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Sexual orientation, behaviour and identity

Sexuality is a crucial part of who we are. Sexual orientation, sexual behaviour and sexual identity are three parts of sexuality that can help you understand the term sexuality better.

What is sexuality?

Our sexuality is a crucial part of who we are and how we see ourselves in relation to others. The term sexuality becomes easier to understand when it is divided into three parts:

  • sexual orientation
  • sexual behaviour
  • sexual identity.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to the sex or genders of people who an individual is sexually and emotionally attracted to.

People do not choose their sexual orientation – it is simply part of who they are.

The most commonly discussed sexual orientations are:

  • heterosexual – someone who is attracted to the opposite sex
  • homosexual – someone who is attracted to people of the same sex
  • bisexual – someone who is attracted to people of the same sex and the opposite sex.

What is sexual behaviour?

Sexual behaviour refers to our sexual contacts or actions. It is important to realise that a person’s sexual orientation may not fit perfectly with their sexual behaviour (what they do sexually).

There are many factors that shape or determine how we behave sexually, and sexual orientation is only one of those factors.

Sexual orientation is who we are attracted to.

Sexual behaviour is what we do.

What is sexual identity?

A person’s sexual identity may be very different to their sexual orientation.

Our public sexual identity is about the way we present ourselves to others as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

We can also have a private sexual identity which may be different to our public identity.

Many people do not feel comfortable or safe openly acknowledging their same-sex attractions and so present themselves as heterosexual in their interactions with others.

Even private sexual identity can differ from sexual orientation or attractions. Many people who experience same-sex attraction and/or have sexual contact with others of the same sex do not see themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

How does sexual orientation affect our behaviour?

There are many different things that shape how we behave sexually such as:

  • peer pressure
  • family expectations
  • what is considered okay in our community
  • cultural or religious beliefs
  • curiosity about a person or about a type of behaviour.

Lots of people don’t feel like they fit neatly or comfortably into a box.

How we feel can be complicated and often it’s not clear or easy. It is important for people to figure out what feels right for them.

Sexual orientation can be fluid. How we feel and who we are attracted to can change over time.

Some people take a while to figure out how they feel. That doesn’t mean someone “grows out of” their sexuality or that one set of feelings was a stage, it just means people change sometimes.

Relationships – straight, gay, bi, queer, whatever – are about more than sexual activity. People in same-sex relationships also value intimacy, and feelings of connection and love, just like people in opposite sex (“straight”) relationships.

Where can I find more information?

You can find more information about sexual orientation, behaviour and identity on these websites:

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