Sexuality and sexual orientation

Advice on how to support a child if they've come out or are questioning their sexuality or sexual orientation.

What is sexuality and sexual orientation?

Sexuality and sexual orientation is about who someone feels physically and emotionally attracted to. This can be romantic or emotional attraction, or both.

As children and young people grow up it’s natural for them develop and express their sexuality in healthy ways. For example, older teenagers might start dating or having relationships, while younger children might show curiosity about sex or the changes that happen during puberty. Many young people also feel unsure about their sexuality or who they’re attracted to, or find that their sexuality changes over time.

There are lots of different types of sexuality or sexual orientation, and young people may use different terms to describe how they feel. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and more. Although people often confuse them, it’s important to remember that gender identity is different from sexuality.

Just some of the term young people and children might use to describe their sexuality are:

    • Lesbian or gay: when girls are attracted to other girls.
    • Gay or homosexual: when boys are attracted to other boys.
    • Straight or heterosexual: when boys or girls are attracted to someone of the opposite sex.
    • Bisexual: when someone is attracted to people of both sexes.
    • Asexual: when someone doesn’t feel sexually attracted to anyone.
    • Questioning: when someone feels unsure about their sexual orientation.

You can find out more about the different types of sexual orientation on Childline.

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about a child or young person, you can contact the NSPCC helpline for support and advice for free - call us on 0808 800 5000 or contact us online.

Children can contact Childline any time to get support themselves.

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Supporting a child with coming out

Coming out is when a child or young person tells other people about their sexuality or sexual orientation. Young people may feel comfortable doing this in different ways and at different ages. LBGTQ+ young people who choose to come out will often have to come out several times to different people, which can be stressful for them.

Coming out was the top concern for LGBTQ+ young people contacting Childline about sexual and gender identity in 2018-19.1 Many young people are worried about how their family will react if they came out, while children who had come out to their family felt they weren’t taken seriously or didn’t feel they could be themselves.

Others feel their family didn’t understand the impact on their mental health, are worried about not being accepted or about religious barriers and being bullied.

Some young people might not feel ready to come out until adulthood and that’s ok. What’s important is that they do it in their own time and they feel supported when they do.

Here are some ways you can support your child or a child you know if they come out:

It can take a lot of courage for a child or young person to tell family or friends about their sexuality. Listening can be a great way to show them that you care and help them to feel accepted. Try to let them talk at their own pace, and ask open questions without interrupting. If they don’t want to continue the conversation, let them know that you’re there for them if they want to talk again at a different time.

Similarly, if you think your child might be gay or questioning their sexuality, it’s important not to pressure or rush them into talking to you. The best thing you can do is to create a supportive environment at home, by giving them space to share their feelings, so that they feel comfortable talking to you.

Coming out can be a stressful experience for young people, and they may be worried about having to come out multiple times to different people. You could ask your child about who they feel comfortable coming out to, and if there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them. They might ask you to tell members of the family for example.

If your child says they’re worried about telling friends and family in person, you could suggest something different like writing a letter or speaking on the phone instead. Let your child know that it’s okay if there are people they don’t feel ready to tell straightaway. It’s important to be led by what they feel comfortable with.

While some parents may feel proud about their child coming out from the start, it may take others more time, or you might feel unsure how to respond, feel uncomfortable or even shocked or upset. You might be worried that being LGBTQ+ will make things harder for your child, be concerned about them being bullied or finding it hard to deal with reactions from extended family.

Whatever you’re feeling, your child is still your child and their sexuality is just one part of their identity. However difficult you’re finding things, remember that it was probably really difficult and took a lot of courage for your child to tell you and to process how they’re feeling. It can also help to learn as much as you can about LGBTQ+ experiences and to talk to friends and family who are supportive or have similar experiences.

Sadly many young people who contact Childline about their sexual or gender identity tell us they’re being bullied. Being bullied because of sexual identity is a hate crime and against the law. You can report hate crime online or by contacting the Police. Call 999 in an emergency or 101 for advice and support.

We also have advice on how to support a child experiencing bullying, whether it’s happening in person or online, or both. You may also find our advice on depression and anxiety, and self-harm helpful if bullying is affecting your child’s mental health.

If you're worried about a child who's LGBTQ+

Not all children and young people feel comfortable talking to their parents or carers about their sexuality, or their family may be unsupportive when they do. Children may also be experiencing abuse or neglect at home, and not feel safe to come out.

Adults outside the child's family, such as teachers, sports coaches or extended family can provide valuable support. Being able to talk to a safe adult who'll listen non-judgementally can really help a young person to feel accepted and less alone.

You may be worried about a child you know who's being bullied because of their sexual or gender identity, or who's experiencing abuse at home. We also know that LGBTQ+ young people are more at risk of grooming and child sexual exploitation.

If any of these things are happening, it's important to get help right away. Our trained helpline counsellors can provide support and advice online or over the phone on 0808 800 5000

Support for young people from Childline

 


References

  1. 1. Coming out was the top sexuality and gender identity related concern with 2,110 counselling sessions delivered in 2018/19 – a 40 per cent increase compared to 2017/18.