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Sexual identity and orientation can be associated with mental as well as physical well-being. Your sexuality is integral to your self-identity, and not being able to express this can be harmful to someone’s sense of self-worth and mental health. Despite cultural mores shifting in this century towards a more tolerant space for different sexual identities and orientation amongst the population, the impact on mental health in relation to sexuality can be significant. Exploring this in a non-judgmental space such as therapy is helpful.

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What is sexuality?

The term “sexuality” refers to the way a person describes their sexual, emotional and physical feelings or the attractions they have towards another person. They may be attracted to people of the same gender, a different gender, or to both men and women, or perhaps might not feel sexual attraction at all. 

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sexuality; it is simply how a person identifies themselves and describes those they are attracted to. 

What different terms do people use to describe their sexuality?

  • Gay: A way to describe being attracted to people of the same gender
  • Asexual/ace/aromantic: A way to describe experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others, or interest in sexual relationships or behaviour.
  • Bisexual/bi: A way to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men and women (and perhaps also non-binary people). 
  • Heterosexual/straight: A way to describe feeling attracted to people of a different gender. 
  • Lesbian: A way for a woman to describe being attracted to other women. 
  • Queer: Queer is an umbrella term that covers all sexualities (and gender presentations) outside of ‘straight’ and ‘cisgender’ (meaning, anyone whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth). This term originated as a slur but has been reclaimed by the community. 

For other terms that we haven’t listed, we recommend Stonewall’s free online glossary.

Questions around gender identity are often coupled with questions about sexuality – for example some people who are trans (whose gender is not the same as the sex they were assigned at birth) might also self-define as queer. But gender and sexuality both deserve space and sensitivity. Read more on gender identity elsewhere on our site. 

How can a person’s sexuality impact their mental health?

People can be bullied, treated differently or discriminated against and friends and family may not understand or accept their sexuality. 

According to Stonewall: 

  • 20% of LGBT people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months 
  • 40% of trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months 
  • 80% of anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported, with younger LGBT people particularly reluctant to go to the police

Experiences such as these often leave people feeling upset, hurt and isolated.

Other emotions resulting from a person’s sexuality might include:

  • Feeling different.
  • Being stereotyped.
  • Not feeling safe showing affection for their partner in public.
  • Others mislabelling their sexuality.

If you feel like talking about your sexuality might improve your mental health and wellbeing, please get in touch with one of our experts and book a session.

What does ‘sexual consent’ mean?

Sexual relationships can also affect our wellbeing and mental health, particularly if they don’t feel safe, ‘right’, or fair. For people to enjoy having sex, they need to ‘consent’ – meaning, to choose or decide freely, without any worries about what will happen if they say no.

Relationships when people can’t consent include:

  • Violent and unsafe relationships. If your partner hurt you, hurt themselves, or threaten to do either of those things, it might feel like you or your partner needs sex (or sexual imtimacy) to stop one of you from getting hurt. 
  • Coercive relationships. When your partner withholds love or care when you say no to sex or foreplay, or pressures, tricks or threatens you into having sex, this is known as ‘coercion’. 
  • Unequal relationships. If your partner is an adult and you are not, if they are your boss or employer, or if they have the power to change your circumstances, then you might worry that saying no to having sex with them will have repurcussions for you. 

If you are in a relationship and you’re worried about saying no to your partner, talking to a therapist can stop you feeling isolated and help you make decisions about how to cope. 

How many people in the UK are not “straight”? 

According to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of the UK population aged 16 years and over identifying as heterosexual or straight has decreased from 94.4% in 2012 to 93.2% in 2017. Over the last five years, the proportion of the UK population identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) has increased from 1.5% in 2012 to 2.0% in 2017.

History of sexual rights in the UK


The UK repeals Section 28, which prevented schools from teaching LGBT sex education, or offering support specifically for LGBT students. 


After nine years of civil partnerships, the UK legalises same-sex marriage.

Books, podcasts and events about sexual identity

Queer Intentions – A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture (2019)

Amelia Abraham writes about LGBTQ identity, and contemporary queer culture, in the UK.

Buy online

Queer – The Ultimate LGBT Guide For Teens (2019)

An honest and practical guide for teenagers who want to know more about LGBT life.

Buy online

Other helpful resources about sexual identity


AKT is a homelessness charity set up specifically to support young people who are LGBT and face abuse or hostility at home, or struggle to find housing.


Stonewall is the UK’s leading campaign organisation for issues that affect gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. Its research into mental health had led to grassroots and policy change that protects LGBT people in the UK.


Switchboard (0300 330 0630) is a dedicated phoneline for people who are, are think they might be, lesbian, gay or bisexual. It’s confidential, anyone can call, email or chat them, and all call handlers identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.

Click here to see practitioners who specialise in sexuality.