Topic Overview

Teens want an answer to the eternal question, "Who am I?" Part of the answer lies in their sexual self. The teen years can be a confusing time. Hormones, cultural and peer pressures, and fear of being different can cause many teens to question themselves in many areas, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sexual orientation is how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people—to the same gender, to another gender, or to many or all genders. This attraction typically starts to form in the preteen years.

Gender identity is different. It's your internal and psychological sense of yourself as a woman, a man, both, in between or neither.

Sexual orientation

During the teen years, "crushes" on people of the same gender are common. Some teens may experiment sexually. But these early experiences do not always mean that a teen will be gay, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual as an adult.

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

Gender identity

For some people, their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. They have been told that they are male or female, but inside they know that they have a different gender identity. People who feel this way often refer to themselves as "transgender" or "trans".

Children form their gender identity early. Most children believe firmly by the age of 3 that they are either girls or boys.

The feeling that something is different may also begin early in life. The realization that someone trans can happen in an instant or unfold over many years. Some people know from a young age that the gender they’ve been assigned doesn’t fit with who they really are. Some people come to this realization as adults. 

Love and support are key

Many parents have a hard time accepting their child may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or trans. Even if you are struggling with this possibility, remember the importance of showing unconditional love to your child.

Teens who realize they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual or trans sometimes do not reveal their sexual orientation or trans identity for a long time because they are afraid of what their friends, family, and others will say and do. This can be very stressful and can cause depression, anxiety, and other problems.

Many teens feel relief when they share who they are and find love, support, and acceptance from parents, friends, and others. Unfortunately, some find that their fears come true.

Young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or trans are at risk for:

  • Being shamed by society (social stigma).
  • Being shut out or excluded by peers and family members.
  • Depression.
  • Suicide.

When teens have problems related to being gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or trans, it isn't because of their sexual orientation or trans identity. It's usually because of a lack of support from the people they love or because they have been or are being ridiculed, rejected, or harassed.

Your teen can be emotionally healthy and happy regardless of their sexual orientation or trans identity.

If you or other family members are having a hard time accepting a child's sexual orientation or trans identity, organizations such as PFLAG Canada may be helpful.

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.
  • Cromer B, et al. (2011). Adolescent development. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 649–659. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • 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.
  • Sass A, et al. (2014). Adolescence. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 117–157. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • 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: 7/14/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 7/14/2016

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC