Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

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 – 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

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.

Last reviewed: March 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 690 results

Factors affecting LGBTI people

The majority of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. However, studies have found that non-heterosexual people face up to twice as much abuse or violence (including physical, mental, sexual or emotional) than their heterosexual counterparts.

Read more on beyondblue website

LGBTI young people

Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex (LGBTI) people are far more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Read more on beyondblue website

Sexuality | Head to Health

Your sexuality plays an important role in your identity and sense of self. Not being able to express your sexuality can be damaging to your sense of self-worth and overall mental health.

Read more on Head to Health website

Sexuality for young people

Sexuality can be a tricky topic for many young people. There can be a lot of pressure placed on young people by friends, family and society to identify as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. And you know what – it’s not always that simple.

Read more on headspace website

Teen Health - Health Topics - Sexuality

Sexuality is a combination of people's sex, their sexual feelings for others, their feelings about themselves as sexual beings, their sexual orientation and their sexual behaviour. Exploring and discovering your sexuality can be confusing, exciting, difficult and wonderful.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Understanding gender and sexuality

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, gender is not the same as sex. This page explains the difference, plus some other terms you may have heard.

Read more on beyondblue website

Sexual Identity | Kids Helpline

Love has many forms. Learn more about sexuality and the different relationships people can have.

Read more on Kids Helpline website

Understanding your sexuality | Sexuality | ReachOut Australia

Sexuality covers a broad spectrum, and is also deeply personal. Its about understanding the sexual feelings and attractions we feel towards others.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Coming out | Sexuality | ReachOut Australia

Coming out and telling others that youre attracted to people of the same sex can feel like the most daunting thing in the world.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Gender Identity | Kids Helpline

Learn more about Trans and gender diverse people

Read more on Kids Helpline website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback