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Your sexuality

Sexuality

Sexuality is not just about who you choose for your sexual partner/s. Sexuality is complex and personal, and involves understanding the sexual feelings and attractions we feel towards other people. Sexuality also forms part of our sense of self – how we feel about our body and our personal expression, including our gender identity. Everyone has a different experience of sexuality, and each one of us has the right to choose if, and how, we wish to express it.

People usually refer to sexuality as sexual preference – who you are physically attracted to and what sort of sexual behaviour you choose to participate in. Sometimes it can take a while to define your sexuality and, even then, it can still change – and that is ok. Sexuality is not a static thing; it’s only natural that it will develop and change as you grow and have new experiences.

Most importantly, your sexuality is about what feels right for you and what makes you happy – not simply conforming to the expectations of other people.

Everybody is unique and has a right to feel comfortable with who they are.

Crowd jumping on the beach

Attraction

Sexual attraction is when you like someone more than as a friend, and you feel aroused when you see or think about them. You may be attracted to people of the opposite sex, or attracted to people of the same sex, or you may be attracted to both or to no-one in particular. This is healthy and perfectly normal. No-one should be bullied or ashamed because of the type of person they are or are not attracted to. Sexual orientation is often the term used to describe who you are attracted to in a sexual and/or romantic way.

There are many sexual identities people use to describe their sexual orientation. It’s not defined by who you have sex with – it’s about how you feel about your own sexual orientation, and only you can choose how you identify and want to call yourself. This may also change over time, and that’s ok too.

These are a few examples of identities that describe a person’s sexual orientation, but there are many others. It’s important to never make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation or how they identify – if in doubt, ask them!

Attracted to May identify as
The opposite sex ‘straight’, ‘heterosexual’
The same sex (men) ‘gay’, ‘homosexual’
The same sex (women) ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘homosexual’
Both sexes (men and women) ‘bisexual’, ‘bi’, ‘queer’
No preference of sex or gender (men, women, intersex, transgender) ‘pansexual’, ‘pan’, ‘fluid’, ‘queer’
Still working out / exploring their sexual orientation ‘queer’, ‘questioning’
Not attracted to any sex or gender ‘asexual’

Gender and biological sex

The terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are often used interchangeably, yet gender and biological sex are actually quite different.

Biological sex

Your biological sex includes physical attributes such as your sex chromosomes, sex hormones, internal and external reproductive organs. ‘Sex’ is the term used to identify an individual as ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Some people are born with biological attributes that are not solely male or female. This is called intersex.

Biological sex doesn’t always determine how one may think, feel, and act, and this is where gender comes in.

Gender

Gender is much more complex and is made up of three main parts that all interrelate:

  • Biological sex – physical traits / sex assigned at birth (male, female, intersex)
  • Gender identity – your internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither
  • Gender expression – the ways you present yourself and behave in society that can be interpreted as masculine, feminine, both or neither, e.g. the way you dress, your appearance, actions, and manner

Often a person’s biological sex and gender identity align (e.g. biological sex is male and they gender identify as male), but sometimes they don’t align and their biological sex is different to how they identify their gender (e.g. biological sex is female but they gender identify as male). Gender diverse or transgender are a couple of the terms that someone may use to describe their gender identity when it doesn’t align with their biological sex.

Sometimes people choose to express their gender outwardly to society in a way that aligns with their biological sex and/or their gender identity, and sometimes they don’t. This can often be due to fear of not being socially accepted, or not conforming to the social ‘norms’, expectations or roles placed on people in society. Everyone has a right to express their gender identity as they wish without experiencing discrimination, and it’s important not to make assumptions when it comes to someone’s gender identity solely on their outward appearance or behaviours.

There are many identities people may use to identify their gender, these are some examples:

Biological sex Gender identity May identify as
Female Female ‘woman’, ‘cisgender’
Female Male ‘gender diverse’, ‘transgender’, ‘trans’, ‘man’, ‘transgender male’, ‘trans-man’
Female Female and male ‘gender diverse’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘gender fluid’, ‘trans’
Female Neither male or female ‘gender diverse’, ‘agender’, ‘genderqueer’
Male Male ‘man’, ‘cisgender’
Male Female ‘gender diverse’, ‘transgender’, ‘trans’, ‘woman’, ‘transgender female’, ‘trans-woman’
Male Male and female ‘gender diverse’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘gender fluid’, ‘trans’
Male Neither male or female ‘gender diverse’, ‘agender’, ‘genderqueer’
Intersex Female ‘woman’, ‘intersex woman’
Intersex Male ‘man’, ‘intersex man’
Intersex Male and female ‘intersex’, ‘gender diverse’, ‘gender fluid’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘non-binary intersex’
Intersex Neither male or female ‘intersex’, ‘gender diverse’, ‘agender’, ‘genderqueer’

For more information about

Intersex: The Organisation Intersex International Australia

Gender: The Gender Centre

Understanding sexuality, relationships and healthy sexual choices is important no matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity is.

Everybody has the right to experience respectful and safe relationships!

Coming out

‘Coming out’ means to openly identify your sexual orientation or gender identity. For some people this is a simple process and they feel comfortable telling their friends and family. However, for others it may not be that easy for various reasons, and their ‘coming out’ can sometimes be quite complicated.

Usually heterosexual (straight), cisgender people don’t need to ‘come out’ as our society expects or assumes most people fall into these two categories. For people who differ from this, accepting your sexual orientation or gender identity can be a scary experience, and the thought of ‘coming out’ to your friends and family can be overwhelming – especially if you feel that they might not accept you. However, ‘coming out’ can bring you a great sense of relief and happiness. Being aware of the possible risks you may experience; being prepared for possible reactions from your friends and family; and ensuring you have support around you, can help make your experience a positive one.

It is important to know that you are not alone, and there are many people who have ‘come out’ and have shared their experiences in order to help others on their journey. You can find some of their personal stories at www.rucomingout.com.

Talking to someone you can trust – and who you know will be supportive – can be the first step to working out if you are ready, and if it is a safe time, to come out to your friends and/or family.

Find more information about ‘coming out’ at

Reach Out

Who can I talk to?

If you are worried or confused about your sexuality or who you are attracted to, or if you are thinking about ‘coming out’ – it’s good to talk about it.

There are many services that you can contact:

  • Twenty 10 – Metro Support: 02 8594 9555; Rural freecall: 1800 65 2010
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • QLife: 1800 184 527
  • ACON – Free call: 1800 063 060

Homophobia and Transphobia

Some people find it difficult to accept others who are different, and this can sometimes lead to discriminatory behaviour being shown towards them such as exclusion, bullying or even violence. A lack of understanding and/or acceptance that sexual diversity is a part of human experience, and that some people may have different sexual desires and practices, can lead to discriminatory behaviour.

Homophobia is the fear or intolerance of people who identify as (or who someone thinks is) lesbian, gay, bisexual or same-sex-attracted, and is usually linked with hostility, verbal and/or physical abuse, or discrimination towards them.

Transphobia is the fear or intolerance of people who identify as (or who someone thinks is) trans* or transgender, or are gender diverse or gender nonconforming, and is usually linked with hostility, verbal and/or physical abuse, or discrimination towards them.

It is important to remember that discrimination of any kind is NOT OK and is against the law. Everyone is different, and we each have the right to make decisions about our sexuality.

It is important for us to be respectful of people’s sexuality.

Hooded teen against a wall

How can I respect same-sex attracted or gender diverse people?

  • Avoid assumptions and stereotypes about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and use inclusive language when talking about relationships such as ‘partner’ instead of ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.
  • If someone ‘comes out’ to you, don’t tell anyone else unless they want you to. Respect their confidentiality – it may be as simple as listening or helping them to find information or services.
  • Treat them the same way you treat anyone else, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • If you are unsure of how they like to be addressed, or what words they are comfortable with around their identity – if you think it is appropriate – just ask. For example, you may ask whether they like to be called ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’. Find out more about the way people like to be addressed at Minus18.
  • Name calling like ‘fag’, ‘dyke’, and ‘tranny’ or phrases like ‘that’s so gay’ is not respectful.
  • If you witness homophobic or transphobic bullying and discrimination, you can report it to your teacher, lecturer, boss, parent or carer.

Safe Schools has a range of resources to support young people, and also provides information on how to make schools inclusive and respectful environments.

We all have sexuality