COVID-19 Resources: Keeping you safe | Vaccine Information | Visitor Policy and Hours
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation means how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. There are different kinds of sexual orientation. For example, a person may be:
Many people discover more about their sexual orientation over time. For example, some girls date boys in high school, then find later on that they are more attracted, romantically and sexually, to members of their own gender.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. Here are some definitions of words and phrases you may hear.
For more information, see the topics:
Many people first become aware of their orientation during the preteen and teen years. For example, it's common to experience one's first romantic feelings in early puberty, by having a crush on someone at school.
During the teen years, same-sex crushes are common. Some teens may experiment sexually with someone of their own gender. These early experiences don't necessarily mean a teen will be gay as an adult.
For some teens, same-sex attractions do not fade. They grow stronger.
Whatever your orientation or gender identity, it's important to realize that there are lots of people like you. Many of them may have the same emotions and questions that you have.
It can be comforting and helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through. You can find these people through local or online groups. If you don't know where to find support, check with:
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.
If you are not heterosexual, you may be under a lot of extra stress because of discrimination in the community. Rejection, prejudice, 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. Depression can lead to suicide. Teens with depression are at particularly high risk for suicide and suicide attempts.
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, to learn how to cope with stress, and to know when to get help. 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.
Current as of:
September 23, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineElizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: September 23, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.