What is the difference between sexuality and gender?

Sexuality

Sexuality is the word used to describe the sexual feelings we experience towards other people.

It isn’t necessarily about who we actually have sex with.

Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what your sexuality might be.

Sexuality is deeply personal, and it can take time to work out what’s right for you.

Types of sexuality

There are different types of sexuality:

Straight: attracted to people of the opposite sex.

Gay: attracted to people of the same sex. This term is used by both men and women.

Lesbian: attracted to people of the same sex. This term refers specifically to women.

Bisexual: attracted to both men and women. Some people prefer the term pansexual to indicate that they are attracted to different kinds of people, regardless of gender.

Asexual: not sexually attracted to anyone.

There are other terms as well, but the label isn’t as important as exploring your feelings and finding what feels comfortable.

You may never settle on a label to describe your sexuality, and that’s okay.

You may even find that your sexuality changes over time.

Gender

Our sex, which is physical – male or female – is distinct from our gender, which is psychological and social.

What this means is that some of us have a gender which is different from our sex.

We may be male physically, but identify or feel more comfortable thinking of ourselves as a female.

We may be a female physically, but identify or feel more comfortable thinking of ourselves as a male.

We may identify as being male and female or neither.

When we feel this way, we may be transgender or gender non binary.

This could be a confusing feeling to have, especially when society expects us to act a certain way based on our sex.

Being transgender or gender non binary, however, is natural.

Just like your sexuality, it is deeply personal.

You should take time to work through your feelings and find what is right for you.

Prejudice

Discovering our sexuality and gender are personal journeys, but others often feel they have the right to interfere.

Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea that there are other sexualities besides being straight and that people can identify with a gender that is different to their sex.

There is a long history of discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

It is unacceptable, and while big strides have been made towards equality, there is some way to go.

If you are working through difficult questions of sexuality and gender, don’t give up.

Your journey is a personal one and has nothing to do with anyone who you don’t invite along with you.

If you are confronted with discrimination or abuse, there are organisations you can turn to:

Cara-Friend – supporting LGBTQ youth in Northern Ireland

LGBT Northern Ireland – a portal for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

The Rainbow Project – promoting the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in Northern Ireland

TransgenderNI – information hub for transgender, non-binary, questioning and intersex people in Northern Ireland