Skip to Content
Home > Wellness Resources > Health Library > Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation means how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. There are different kinds of sexual orientation. A person can be:
Scientists can't say yet why a person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, 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 and boys date heterosexually in high school then find 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:
For more information, see the topics:
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, same-sex "crushes" are common. Some teens may experiment sexually with someone of their own sex. But these early experiences don't necessarily mean a teen will be gay as an adult.
For some teens, though, same-sex attractions do not fade. They grow stronger.
The pressure and stress caused by feeling alone and sad can lead to depression, a very serious problem. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at particularly high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.
If you are gay, 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 told someone or are still hiding the fact that you are gay.
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:
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 are still keeping their sexual orientation a secret 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 transgender 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 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: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/orientation.aspx.
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: http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.aspx.
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: http://www.nursingcenter.com/upload/Journals/Documents/LGBTQ.htm.
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.
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.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMay 27, 2016
Current as of:
May 27, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.