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 identity

Many people identify as male or female and see their sex and gender as the same thing. But for others their gender identity is different from the sex registered on their birth certificate (male or female).

For example:

Some people may be registered as male at birth, but not identify as male.

Some people may be registered as female at birth, but not identify as female.

Some people’s gender identity sits between male and female, whilst others don’t feel male or female in any way. There are a variety of terms that can be used to describe this, such as gender diverse or non-binary (neither male nor female).

Views on gender identity are wide ranging and discussion of the topic can often become contentious. This can make exploring our own gender identity difficult or confusing at times, especially when society expects us to act in a certain way. 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