Being unsure of your sexual orientation and gender identity is normal. You may have questions about both and be trying to figure out what fits you. That’s okay. Everyone has a unique sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The most important thing is that you treat all people with kindness and respect- including yourself.
Let’s define some terms…
Your sexual orientation describes who you are physically, emotionally, romantically or spiritually attracted to.
Gay and Lesbian
People who identify as gay are attracted to their own gender- it used to be exclusive to guys who liked other guys, but has broadened. Women who like other women typically identify as lesbian.
People who identify as bisexual have an attraction to the same, other or different genders. People who are bisexual may also use other words to describe their identities; this could include identifying as pansexual, or omnisexual to name a few.
Queer and Questioning
The word queer used to have a negative meaning, but recently members of the LGBTQ community have been using this word in an empowering way, to identify as people who are not straight (sexual orientation) or are not cisgender (gender identity). The word questioning is a word that a person may use if they are not completely certain of their sexual orientation.
People who identify as are usually individuals who are attracted to a gender different from their own. This is sometimes also referred to as being attracted to a member of the “opposite gender”, however this is an outdated phrase, because it assumes that there are only two genders, which we know is not true (see gender identity).
People who identify as asexual are typically not sexually attracted to any gender; however they may desire intimate emotional relationships with other people.
It’s not okay to assume sexual orientation based on the way a person looks or acts or based on their gender identity or expression- that can be offensive. It’s also important that people respect your identities and the choices you make about your own sexual orientation.
Gender can be a complicated topic. Gender is a concept that is constructed, and in our society, and we have historically constructed gender roles to be female/feminine and male/masculine. We also have some specific ideals about these roles- for example, we might have a preconceived idea of what a typical teenage boy or girl might look like, act like, what might be important to them and what activities they would be involved in. These ideals are based on what we have learned from our world, like the people the people around us (parents, family, friends, etc) as well as through culture and religion, the media and more. Gender is more diverse than that!
Your gender identity is your inner sense of your gender, and it can be male, female, someplace in-between or neither one. This is a fluid concept- meaning it can change.
This is how we choose to ‘act out’ our gender and accounts for how we look and act- things like our style of dress, haircut, and behavior, just to name a few.
Assigned sex at birth
This is the determination of gender that the doctor made when you were born and it is based on anatomy.
Some people, who are identified as cisgender, have never questioned their assigned sex and feel that that their inner sense of gender fits with it, and that’s okay.
Some people question their assigned sex and gender identity, and they feel like their assigned sex at birth doesn’t fit with their inner sense of gender, and that’s okay too. This group of people identifies as transgender (trans). There are also some other terms for people who are diverse in their gender identity. These may include identities such non-binary, gender variant, gender fluid or genderqueer. Sometimes these individuals also identify as trans, and sometimes they do not.
The language and terms of gender identity are evolving quickly as people explore what fits them best and the words they will use to describe their identities.
It’s not okay to assume someone’s gender identity based on the way they look or act. It’s also important that people ask you and respect the choices you make about your own gender identity and expression. *In an effort to be more gender neutral and better respect and know someone, you can begin by identifying the pronouns you use for yourself. Then ask what pronouns they prefer.
Many teens are physically ready for sexual activity before they are emotionally ready. It’s important to learn more before you are sexually active. Sometimes people choose to have sex before they are ready. But why do that?
I want to be more mature
Many people feel like being sexually active will help others to see them as more grown-up, that they are mature and independent. Wanting more control in your own life is natural, but you don’t have to be sexually active to do it. Think about some other ways to feel mature, like getting a part-time job, volunteering, and taking on more responsibility at home or at school.
I’m curious and I think it’ll feel good
It great! At least it always looks that way… the media often glamorizes sex, making it look as though it’s always a perfect and highly enjoyable experience. That is not reality. Being sexually active can have consequences like emotional ups and downs, pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Plus, there are tons of other ways to feel good!
Everyone is doing it
Yes, it can feel like everyone around you is having sex- but in reality, it may not be as many people as you think. In fact, the average age of first sexual encounter in the United States is 17. Plus, just because someone is sexually active, it doesn’t mean that they are in a better position than you are!
I love my partner and I want to feel close to them
Many people see sex as the next step in a relationship and feel that if they don’t have sex then they don’t truly love someone “enough”. This is not true. There are many ways that you can show your love for someone; it doesn’t have to be sex. In fact, waiting until you are both ready will make the experience even better- because you will be sure it’s what you want.
My partner (or other people) will like me more if I do it
This is NOT a reason to engage in sexual activity. It’s unfair pressure that you should not have to deal with. A partner who truly loves you will respect your decision to wait, and if friends are basing their decision to hang out with you on whether or not you’re sexually active, then they are not being good friends.
Being sexually active can come with some significant risk factors that you need to think about. The only way to completely prevent the risk factors associated with sex is to not have sex.
Let’s talk about it a little more…
Did you know that the Center for Disease Control recommends always using a condom and another form of birth control to best decrease the risk for pregnancy, HIV and other STIs?
Unprotected sex can leave you at risk for getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant. While safety measures like oral contraceptives and condoms may decrease the chance of pregnancy, they do not eliminate the risk entirely.
Protecting yourself includes the use of birth control. Types of birth control include condoms, the birth control pill, a patch, ring, implant, shot or intrauterine device.
You can speak with a doctor if you have additional questions on the variety of birth control options available. Most, with the exception of condoms, require a prescription.
Did you know that the Center for Disease Control estimates that there are about 20 million new cases of STIs in the United States every year?
Sexually transmitted infections
Sexually transmitted infections are infections that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact.
Anyone who is sexually active can get an STI. Sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex, can transmit disease. It is important to protect yourself. STIs may include HIV, HPV, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis- some are treatable and curable, others are not. A person who is infected may not show any symptoms of infection for a long time.
Protecting yourself includes getting yourself and your partner tested for infections prior to sexual contact and using condoms every time you are sexually active.
How to get help
It is important to speak with a trusted adult prior to engaging in sexual activity. Even if the conversation is uncomfortable, it’s better to have it and get good information and support. Try to speak directly with your parents, caregivers or other trusted adults about sex. Sex is not an easy decision, and it is important to think about it carefully.
When it comes to sex and intimacy, you must respect your own body, thoughts and emotions, as well as the bodies, thoughts and emotions of others. Never force yourself or others into any sexual activity, not matter who that person is or what you may already have experienced with them. You have the right to say no and so do they.
What is consent?
Consent means that you are actively saying “yes” or agreeing. It also means that you are freely deciding to engage in the activity. It is your choice
What is coercion?
Coercion is when you feel pressured to do something sexual and you don’t know how to get out of the situation, or you are afraid that if you say no, something bad will happen. Examples of fears might include: fear that your partner will end the relationship, fear that your partner will hurt you or someone else emotionally or physically if you say no, or fear that something will be taken from you if you say no (like shelter, possessions etc.)
You have the right to say no at any time, to anyone. Any sexual contact that you do not consent to is sexual assault.
- Sexual assault is not only limited to intercourse- it can include any contact with private body parts that you do not want, agree to or are forced to do
- Anyone can be a perpetrator of sexual assault, it can be a stranger or someone you know well, it can be a friend or a romantic partner
- It does not matter if you have been sexually intimate with a person in the past or are currently in a relationship with the person- if you do not consent on any occasion it is sexual assault
- If the perpetrator is a family member, the assault is referred to as sexual abuse
- Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation of gender identity
Sexual assault and substance use
- Using drugs or alcohol can increase your risk of sexual assault
- Drugs correlated with sexual assault include alcohol, MDMA (ecstacy) Ketamine (Special K) and Rohypnol (roofies).
- Certain drugs can be slipped into your drink without your awareness and cause you to pass out, leaving you with little or no memory of what happened.
- Using these substances can alter your thoughts process and many have a sedative effect or cause drowsiness or even black-outs.
- Being unconscious means that you CAN NOT give consent
Digital media and sexual assault
- Social networking and texting can make it easier for sexual predators to find you
- Often, these individuals pretend to be your age or pretend that they are someone they’re not to get close to you
- They may ask about where you live, or attend school, or to meet in-person
- This can put you at risk for sexual assault, kidnapping or sex trafficking
There are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe from sexual assault…
- Respect yourself and expect respect from other people. if they don’t respect you, they aren’t worth being around
- Set your limits and stick with them. Set your boundaries and speak up if something makes you uncomfortable. Tell people what you do and don’t want to do. Saying no is your right, and so is changing your mind- no one has the right to coerce or force you.
- Avoid dangerous situation. Stay away from drinking and drug use, they reduce your ability to thin clearly- note that being drunk or high DOES NOT give someone the right to take advantage of you. If you are out someplace, watch your drink and never leave it (someone could slip something into it), don’t isolate yourself from other people and don’t eat or drink anything that anyone gives you.
- Be mindful of your social media. Be cautious with people who friend you and limit the information you give them. Remember that predators create fake accounts to connect with you and lure you in- never give out your personal information (like full name, phone number, address) to someone you don’t know and never agree to meet them somewhere.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel like a situation or person is unsafe, then there a good chance that you might be right. Trust yourself and get out of there.
- Have an exit strategy. If you are planning to attend a party, event or go on a date- have a plan. Always let a trusted adult know where you’re going and who you are going with. Be sure someone is available that you can call or text to come and get you.
- Use it! Don’t worry about what it will look like if you want to leave, you can always make something up. And don’t stay in an unsafe situation just because you are afraid to get in trouble. Whatever the consequence of getting caught might be, it is NOT worth it to risk your safety.
If sexual assault happens
If you or someone you know is sexually assaulted, you need to get help. Above all, remember that it is NOT your fault. You did not ask for this to happen and nothing that you did caused this to happen.
Here are some things you should do:
- Report it as soon as possible. This might mean calling 911 in the moment or seeking out a trusted adult who can help you to file a report as soon as possible.
- You are not in trouble. Even if you were drinking or high, no one has a right to touch you without your consent and being unconscious means you cannot give consent.
- Seek medical attention. It is also important that you get to the hospital as soon as possible. You require emergency medical care. As much as you may want to, try not to shower, brush your teeth or change your clothes. There could be important evidence that can be collected by professionals.
- Seek counseling. After initial medical attention and reporting to the police, you have to consider your own healing. Find support, which could start by talking to a trusted adult, like your parents, caregiver, school counselor or spiritual leader who can help you find someone to talk to about what happen. Many communities also have support groups for sexual assault survivors.