Questioning Your Sexual Orientation and Bullying Behaviour
The NSPCC defines sexuality and sexual orientation as:
‘who someone feels physically and emotionally attracted to. This can be romantic or emotional attraction, or both.’
Childline defines questioning as:
‘feeling unsure about your sexual orientation.’
Terms and Definitions
There are numerous definitions which encompass sexual orientation,; here are just a few:
Asexual – A person of any gender or sexual orientation who does not experience sexual attraction to anyone but may experience romantic attraction.
Bi/Bisexual – A person of any gender who experiences romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of more than one gender.
Gay – A person of any gender whose physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions are to people of the same gender.
Lesbian - a woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to other women.
Pan/Pansexual – A person of any gender who is physically, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to people regardless of their gender identity.
Straight/Heterosexual – Refers to a man who is physically, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to women or a woman who is physically, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to men.
This is simply a small selection of the different labels people may identify with; it is by no means a full list and some people prefer not to label their sexual orientation at all. It is important to educate ourselves on all sexualities so we can help create kinder, respectful, and more inclusive communities within our schools. Visit the Stonewall page for a full glossary of terms.
What if I am questioning my sexual orientation?
As people get older, everyone is finding their feet and on their own individual path of self-discovery. Your sexual orientation can feel like a significant part of your identity. Understanding your sexual orientation can feel overwhelming at times, but evidence suggests that there is a lot of variation in the process by which young people develop their sexual identity, so it is important to remember that everyone’s journey is unique to them.
Childline notes that uncertainty about your sexual orientation might involve: being unsure if you like someone, being scared about how others will react or trying to find a sexual orientation that ‘fits’ how you feel.
At The Diana Award, we have come up with some thinking points you can consider if you are questioning your sexual orientation.
- Your feelings are valid
If you have only recently begun to question your sexual orientation, or if it has been something you have been thinking through for a while, both are completely valid. There is no set timeline – everyone’s journey of understanding their sexual identity is different and true to that individual person.
- Don’t rush
The process of questioning your sexual orientation can feel overwhelming and many people can feel pressured to define themselves. Whilst some people might feel more comfortable adopting a label, if you do not feel comfortable doing this, that is completely okay. It is important to note that, for some people, their individual experience of their sexual orientation can fluctuate as they discover more about themselves, so rejecting labels and definitions is also okay. Headspace (2021) stress the importance of remembering that ‘your identity is yours; and the way you want to describe it, and who you share that with, is completely up to you’.
- Speak to someone
Recent studies have shown that young LGBTQ+ people are more likely to struggle with their mental health. If you feel comfortable doing so, it might be helpful to speak to a trusted friend or adult about your feelings. This could be a parent/carer, sibling, friend or teacher. Talking things through with someone you trust could help you gain clarity but, more importantly, remind you that you are never alone in what you are going through. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to someone you know, there are many different organisations which you can reach out to if you did want to talk things through with someone. A list of helpful organisations and helplines can be found at the bottom of this page.
- Explore through expression
You might not feel ready to talk about how you are feeling and that is completely fine. It can take some time to get to a point where you feel comfortable and confident enough to have those conversations with people (Stonewall). Art can be a great alternative to this and can help you work through complex feelings. Art is an effective way for young people to comprehend, respond to and represent their perceptions (Duffy, 2010). Childline have an excellent art tool on their website which allows you to draw how you feel, with the option to share it anonymously or delete it. You can access it here. You may want to explore different forms of art, like writing or photography, to find what feels most helpful to you. You may also like to write down how you’re feeling to help you think things through.
Sexual Orientation and Bullying Behaviour
At The Diana Award, we define bullying behaviour as:
‘repeated, negative behaviour that is intended to make others feel upset, uncomfortable or unsafe.’
When people are questioning or exploring their sexual orientation, people might express this in different ways. Everyone has the right to express themselves and be proud of who they are without fear of judgement.
It is important to remember that homophobic bullying can occur before people have ‘come out.’ In her studies on young people and sexuality, McDermott (2010) notes that perceived sexual orientation underpins homophobic bullying. This type of bullying behaviour, like all other types of bullying behaviour, is never acceptable and can make it harder to come out or leave you feeling scared about sharing your feelings (Childline).
If you or someone you know has experienced bullying behaviour due to perceived sexual orientation, this is unacceptable and a hate crime under the Equality Act 2010.
For more information on bullying behaviour related to sexual orientation and for advice on what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing this type of bullying behaviour, you can read our LGBTQ+ Bullying article here.
The Diana Award Crisis Messenger – provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person in crisis, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think the next step towards feeling better.
Childline – any young person until the age of 19 can call Childline for free support. Call 0800 111.
Allsorts Youth Project – listens to, supports & connects children and young people under 26 who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
LGBT Helpline/Switchboard – A one-top listening service for LGBTQ+ people on the phone, by email and through instant messaging.
Young Stonewall – A charity providing support and advice on coming out, health and LGBTQ+ related issues.