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Sexuality and mental health

3-minute read

Sexuality is deeply personal and can be complex. It is about your sexual feelings and attractions, not just who you have sex with. Your sexuality can change over time. If you’re given a hard time about your sexuality or feel isolated, help is available.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality isn’t just about sex. It’s also about body image, feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection, and how you develop and maintain relationships.

It can be influenced not just by your thoughts and desires now, but also by your past experiences, your culture, your background, your friends, your religion and the media you use.

Very broadly, people’s sexuality can fall into one or more of these types:

  • heterosexual or straight — attracted to people of the opposite sex
  • gay/homosexual — attracted to people of the same sex (used for men and often women)
  • lesbian — attracted to people of the same sex (used for women)
  • bisexual — attracted to both men and women
  • asexual — not really sexually attracted to anyone
  • pansexual — attracted to people of any gender, sex or sexual identity
  • polysexual — attracted to people many genders, sexes or sexual identities (though not all)

Some people use terms such as ‘queer’ or ‘fluid’ to express themselves and their feelings.

Some people use terms such as ‘pan’ or ‘pansexual’, or polysexual, to say they’re attracted to different people, regardless of their gender or sexual identities.

What you call yourself is up to you. You don’t have to label yourself at all.

And how you see yourself can change over time.

What if you’re questioning your sexuality?

Some people are quite clear about their sexuality. Others don’t fully understand their sexuality until well into adulthood, and even then it can be confusing. It is ok not to be sure.

It can take time to fully understand your sexuality. Being aware of the different sensations in your body that make you want to be intimate with another person can help.

Don't let anyone pressure you into anything that you do not want to do. If you are worried, talk to someone you trust.

How can I tell people about my sexuality?

Sexuality forms part of who we are, and having to hide a part of our identity can be very painful and upsetting. Many people fear being open about their sexuality due to negative reactions, discrimination, bullying or violence. That does happen for some people, but for others, coming out leads to acceptance and support.

If you choose to ‘come out’, make sure you feel ready to cope with people’s responses, both supportive and not so supportive.

If someone rejects you, consider whether the relationship is worthwhile. We are all different, and the things that are right for some are different for others.

Be prepared that once you start to tell people, others might find out soon after. Give them time to get used to the idea – it may have taken you time (perhaps years) to accept your sexuality yourself.

If you’re having doubts, or are feeling depressed or guilty, don’t go it alone – seek professional support.

Who can I talk to?

Throughout Australia, there are people to talk to about your concerns and experiences with sexuality or gender, or for support or help. You can access them through LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) support services.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020

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