Topic Overview

Sexual orientation means how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. There are different kinds of sexual orientation. A person can be:

    • Heterosexual (straight) - A person who feels attracted only or almost only to the 'other' gender.
    • Homosexual (gay or lesbian) - A person who feels attracted only or almost only to the same gender.
    • Bisexual - A person who feels attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily as strongly or at the same time.
    • Pansexual - A person who feels attracted to all genders, including men and women, though not necessarily as strongly or at the same time.
    • Asexual - A person not attracted to either gender. This is different from deciding not to have sex with anyone (abstinence or celibacy).

Science cannot explain why a person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or heterosexual. Most people feel that their sexual orientation is not a matter of choice: it's just part of who they are.

Many people discover more about this part of themselves over time. For example, some girls date only boys and some boys date only girls in high school before finding out later on that they are really more comfortable, romantically and sexually, with members of their own gender.

You may hear many different words and phrases about sexual orientation. Here are some definitions:

    • Ally: A heterosexual person who supports and celebrates all identities, challenges discriminatory remarks and actions of others, and willingly explores these biases within themselves.
    • Bi: A short, informal way of saying "bisexual", an individual who is attracted to, and may form sexual and romantic relationships with women and men.
    • Cisgender: A person who experiences their gender in a way that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. A non-cisgender is a person who experiences their gender in a way that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
    • Coming Out: Or, 'coming out of the closet', is the process of becoming aware of one's queer sexual orientation, one's Two-Spirit or trans identity, accepting it, and telling others about it.
    • Gay: A man who is mostly attracted to those of the same gender, often used to refer to men only.
    • Lesbian: A woman who is primarily romantically and sexually attracted to women.
    • LGBT2Q+: An evolving acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Queer and additional idenitities.
    • Queer: 'Queer' can be used to refer to the range of non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people. This term is often used as a short form of 'LGBT2Q+'. This term is becoming more widely used among the LGBT2Q+ community because of its inclusiveness.
    • Straight: A person who primarily feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of the 'opposite' gender.
    • Trans: An inclusive term used to describe any person that identifies with a different gender or expresses a different gender than the gender they were assigned at birth.
    • Two-Spirit: A term used by an Indigenous person to describe their spiritual, gender and sexual identity.

For more information, see the topics:

How do people find out their sexual orientation?

Many people first become aware of their orientation during the preteen and teen years. For example, a heterosexual man may have first experienced romantic feelings when he was in early puberty, having a crush on a girl in his class. And many gay and lesbian people were first attracted to members of their own gender during these early years.

During the teen years, "crushes" on someone of the same gender are common. Some teens may experiment sexually with someone of their own gender. But these early experiences don't necessarily mean a teen will be attracted to the same gender as an adult.

For some teens, though, attractions to someone of the same gender do not fade. They grow stronger.

Remember: You're not alone

The pressure and stress caused by feeling alone and sad can lead to depression. Depression can be mild or severe. In its most severe form, depression can lead to suicide. For more information about depression, see Depression or Depression in Children and Teens.

If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual, it's important to realize that there are lots of people just like you. They have the same problems, emotions, and questions that you have, whether you have made your sexual orientation known, have not revealed your sexual orientation to anyone, or have a loved one who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual.

It can be very comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through. You can find such people through local or online groups. If you don't know where to find support, ask:

    • Your health care provider.
    • Your school counsellor or trusted teacher.
    • A therapist or other counsellor.
    • LGBT2Q+ friends or relatives.
    • LGBT2Q+ clubs and organizations in your community.
    • Churches that welcome LGBT2Q+ members.
    • Websites and online organizations.

Why is it important to understand stress and know how to cope with it?

Stress is a fact of life. Most of us have periods of stress at various times in our lives. But extra stress can have a serious effect on your health, especially if it lasts for a long time.

People who have not revealed their sexual orientation to anyone may be worried about being found out and about what might happen if others knew. It can be very stressful to have to hide a big secret, especially one about who you really are. Rejection, discrimination, fear, and confusion cause long-term stress in many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual people.

Constant stress can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain, and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, so that you have a harder time fighting off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress may make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, or depressed. Your relationships may suffer. And you may not do well at work or school.

People who are under long-term stress are also more likely to smoke tobacco, drink alcohol heavily, and use other drugs. These habits can lead to serious health problems.

It's important to recognize the effects that stress can have on your life and to learn how to cope with stress to stay healthy. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

Other Places To Get Help


Action Canada for Sexual Health an Rights: Love Your Parts (Canada)


Other Works Consulted

  • American Psychological Association (2008). Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online:
  • APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns (2011). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online:
  • Biggs WS (2011). Medical human sexuality. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 1000–1012. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Eliason MJ, et al. (2009). LGBTQ Cultures: What Health Care Professionals Need to Know About Sexual and Gender Diversity. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Available online:
  • Hillman JB, Spigarelli MG (2009). Sexuality: Its development and direction. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 415–425. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Kaufman M, et al. (2008, reaffirmed 2012). Adolescent sexual orientation. Paediatrics and Child Health, 13(7): 619–623. Also available online:
  • Sadock VA (2009). Normal human sexuality and sexual and gender identity disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2027–2060. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Zucker KJ (2011). Gender identity and sexual behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 346–348. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Adaptation Date: 7/8/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 7/8/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC