understanding sexuality and sexual identity - for family and friends

+ Save to your Spaces
If a young person has confided in you, take the time to ask them how you can support them.

The term sexuality refers to a person's sexual attractions, experiences of the attraction and sexual preferences.

There are many ways to describe sexuality (and gender). Many of these are captured by the term LGBTIQA+.

This includes:

L: lesbian (someone who identifies as a woman and is attracted to other people who identify as women)

G: gay (someone who is attracted to people who identify as the same gender)

B: bisexual (someone who is attracted to people of more than one gender)

T: transgender or trans people (someone whose personal and gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth)

I: intersex (someone who is born with chromosomes, reproductive organs or genitals that don't fit the narrow medical or social expectations for what it means to have a male or female body)

Q: queer (this term has many different meanings, but it has been reclaimed by many as a proud term to describe sexuality or gender that is anything other than cisgender and/or heterosexual)

A: asexual (someone who has low or no sexual attraction to any gender, but may have a romantic attraction towards another person)

+: (this acknowledges there are many other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities).

For a more complete list of terms, see AIFS’ LGBTIQA+ Communities, Glossary of Common Terms

While they are sometimes talked about together, sexual identity is different to gender identity.

Inviting you in

If a young person lets you know that they identify with a diverse sexuality you are being trusted with very private and personal information. They may have never talked to anyone about this before, or they may have only just begun to understand and feel comfortable with their sexuality. They trust that you will support and accept them – they have ‘invited you in’.

If a young person has confided in you, take the time to ask them how you can support them. Reassure them that you will respect their privacy and ask their permission before sharing their information with anyone else. They may not be comfortable to let other people know about their sexuality as yet, and it is very important that they remain in control of their personal information.

Common experiences

There are a range of stressful experiences that may increase the risk of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide for sexuality diverse young people. Some common experiences that can affect the wellbeing of a young person include:

  • feeling ‘different’ from other people around them
  • being subjected to or witnessing homophobic bullying, whether verbal, physical or online
  • being discriminated against about their sexuality (this is against the law in Australia)
  • feeling pressure to deny or change their sexuality
  • feeling worried about ‘coming out’ to friends, family, fellow students or workers, along with the possibility of being rejected, isolated, or having them tell other people without your permission
  • feeling unsupported or misunderstood by friends, family, fellow students or workers
    experiencing religious or cultural pressures or rejection about their sexuality

 

YouTube Video

These pressures can be very stressful, especially when combined with all the other issues associated with growing up, such as managing school or university, finding a job, forming relationships and making sense of their identity and place in the world.

Things to look out for in the young person include:

  • changes in mood – e.g., feeling sadder, more anxious, or more irritable than usual.

  • changes in behaviour – e.g., being less talkative, becoming withdrawn or being more aggressive.

  • changes in relationships – e.g., falling out with friends or their partner, or conflict with family.

  • changes in appetite – e.g., eating more or less than usual, or losing or gaining weight rapidly.

  • changes in sleep patterns – e.g., not sleeping enough, or sleeping too much.

  • changes in coping – e.g., feeling overwhelmed or tired of life.

  • changes in thinking – e.g., more negative thoughts, or thoughts of self harm or suicide.

 

It's normal to experience some of these changes from time to time. When these changes last longer than expected and begin to interfere with a young person's life, their study, work and friendships, it’s a good idea to talk to them about seeking help. A good place to start is their general practitioner (GP), their local headspace centre or eheadspace (online or by phone).

The role of family and friends

Families can have a major impact on the wellbeing of sexuality diverse young people. Young people who come from families that fully support their sexuality have better overall health, mental health, higher self-esteem, and are more likely to believe they will have a good life as an adult. Every bit of support can make a difference to your young person's risk of suicide, general and mental health, and substance use concerns.

Sexuality diverse young people that experience conflict with, or rejection by, their families and loved ones are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. They are also more at risk of homelessness, economic instability, self harm and suicide, substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections.

How to support a young person with a diverse sexuality

  • talk in an open, non-judgemental way about their sexuality
  • express acceptance and provide support
  • understand that they may be questioning their sexual identity, and that their sexual identity may change – reassure them that this is OK
  • let them know that there is no pressure for them to ‘come out’, that it’s their decision, and to take their time
  • respect their privacy and don’t disclose their sexual identity to anyone else without their permission; taking care to not do so accidentally
  • encourage family members and other people to respect their sexuality
  • welcome their friends or partner to family events
  • reassure them that they can have a full, happy future as an adult
  • be mindful they may be experiencing or worried about experiencing bullying related to their sexuality
  • encourage them to get further advice and support at headspace or eheadspace if they are going through a tough time
  • ask them how you can best support them
  • educate yourself if you are not familiar with sexual diversity and how best to support your young person. There are lots of helpful resources for family and friends. Taking the time to learn more takes the pressure off your young person in having to educate you and also shows them that you care and want to support them (see below, Other Useful Websites)
  • don’t forget that your young person’s sexuality doesn’t change who they are as a person. It’s important to remember to keep time to talk about and do all the things you used to do together.

Look after yourself

Parents and carers of young people often neglect their own needs because they are busy looking after others, or because they feel guilty taking time for themselves. It’s important that, while you take care of someone, you also look after your own mental health. Check out our tips on self care for family and friends, talk to someone you trust, or seek professional help.

For immediate help contact triple zero (000) if it is an emergency

National 24/7 crisis services


Additional youth support services

  • Find your nearest headspace centre or contact eheadspace, our phone and online service (12-25 years)
  • qheadspace: Chat anonymously with other young people who identify as LGBTIQA+ and ask questions of our headspace queer peers (12-25 years)
  • Qlife: Chat to a volunteer LGBTIQA+ counsellor over the phone or through web-chat every day from 3pm to midnight (all ages)
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (5-25 years)
  • ReachOut (under 25 years)
  • SANE Australia: 1800 187 263 (18+ years)
  • Minus18: Have lots of resources about gender diversity for young people and their family and friends
  • Raising Children Network: Has compiled a list of services, support groups and resources for gender diverse young people and their family and friends
  • The Genderbread Person - ❤ It's Pronounced Metrosexual

For more information or support, to find your nearest headspace centre or for online and telephone support, visit eheadspace.

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. Transgender Victoria contributed to an earlier edition of this page.

Last reviewed 8 December 2020

Get professional support