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Sexuality and coming out

In its broadest sense, the term ‘sexuality’ describes the whole way a person expresses themselves as a sexual being. It describes how important sexual expression is in a person's life; how they choose to express that sexuality and any preference they may have towards the type of sexual partner they choose. Sexuality can also be defined as a person’s sexual orientation.

Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways; including thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships.

There is a huge variety of sexual expression: the way we choose to behave sexually is usually both individual and complex; it rarely falls into neat categories or lends itself to simple labelling. The term ‘sexuality’ often refers to the gender(s) of the chosen sexual partner(s). While this may be a restrictive definition, it can give people who do not feel they share the major assumptions of the dominant heterosexual mainstream the voice, pride and sense of validation that comes from discovering an identity and a shared experience with others.

About Coming Out:

Coming Out to Yourself

Before you can come out to anyone else, you may need to come out to yourself. There is no hard and fast rule about when or how this happens. Some people are certain of their sexuality from a very young age; for others it can happen much later in life. Accepting the conclusion that one is gay, lesbian or bisexual is hopefully easier nowadays for many, than it has been in the past, due to shifts in attitudes, legal changes and greater visibility of people identifying as LGBT (please see separate information sheet on trans issues). Unfortunately many people still experience discrimination and prejudice based on their sexuality and therefore the decision to come out to yourself can still be a very scary one and can be a period of upheaval and uncertainty, particularly if attitudes within your family or wider community are more homophobic/less willing to embrace differing sexualities.

Coming Out to Others

Families often have detailed plans for their children and can be very upset when it becomes clear that not all their hopes are going to be realised. Similarly friends and other groups may have their own very definite opinions or prejudices. It is important that you come out to people who will validate and celebrate your sexuality especially if there are other people who you feel may not be so accepting. You may also want to talk over the situation in detail first:

  • Look for sympathetic people to come out to first.
  • Follow your own timetable - it's your life and your sexuality.
  • Don't feel you have to tell people until you are ready.
  • Don't assume people are homophobic just because they make insensitive jokes. Often people haven't really thought the issue through, and don't do so until someone close to them comes out.
  • Sadly the opposite can also be true. Just because people claim to be politically correct doesn't mean that they cannot be quite fixed and judgmental in their view of people who identify as LGBT
  • Not everyone has to know. Many people -- such as Department Staff -- will consider that your sexuality is your own business. You don't have to share it with them unless you particularly want to.
  • Don't be too put off by an initial bad reaction. Many people react badly when they are faced with something that has shocked them and they may just need a little time to adjust to the idea.
  • Choose your medium. If you are worried that someone will be very hostile, writing might give them time to assimilate the news better.
  • Try not to take responsibility for other people’s reactions to you. None of us has control over our sexual orientation so we don't need to apologise for it.


Warwick Pride: LGBT info and support in Coventry and Warwickshire LGBT support for under 25’s - site set up by a student called ‘Being Gay is OK ‘ LGBT Foundation for advice, support and information

LGBT helpline: - site includes information challenging stereotypes of bi people, defining bisexuality and providing links to the bi community - ‘Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’ –help and advice for LGBT people and their allies - Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Muslim LGBT Support Group - Catholic LGB support organisation - Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group. -Young people’s section of the main AVERT site. Lots of useful information (including downloadable booklets) much of it specific to LGB young people.

Family Outing: The guide to coming out for gays, lesbians and their parents Chastity Bono ,Billie Fitzpatrick; Written from personal experience and includes stories of people who came out to their families

How to cope with doubts about your sexual identity MIND booklet which contains tips and information on agencies that may be helpful

Outing Yourself Signorile; Practical things to consider when coming out to family and friends

The new gay teenager Savin-Williams.R; Interesting take on what sexuality means to young people, including personal accounts

National AIDS Helpline - 0800 137 437

The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites

Some terms related to sexuality

Ally - a (typically) straight and/or cis person who supports members of the LGBT community.

Asexual (or ace) - someone who does not experience sexual attraction

Bisexual or Bi – refers to a person who has an emotional and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender.

Biphobia - the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi.

Coming out – when a person first tells someone/others about their sexual identity (e.g. as lesbian, gay, bi or trans)

Gay – refers to a man who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men. Also a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality - some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian.

Heterosexual / Straight - refers to a person who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards people of the opposite gender.

Homosexual – this might be considered a more medical or old fashioned term used to describe someone who has an emotional romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender. The term ‘gay’ is now more generally used.

Homophobia - the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as lesbian, gay or bi

Lesbian – refers to a woman who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women.

LGBT – the acronym for lesbian, gay, bi and trans.

Outed – when a lesbian, gay, bi or trans person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is disclosed to someone else without their consent.

Pansexual - refers to a person who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity.

Queer – in the past a derogatory term for LGBT individuals. The term has now been reclaimed by LGBT young people in particular who don’t identify with traditional categories around gender identity and sexual orientation but is still viewed to be derogatory by some.

Questioning – the process of exploring your own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Sexual orientation – a person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person.