understanding sexuality and sexual identity

+ Save to your Spaces
Sexuality is about how you see and express yourself romantically and sexually.

Download our factsheet on Understanding Your Sexuality and Sexual Identity

 

There are lots of ways to describe sexuality (and gender). Many of these are captured by the term LGBTIQA+.

Let’s break the term down:

  • L – lesbian (someone who identifies as a woman and is attracted to other people who identify as women)

  • G – gay (someone who is attracted to people who identify as the same gender)

  • B – bisexual (someone who is attracted to people of the same gender and people of another gender. Bisexuality does not necessarily assume there are only two genders)

  • T – transgender or trans people (someone whose personal and gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth)

  • I – intersex (someone who is born with chromosomes, reproductive organs or genitals that don't fit the narrow medical or social expectations for what it means to have a male or female body)

  • Q – queer (this term has many different meanings, but it has been reclaimed by many as a proud term to describe sexuality or gender that is anything other than cisgender and/or heterosexual)

  • A – asexual (someone who has low or no sexual attraction to any gender, but may have a romantic attraction towards another person)

  • + – (this acknowledges there are many other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities).

Not Always Glitter

The way you want to describe your gender and sexuality, and who you share that with, is completely up to you.

The language around LGBTIQA+ has changed over time and will continue to evolve as society further develops understanding of people’s different experiences. This is why the ‘+’ is so important. For a more complete list of terms, see AIFS' LGBTIQA+ Communities Glossary of Common Terms

Some young people might be unsure of their sexuality (questioning) or experience fluid sexuality (when someone’s sexuality changes over time). Some young people prefer to identify as queer, as it’s broader and doesn't place someone into a specific category. Others might not like any of these terms or don’t want to identify their sexuality at all and that’s OK too. It’s important to remember that your identity is yours; and the way you want to describe it, and who you share that with, is completely up to you. 

While they are sometimes talked about together, sexual identity is different to gender identity.

Unfortunately, some people may have difficulty accepting others who are different to them. This means that some people exploring their sexuality are faced with challenges that may affect their mental health and wellbeing. If someone is making you feel badly about yourself, remember there is nothing wrong with you.

Some common challenges you might experience include:

  • other people making you feel ‘different’

  • fear of rejection

  • bullying (verbal, physical or online)

  • discrimination such as homophobia and biphobia (note, this is illegal in Australia)

  • feeling pressure to deny or change your sexuality 

  • worries about coming out to friends and family members

  • feeling unsupported or misunderstood

  • being excluded or left out at school, work or in the community

  • a desire to suppress or avoid unwanted preferences.


Facing challenges like these may lead to a higher risk of things like depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, self harm and suicide.

It’s important to remember that your sexual identity does not cause mental health difficulties; it’s due to a higher rate of social exclusion, isolation and discrimination. There are many LGBTIQA+ young people who don’t experience distress about their identity, living happy fulfilling lives. 

The idea of coming out or sharing your sexuality with others can feel really scary. Some people prefer to think of the experience as inviting others in rather than coming out. It’s for you to decide once you’re ready, who you invite into this personal part of your life. It’s OK if you change your mind later on. Your identity is your own and sexuality can change over time.

For some people it’s important that they share this part of themselves with everyone in their life in order to feel comfortable. Others may prefer to share their sexuality only with the people they’re close to, or just the people they love.

Some people, due to safety, might choose not to share their sexuality with certain people around them. This doesn’t make their experience less valid or them ‘less queer.’ Everyone’s journey of coming out or not coming out looks different.

It’s hard to know what other people will think or how they’ll react when you talk to them about your sexuality. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can control.

Everyone wants to have a positive experience if they come out, but sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. Here are some things to consider:

  • When? Have the conversation when you feel ready. It might be when you’re confused and need more support from someone close to you, or it might be when you have embraced your sexuality and want to share this.

  • Who? It’s up to you to choose who you want to tell and what you want to tell them. You might choose to start with a person you think is most likely to respond in an accepting way.

  • Suss them out. If you feel nervous about how someone might respond, you could try asking them for their thoughts on an LGBTIQA+ topic, like a TV show with a queer character. This might help you understand their thoughts a little better and if they’re more likely to be supportive.

  • Time and place. Have the conversation when everyone is comfortable and relaxed. It can be less daunting to let one person know, rather than a group. Sometimes the moment might be right, but the words get stuck. Keep breathing, keep calm and perhaps try another time.

  • Expect a range of reactions. Sometimes people will surprise you. They may feel honoured that you told them. They may question your decision, try to talk you out of it or outright disagree. Sometimes the response is not what you had hoped. Try not to take on their reaction if it’s negative. You deserve to be proud of yourself and comfortable in who you are.

  • Give it time. Don’t forget that although you’ve been processing this for some time, this might be new to them. Sometimes people have an initial reaction due to feeling shocked and then respond better when they’ve thought about it.

  • Keep your cool. Try to keep calm, even if the other person is not. Remember to breathe and reassure yourself. Don’t get caught up in arguments where hurtful things get said. Call a time-out and come back to it when everyone is calm.

  • Exit plan. If you need to call a time-out, have a plan in place. It can help to prepare the words you’ll use in advance. You could say something like ‘I still want to talk more about this but we’re too worked up at the moment’.

  • Approval. Approval can range from tolerance, to acceptance, to celebration. There may be others who don’t accept your sexual identity no matter how you share it or how much time goes by. Sometimes this may be influenced by religious or cultural beliefs. This can be really painful, especially if it’s someone you love or respect. But remember, you don’t need anyone’s approval or permission to be yourself. If you’re worried about how people will react, talk to someone you trust first.


There are times when your right to invite others in on your own terms can be taken away from you. It might be that someone reads a message you’ve sent to someone else, makes an assumption about you, or sees you with a partner when you didn’t want them to. This can be really hard.

In these situations, it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust who are able to support you. It’s also important to know that no matter how you identify with your sexuality, there are people out there who will accept you for exactly who you are. If you’re finding this situation really tricky, it’s a good idea to take action.

 

YouTube Video

coming out and Inviting in

Coming Out, or as we like to frame it “Inviting In”, about your sexuality or gender identity is a different experience for everyone. For some it can be an easy and positive experience and for others it may not be.

For all other group chat transcripts click here.

Finding communities

For some people, exploring their sexuality or gender can feel daunting. It’s important to remember that there is a strong LGBTIQA+ community to embrace and support you.

Finding these communities can be tough, but be assured that they’re out there! Everyone deserves to be surrounded by people who understand them, so check out our tips on how to meet people with similar experiences to you.

How can I get help?

There are lots of things you can do to look after your mental health and wellbeing.

See our tips for healthy headspace, and consider connecting with the LGBTIQA+ community through social groups and online communities.

If you’re finding it hard to cope and your social, work or school life is being affected then it’s a good idea to talk to someone. A trusted family member or friend, an Elder, teacher or coach can help support you or recommend someone to talk to. 

If you ever feel unable to cope because of intense emotions of if you have thoughts of harming yourself, then ask for help immediately  

 

 

For immediate help contact triple zero (000) if it is an emergency   

National 24/7 crisis services:  

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au 

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or suicidecallbackservice.org.au 

beyondblue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au 

 

Additional youth support services: 

headspace: find your nearest centre or contact eheadspace,our phone and online service(12-25 years) 

qheadspace: Chat anonymously with other young people who identify as LGBTIQA+ and ask questions of our headspace queer peers  

Qlife: Chat to a volunteer LGBTIQA+ counsellor over the phone or through web-chat every day from 3pm to midnight (all ages) 

ReachOut: reachout.com.au(under 25 years). Find a gender diverse support services or social network in your state. 

Minus18: Have lots of resources about gender diversity for young people and their families 

Kids Helpline: kidshelpline.com.au or 1800 55 1800 (5-25 years) 

SANE Australia: sane.org  or 1800 187 263 (18+ years) 

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. Transgender Victoria contributed to an earlier edition of this page. 

Last reviewed 20 November 2020 

Get professional support