What the word “sexuality” can mean:
Many people think of just the first three letters “sex“! Sex can be a part of it, but our sexuality is more than that, it includes:
- How we feel
- Intimacy (being close to other people)
- What gives us pleasure
- Who we are attracted to
- How we identify
- Body image
- Our rights
- Our worldview
Sexuality is a big word that has a huge effect on our lives! It’s important on so many levels: mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. We all have a sexuality from the moment we’re born until the moment we die, and our sexuality will change and play out in different ways throughout our lives. As humans, we are all sexual beings even if we are not having sex or have no interest in sex at all.
- Our values are what we believe in. We get our values from all sorts of different places, including:
- Parents and family
- World view
- Media (TV, movies, videos, music, ads)
- Our own life experiences
People have all sorts of values, and it’s normal for people to have different values when it comes to sexuality, gender, sexual orientation, birth control, pregnancy options, and the “right” age to have sex. We all have our own experiences and backgrounds, so it makes sense that some of our values will be different.
Whatever your values are is totally fine. We (and everyone else) can have our values, we just don’t get to hurt, harm, or harass other people with our values.
Think a person’s values can change over time? For sure they can! Part of maturing or growing up is finding your own values and opinions. Life experiences can change values. For example, let’s say someone had a value that being gay was wrong, and then their brother came out and said he was gay. In this situation, they’d have some thinking to do. They could either rethink their value and become more accepting, or change their relationship with their brother.
Society’s values can change over time as well. In Canada, same sex marriage became legal in 2005 (now anyone over 18 can get married, a girl and a guy, 2 guys or 2 girls). The point being that not only can our personal values change, society’s values are also shifting all around us.
- Your Rights
You are free to make choices and express your sexuality in a way that makes sense to you. These freedoms are also called your rights! Here are some rights youth are supposed to have when it comes to sexuality, reproduction, and dating in Canada.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
Whether or not you are having sex you have the right to have a healthy sexuality. This means you have a right to know how to make sex safer, like how to use and get condoms, sex dams, and birth control. Teen clinics were set up to help teens get free and non-judgmental information and safer sex supplies, check here for the teen clinic nearest you. All teen clinics in Winnipeg provide free condoms and most have free or low-cost birth control without consent from a guardian to youth ages 13 and up (some may also provide birth control to younger youth, depending on the health care provider). Outside of Winnipeg the age for accessing birth control may be higher, depending on the community/health care provider, but condoms are almost always free for the taking.
If someone finds out they are pregnant, what rights do they have? Girls/women have the right to decide what happens with a pregnancy in their body; abortion, adoption, or parenting. The person carrying the pregnancy decides because it’s their body and their life that stands to be the most affected. For more info on all 3 options check out the Pregnancy Options page.
Sexual orientation is about much more than simply the gender(s) you find hot. Your sexual orientation is a part of who you are. Attraction is the combination of the physical and personality traits that happen to turn your crank. Everyone has their own personal tastes and preferences, but ultimately you should have the right to have a crush on/date/love anyone you want.
Behavior is how you act or don’t act on attraction. Sometimes people date even when they don’t want to be dating or they date someone even though they are not attracted to that person because they feel pressured. Sometimes people don’t date who they are actually attracted to because of peer pressure or being scared of what their friends or family might think.
Some people are attracted to people of the same gender or any gender. You may often here people say LGBTTQ*. Even if the letters aren’t always the same they are trying to represent the many ways in which human sexuality can be expressed. See below for more information and the definitions for the initials in LGBTTQ*.
Everyone has the right to live as the gender they know themselves to be. So what’s the difference between sex and gender you ask? The short answer is that sex is what you are born with between your legs, and gender who you know yourself to be. Identity is how someone defines themselves. People can identify as many different things – Métis, a football player, a girl, Jewish, straight, a youth …etc. Gender identity is one part (an important part) of our total identity.
If someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth they could identify as cisgender. In other words, if they feel like a girl/woman and they have a vulva and vagina, they might say, “hey, I’m cisgender.” If someone who identifies with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, they may use words like trans or transgender to describe their gender. A basic example could be someone who has a vagina, but knows himself to be male. Some people aren’t interested in or don’t want to conform to conventional gender roles, so you will also hear people talk about gender non-conforming or being gender queer. Ultimately, we should be the one’s in charge of how we define and express our identity, and however you identify deserves to be respected and supported.
For more information check out the LGBTTQ* section below.
Consent & Age of Consent
Everyone has the right to be asked before kissing, touching, or any other sexual activity and to be able to choose what they want to happen. You always have the right to say no to any sexual activity and have those boundaries respected. Consent means when you give your permission for something to happen (in this case for making out or any other sexual activity). For more info on consent click here.
In Canada, at the age of 16 or older, youth have the right to say yes to sex with someone who is not in a position of power or authority over them (teachers, coaches, a doctor, babysitter, boss, etc.). Someone who is 14 or 15 can say yes to sex with someone who is no more than 5 years older and not in a position of power or authority. Someone who is 12 or 13 can say yes to sex with someone who is no more than 2 years older and not in a position of power or authority.
So what do you think about the age of consent in Canada? Is 16 too young? Too old? What about 14? Or 12? At Teen Talk we try to get people to think about what it means to be ready for sex. For more information see the Being Ready for Sex section below.
Once you are 18 years old, you have the right to decide if, when, and who you will marry. If you want to get married when you are 16 or 17, you have to get permission from your parents or a judge. In Canada no one is supposed to be able to force you to marry someone you don’t want to. Same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, this means that anyone over 18 can get married, a girl and a guy, two girls, or two guys.
- Just like there are reasons people have for having sex (they want to, they’re ready, they think it feels good, etc.) there are reasons people have for choosing not to have sex. Some reasons could be not feeling ready, not wanting to deal with a pregnancy or STI/HIV, past experiences, not having a partner, or if their partner isn’t ready. Abstinence is the fancy way of saying not having sex. When someone isn’t having sex they have no risk of pregnancy and very little risk of STI or HIV. There are plenty of sexy activities that fun and completely safe from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. These could include massage, holding hands, talking, kissing, masturbating, cuddling, and dry humping (rubbing up on each other with clothes on), or whatever else you can think up!
- Being Ready for Sex
- The Age of Consent in Canada is 16, but there is no set age when we’re all automatically ready to have sex. So what does it mean to be “ready for sex”?
There are many things to consider before having sex like:
- Do you want to have sex?
- What does sex mean to you?
- How will sex affect your relationship?
- Do you feel pressured?
- Are you comfortable talking about and using condoms or sex dams?
- Are you comfortable talking about and using birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy?
- Do you feel comfortable asking for consent?
When we ask ourselves questions like this it can help in figuring out where we stand and what we want. If we decide to have sex, ideally it’s because it feels right to us, and not because we feel pressured. They say that by graduation just under 50% of youth in Manitoba have had some type of sex. This means that whatever you decide to do you won’t be alone in your decision.
- LGBTTQ* & Coming Out
When you see or hear someone say LGBTTQ* it’s meant to represent some of the sexual and gender identities that can be expressed. It isn’t always said or written exactly like we have it written here – using initials can be helpful, but also limiting! So then, what does it all mean? Let’s break it down. LGBTTQ* stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, Queer, and * which leaves room for people to self identify in a way that makes sense to them. Check out the definitions below to learn more.
Anyone who supports the rights of LGBTTQ* people and honours sexual diversity.
Someone who is sexually attracted to and/or falls in love with attracted to both males and females.
Someone who identifies with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. For example, a person born with a penis and testicles that identifies as male.
A guy or man who is sexually attracted to and/or falls in love with other guys.
Someone who is sexually attracted to and/or falls in love with people of the opposite sex.
When someone’s genitals are ambiguous, meaning they don’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.
A girl or woman who is sexually attracted to and/or falls in love with other girls or women.
Queer has been reclaimed as an inclusive, unifying, umbrella term for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersexual, genderqueer and/or those whose sexual identity or activities place them outside the mainstream.
Questioning refers to people who aren’t sure about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. They are often seeking information and support during this stage of their identity development.
A common term for heterosexual, meaning someone who is sexually attracted to and/or falls in love with someone of the opposite sex (a girl attracted to a boy, for example).
Someone whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth might identify as transgender.
What do we mean assigned at birth? Think about one of the first things the doctor (or midwife) says when someone is born, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy.” This is gender assignment and it is based on an assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. However, we know this isn’t always the case and that each of us gets to decide what gender we know our selves to be. It may not align with the genitals we are born with or be part of the gender binary (male-female). For example, someone may be born with a vagina but know themselves to be male.
Someone who’s gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth and who has taken measures (e.g. surgery or hormone therapy) to change their physical sex, or intends to.
A modern English term that an Indigenous person might identify as that comes from the traditional knowledge of Indigenous people in Canada/Turtle Island/North America. It can mean a person who walks between genders; one who carries the gifts of both males and females, or one who is gender unique (not specific to any gender) and/or as a way to identify as LGBTTQ*. When Europeans arrived in North America, they introduced homophobia to many Indigenous nations and dishonoured the idea of what it means to be Two-Spirit. Today, many Indigenous People are reclaiming the ancient understanding that there are more than two genders.
Coming Out as LGBTTQ*
Coming out can mean different things to different people, but it basically means telling those around you what your sexual orientation or gender identity is. Sometimes LGBTTQ* youth will decide to begin coming out while they are still in high school, or even younger. This can be an empowering and positive experience for many. Some will feel like they can really be themselves for the first time, but if peers, family, teachers, and/or friends are unsupportive, this can sometimes be a negative experience. It is really important that if someone wants to come out, they assess their safety in their community first. A couple of questions to ask yourself are: will I have supports I can count on and will I be safe?
If someone is thinking about coming out, it might help to talk to someone about it first or even during the process. Talking to a school guidance counsellor, teacher, trusted friend or family member, or elder can be helpful in figuring out what you want to say and do. You can also check out the Resources page or ask for help at a teen clinic.
We can all try to make schools a safer place for everyone by not hating on people, by joining or starting a Gender-Sexuality Alliance (sometimes called a Gay-Straight Alliance), and by being aware of our own attitudes and language when it comes to sexuality, and by being a good friend.
- The media is made up of magazines, television, newspapers, movies, internet, advertisements, porn, and music videos (just to name a few!). It is a HUGE industry, making billions of dollars every year.
Does the media ever send us messages about sex? All the time and a lot of it is unrealistic and unhealthy.
The media shows a lot of:
- Teenagers having sex, all the time
- Everyone wanting to be in a relationship, all the time
- Unhealthy relationships with no boundaries
- Unsafe sex
- Lack of healthy communication
- Not asking for consent
- Only girl-boy relationships
- Mostly thin/muscular body types
- Mostly guys getting sexual pleasure
- Sex hurting or often being rough
- Sex always ending in a (fake) orgasm
These messages can have negative effects on us, including:
- Pressure to do things, sexually or not, that we aren’t comfortable with
- Low self-esteem or poor body image
- Expecting relationships and/or sex to be like it is in the media
- Not practicing safe sex
- Staying in unhealthy/abusive relationships.
Teen Talk isn’t suggesting we all stop enjoying all media, but we do think it’s good to be critical of what we are seeing. We need to be reminding ourselves that media is only meant as entertainment, it’s not a reflection of real life. Being critical of the media means asking ourselves: does that look real? Is that what I want for myself? Would that make me happy? Is that how I want to be treated? We can also watch less, challenge what we see and hear, talk to others about how the media can be messed-up, and find healthy real-life role-models.
- Our bodies go through tons of changes throughout our lifetime. One of the biggest changes in our lives is called puberty.
The point of puberty is to change a young person into an adult that is capable of reproducing (to get pregnant or to be able to get someone pregnant with sperm.)
Some physical changes and emotions that can happen with puberty include:
- Changes in body shape
- Pubic hair grows
- Changes in voice
- Menstruation – getting a period (female bodies)
- Making sperm (male bodies)
- Awkward or confused
These changes are caused by hormones. Hormones are chemicals that certain parts of our body send to other areas, telling those parts of the body to change. We have no control over our hormones, these changes and feelings from puberty happen even if we don’t want them to! The emotional changes (in particular, feeling horny) can sometimes come into conflict with our values especially about sex. This can be a very confusing time!
The important thing to remember is that everyone goes through puberty, and that it doesn’t last forever. If you are having a hard time, it’s important to reach out and talk to someone you trust like a parent, a close friend, or a counsellor, about how you are feeling.
- We have a lot of things that affect our sexuality! Our values, rights, hormones, friends, peers, parents, and the media.
It’s important to remember that in the end, it is up to us to go through everything and decide what is right for us! That’s where our minds come in. Our minds act as a filter and play a HUGE role in our lives.
There are a few things that can make our minds work less than 100%. Some things that can make our minds work differently include:
- Drugs (including Alcohol)
- Poor Nutrition
- Mental Illness
- Abuse and more…
All these things can affect how we think and the choices we make.
By the way, if someone was going to a party and knew they were going to drinking alcohol, there are some things that they can do to stay safer. Check out “How Can I be Safer?” here to check them out!
- YOU are the most important part of this sexuality puzzle!
We all have the right to have a healthy sexuality and with accurate information, we can all make good decisions for ourselves!
Questions about Sexuality
- Can I stop puberty from happening?
- Puberty means the physical and emotional changes that happen when someone grows from a child into an adult. The changes are all about becoming able to reproduce, in other words, being able to get pregnant or get somebody else pregnant. Puberty is caused by hormones, so the short answer to the question “can you stop it from happening?” is, not really. In some cases you can stall or redirect the effects of puberty with the use of hormonal medication, but for most of us puberty just happens and it’s pretty much beyond our control. The good news is that everyone has gone through it or will go through it, and it’s a completely normal process. For more info on puberty check out the Body section in Sexuality.
- What does horny mean? What does it feel like and why do we get it?
- Usually when people talk about being “horny” it means feeling sexually aroused or turned on. People usually start feeling horny during puberty, although some people notice feeling it more than others (in other words, some people might be really horny, and other people not so much). People can feel horny or sexual aroused for a bunch of reasons like thinking sexy thoughts, seeing someone they like, seeing a sexy picture, touching themselves or being touched by someone else. It happens to most of us and it’s totally normal.
- Is masturbation normal?
- Yes, it’s totally normal. Masturbation is when you touch your body (usually the genitals) in a way that feels good. It’s also a completely safe activity as you can’t get yourself pregnant, or give yourself a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV.
- Is it ok to be a virgin?
- Yes, it’s totally ok to be a virgin (meaning not sexually active). By grade 12, fewer than 50% of people have had sex, so whichever category you belong to there are lot’s of people doing (or not doing) the same. For more on what it means to be ready for sex click here.
- My parents are religious, and don’t approve of my sexuality. What do I do?
- Let’s be honest, this is a difficult situation. You have a right to be yourself and express your sexuality in a way that feels genuine and right for you. And it’s hard feeling your parent’s disapproval of a part of who you are and it can be especially hard if you are all living in the same place together. Sometimes in this situation you have to access your safety first. You may decide to hold off talking with your parents about your sexuality until you are older and not living together or financially dependant on them. This can be hard to experience but there are places you can reach out for support including the Klinic Crisis Line which is available 24/7 and free to call in Manitoba 1-888-322-3019 or 204-786-8686.
You’re not alone, there are many people who have been in similar situations where the parents or caregivers disapprove of some aspect of their kids/teens sexuality. Although there’s no way to predict the outcome of the situation, we know that in some situations like this parents or caregivers values can shift over time to become more accepting. Even if caregiver’s attitudes don’t change for the better, the situation has the potential to get a little easier when you are on your own and not living together.
The most important thing is for you to be comfortable with yourself. This can be easier to do with supportive people around. Even if it’s not your parents try to surround yourself with positive friends, teachers, role-models, or elders who value and accept the genuine you. In regards to “coming out” (letting your sexual identity be known to others), talk to people who are supportive and that you trust when you feel ready. And again, many youth are going through the same feelings that you are. If you want to talk to someone about any questions you have, contact the Rainbow Resource Centre toll free at 1-855-437-8523 or 204-474-0212. They have information, counseling and programs for youth.
- How old do you have to be to have sex?
- Great question, we have many of the Canadian age of consent laws written up for you here.
However, there is no “right” age to have sex. Whether or not to have sex all depends on the person and their partner, and whether or not they feel comfortable enough to engage in sexual activity. Ask yourself: why do I want to have sex now? Is this what I want, or am I doing it to please someone else? Can I talk to my partner about sex? Does my partner care what I think? Would I feel embarrassed or ashamed if other people knew I was having sex? Or if they knew I was having sex with this person? Do I know how to protect myself and my partner from STIs and pregnancy? If I have sex how will I feel about it afterwards? Each person should be allowed to make this decision on their own and in their own time.
- How do you know if you are gay?
- Guys who call themselves gay are sexually attracted to and fall in love with other guys. Their feelings toward boys and men are normal and natural for them. These feelings emerge when they are boys, and continue throughout life. Some guys can be attracted to both men and women and may use the term bisexual to describe themselves. (Girls and women who call themselves lesbians feel sexually attracted to and fall in love with other girls or women.)
Our sexual identity starts to develop during adolescence but continues to develop and take shape and change throughout life. Here are some questions that can help you figure out how you are feeling:
• When you dream or fantasize is it about boys or girls?
• Have you ever had a crush on someone who was the same gender as you?
• Do you feel different than the other guys?
If your answers to these questions aren’t totally clear, don’t worry. It can take time to get to know your sexual identity. The Rainbow Resource Centre is a great resource in Winnipeg, they have information, counseling, and programs for youth. Contact them toll free at 1-855-437-8523 or 204-474-0212.
- Is it okay to be a lesbian?
- Yes, it’s totally ok to be lesbian. Being lesbian means when a girl or woman is sexually attracted to and falls in love with other girls or women. Many people are lesbian. And many experts agree that sexual orientation can be determined at a young age, even as early as birth. It’s normal and healthy to be yourself, whether you’re lesbian or gay or straight (or anything else). What’s really important is learning to like yourself. This is a whole lot easier to do when we surround ourselves with people who value the real us. The Rainbow Resource Centre is a great resource in Winnipeg, they have information, counseling, and programs for youth. Contact them toll free at 1-855-437-8523 or 204-474-0212
- Why do people who call themselves ‘queer’ instead of just being called gay?
- Language can really be complicated, especially when one word can mean different things to different people. It’s good to ask these questions, thinking about why people use the language they do can help us make sense of what we might be hearing in the world around us. The short answer is that some people are more comfortable calling themselves queer. In other words, they feel like that word is better at describing their identity. When someone who is LGBTTQQ* uses the word queer it can also be an example of how sometimes a word gets reclaimed. This is when a word that was used to hurt people in the past (like queer was) is reclaimed by the people it was used against.
What we call ourselves and reclaiming words is really personal and each person gets to decide what they feel comfortable with. It’s not fair to assume that everybody within a certain group (whether they are gay, lesbian, black, fat, Ukrainian, Métis, hetero, etc.) wants to be called the same thing or sees themselves in the same way. If you’re not sure how to call someone you can always ask in a respectful way, most people will be happy that you want to get it right.
- What does transgender mean?
- Someone who’s gender identity (how they see themselves) is different from the gender they were assigned at birth might call themselves transgender. Transgender or trans is an umbrella term that represents many people who defy the “laws” of gender roles (female and male).
- How do you know if you are in love?
- Love can mean something different to everyone, but when most people talk about being “in love” they mean they have really strong feelings for another person. Love can mean different things to different people at different times so what it means to be in love might be different, depending on who you ask. Qualities of a healthy, happy, and caring, relationship are things like mutual respect, honesty, comfort, fun, and attraction. These qualities might not equal love, but they are a good starting place for any dating relationship. Sometimes people feel pressure to label their feelings, or to be “in love”. What matters more in a relationship is how you feel (happy, safe, and supported, etc.), not what you call your feelings.
- I like someone who doesn’t like me, what should I do?
- Liking or having a crush on someone can be fun and exciting, but also kind of stressful if you find yourself constantly wondering whether or not they like you back. Sometimes we might assume the other person doesn’t feel the same way as us, even without talking to them or finding out. When you like or have a crush on someone what you do about it is really a personal decision that only you can make, it depends a lot on how comfortable you are talking to the other person.
Here are a few questions you could think about: does the other person know how you feel about them and do you want them to know how you feel? Sometimes people like having someone to like, but don’t necessarily want anything more. In this case you don’t even have to let the other person know. If you are hoping for something more, you could take a chance and let them how you feel. It doesn’t mean they will feel the same way, but at least you’ll know what they think.
If they end up not having the same feelings it’s normal to feel let down, awkward, and maybe even a little hurt. Rest assured that you are not alone, almost everyone has been there. Since you can’t make someone like you, you just have to respect how they feel and deal with the disappointment. It may not seem like it at the time, but it’s true what they say about there being lot’s of fish in the sea.