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Gender, sexuality and self-expression

Gender, sexuality and self-expression for teens

As a teen, you may notice feelings of romantic or sexual attraction to other people. You may be attracted to people of the same sex, a different sex or both. Or you may not be attracted to anyone at all. You may also have questions about your gender identity and expression. This is all completely normal! Read on to learn more about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

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What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to the people someone is attracted to. The following terms describe some people’s sexual orientations:

  • Heterosexual (or straight) refers to someone who is sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex.
  • Homosexual (or gay) refers to a person who is attracted to people of the same sex.
  • Lesbian refers to a woman who is sexually attracted to other women.
  • Bisexual refers to a person who is sexually attracted to both men and women.
  • Pansexual refers to someone who is attracted to people of any sex, gender or gender identity.
  • Asexual refers to a person who isn’t sexually or romantically attracted to anyone or who has a low interest in sexual activity.
  • Questioning is the process of exploring your gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
  • Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. Typically, people who identify as queer do not consider themselves heterosexual or part of the gender binary.

If you don’t identify with any of the terms listed above, check out this list for more types of sexual orientations.

What is biological sex?

Biological sex refers to the anatomy that defines people as male, female or intersex. This includes your internal and external sex organs, chromosomes, and hormones.

  • Biological females have two XX chromosomes.
  • Biological males have XY chromosomes.
  • Intersex persons have a different chromosome set from biological males or females. They may develop sex or reproductive organs or characteristics of both biological males and females.

What’s the difference between gender and gender identity?

Your gender identity is how you see yourself and your personal experience of your gender. Gender expression is how you communicate your gender to others, such as your clothes, makeup or haircut.

Just because you were born a biological male or female doesn’t mean you must identify with that sex or gender identity. For example, if you were born a biological male, you may not identify with the traits society often assigns to males. Here are some helpful terms to know in understanding gender and gender identity:

  • Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity conforms with the gender that corresponds with their biological sex.
  • Genderqueer/gender non-conforming refers to someone whose gender identity doesn’t conform to the conventional gender distinctions. This person may identify with both, neither or a combination of genders.
  • Transgender refers to someone whose gender identity doesn’t correspond to the biological sex they were born with.
  • Non-binary refers to the spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.

Sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and biological sex all exist on a spectrum – this means everyone can be different. Here are some examples of what that can look like:

  • A person who is a biological female may have a masculine gender expression.
  • A person who identifies as a male and is biologically male may choose to express their gender on a scale of feminine, masculine or androgynous.
  • A person who is transgender can identify as any sexual orientation, such as straight, gay, bisexual or any other orientation.

Support for LGBTQIA+ youth

LGBTQIA+ youth can face many challenges, such as discrimination, bullying and cyberbullying. Bullying has been shown to increase the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, misuse of drugs and alcohol, risky sexual behavior, and academic problems.

If you need support, The Trevor Project has a crisis line for LGBTQIA+ youth, where you can call 1-866-488-7386, use TrevorChat to instant message with a counselor or use TrevorText by texting START to 678678.

Being an ally

It’s important to know that just because someone is different from you doesn’t mean they are bad or wrong. Always treat others with respect and understanding, no matter who they are or how they live their life. Be open-minded, willing to talk and a good listener. Let family and friends know you find anti-LGBT comments and jokes offensive.

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Resources

For more information about staying in charge of your health and future, visit:

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