Your Teen's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Topic Overview

Teens want an answer to the eternal question, "Who am I?" Part of the answer lies in their sexual self. The teen years can be a confusing time. Hormones, cultural and peer pressures, and fear of being different can cause many teens to question themselves in many areas, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. For example, a person may be:

    • Heterosexual (straight)-describes a person who is attracted only or almost only to the "other" gender.
    • Homosexual (gay, lesbian, queer)-describes a person attracted only or almost only to those of the same gender.
    • Bisexual-describes a person attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily equally or at the same time.
    • Pansexual (or omnisexual)-describes a person attracted to those of any gender.
    • Asexual-describes someone not sexually attracted to any gender. This is different from deciding not to have sex with anyone (abstinence or celibacy).

Many people first become aware of their sexual orientation during the preteen and teen years.

During the teen years, crushes on people of the same gender and sexual experiments are common. These early experiences do not always mean that a teen will be gay, lesbian, bisexual or pansexual as an adult.

For some teens though, attractions to people of the same gender do not fade. They grow stronger.

Gender identity

Gender identity is your inner sense of being male, female, both, neither, or some other gender. For some people, their gender identity does not match the sex that they were assigned at birth. People who feel this way often refer to themselves as "transgender" or "trans".

Children form their gender identity early. Most children believe firmly by the age of 3 that they are either a girl or a boy.

The feeling that something is different may begin early in life. The realization that someone is trans can happen in an instant or unfold over many years.  Some people know from a young age that the gender they’ve been assigned doesn’t fit with who they really are.  Some people come to this realization as adults. 

Love and support are key

Many parents have a hard time accepting their child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or trans. Even if you are struggling, remember that it's important to show unconditional love to your child.

Teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual or trans sometimes don't reveal their sexual orientation or trans identity for a long time. They may be afraid of what their friends, family, and others will say and do. They can feel relief when they share who they are with their family and friends and find love, support, and acceptance.

Your teen can be emotionally healthy and happy regardless of sexual orientation or trans identity. When teens have problems, it usually isn't because of their sexual orientation or trans identity. It's usually because of a lack of support from the people they love or because they have been ridiculed, rejected, or harassed. Young people who are gay, bisexual, pansexual or trans are at risk for:

  • Being shamed by society (social stigma).
  • Being shut out or excluded by peers or family members.
  • Depression.
  • Suicide.

If you or other family members are having a hard time accepting your child's sexual orientation or trans identity, organizations such as QMUNITY at may be helpful. 


Other Works Consulted

  • American Psychological Association (2008). Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online:
  • APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns (2011). Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Available online:
  • Biggs WS (2011). Medical human sexuality. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 1000–1012. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Cromer B, et al. (2011). Adolescent development. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 649–659. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Hillman JB, Spigarelli MG (2009). Sexuality: Its development and direction. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 415–425. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Sadock VA (2009). Normal human sexuality and sexual and gender identity disorders. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 2027–2060. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Sass A, et al. (2014). Adolescence. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 117–157. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Zucker KJ (2011). Gender identity and sexual behavior. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 346–348. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Adaptation Date: 9/21/2021

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

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