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Your teen’s sexual orientation

During adolescence, teens learn to relate to their peers as friends and potential romantic or sexual partners. This is a normal part of adolescent development. The sexual thoughts can be intense or confusing. This may be true for young people who are having sexual thoughts and feelings about someone of the same sex.  

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to the gender (male or female) that a person is attracted to. Teens have a sexual orientation even if they aren’t yet sexually active. People usually consider themselves in 1 of 3 ways:

  • Heterosexuals are attracted mainly to people of the opposite sex. Heterosexual males are attracted to females, and heterosexual females are attracted to males. Heterosexuals are sometimes called “straight.”
  • Homosexuals are attracted mainly to people of the same sex. Females who are attracted to other females are known as lesbians. Males who are attracted to other males are known as gay. The term “gay” is sometimes used to describe homosexuals of either gender.
  • Bisexual people are attracted to are romantically and physically attracted to both males and females.  

What is it like for teens who are homosexual?

When people reveal they are homosexual, it is often called “coming out.” The process of discovering sexual orientation can start:

  • with homosexual fantasies or dreams,
  • when a person realizes she is attracted to someone of the same gender,
  • with a feeling that she is different from her friends and classmates, or
  • with a sexual experience.  

These feelings can cause uncertainty for a young person and could be made worse by:

  • the social stigma that can come with homosexuality,
  • a lack of knowledge,
  • a fear of being rejected by friends and family,
  • a lack of homosexual role models, or
  • having few opportunities to socialize with other teens having similar feelings.   

What should I do if I think my teen is homosexual or bisexual?

It can be very hard for teens to tell their parents that they are homosexual. They may feel uncomfortable with the idea of “lying” by not telling, but might also worry about how you will react.

Wait until your teen is ready to talk. Some people are not ready to announce their sexual orientation until they are adults.

Sometimes parents bring their teen to the doctor wanting a “diagnosis.” There is no blood test or other way to tell if someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Being homosexual or bisexual is not a disorder.

How can I help my teen feel more comfortable talking about sexuality?

  • The most important thing is to let your teen know that you love him.
  • Some teens will tell a sibling or cousin before they tell a parent, and often they will choose one parent to tell first. It’s important that you respect that your teen will tell someone he feels comfortable with.
  • Be available and open-minded if your teen wants to talk about sexual orientation, but don’t force the issue.
  • Consider talking about sexuality after watching a television show or reading a book with a homosexual theme. This can be a helpful way to let your teen know that she’s loved no matter what her orientation.
  • Encourage your teen to talk about sexual health with a paediatrician, family doctor, other health care provider or trusted adult. They may also be able to help her find ways to deal with any peer pressure, harassment, and bullying she faces.

Are there health issues I should worry about if my teen is homosexual?

Just being homosexual does not have any health risks. However, gay and lesbian teens are at a higher risk of depression and suicide.

  • All sexually active teens should be routinely tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Anyone who has unprotected anal sex has a high risk of STIs. Safer sex practices, such as using a condom, help reduce the risk of other infections.
  • Girls between 9 and 13 years of age should get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. To work best, the vaccine needs to be given before any sexual activity starts. The HPV vaccine is approved for use in boys in Canada. Speak to your health care provider for more information.
  • Although lesbian teens are less likely to get STIs than heterosexual teens, they may have sex with males (for many reasons), which increases their risk.
  • All females who have had sex with males or who have shared sex toys with someone who has sex with males should have a Pap test. Pap tests are recommended for females 21 years of age and over, or three years after becoming sexually active. During a Pap test, cells are collected from the cervix and then examined to make sure they are normal and healthy. A sexually active lesbian who has not has not had sex with a male should still have a Pap test done in her early 20s.
  • Encourage your teen to talk to a trusted health care provider about all options for safer sex. 

Where can I get support?

Many Canadian cities have a chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), an organization that has helped many parents whose children have come out to them.  



Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Adolescent Health Committee

Last Updated: May 2011

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