People’s own sense of their sexual orientation and their identity (eg lesbian, bi, straight or gay) and behaviour may change over time, but most scientists agree that sexual orientation is shaped through a complex interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors and that it is not a choice. Efforts to change somebody’s sexual orientation can be harmful to individuals.

Some people know very clearly from a young age that they are gay or lesbian – many have described knowing they were different, perhaps growing up labelled as a “tomboy” or “sissy”, or being drawn to someone of their own gender.  For other people there is a gradual awareness,  an unexpected spark of attraction, or some other event that gets them thinking about their sexual orientation.

If you would like to talk to somebody about feelings of confusion, “coming out”, or similar, you can make an appointment online 24/7. Privacy and confidentiality guaranteed.