What is sexuality?
Sexuality is about our sexual feelings and thoughts, who we are attracted to, and our sexual behaviours. We can find other people physically, sexually or emotionally attractive, and all those things are a part of our sexuality.
Exploring and expressing your sexuality over time might include things like sexual dreams, fantasising about someone or about a sexual act, kissing, touching, masturbating, being naked with someone, oral sex or having penetrative sexual intercourse.
can change over time, like anyone else’s. At different times in life you may feel very sexual and at other times sex might be the furthest thing from your mind. That’s normal.
Girls may develop sexual feelings during puberty
or adolescence. This may mean they start feeling attracted to other people, whether male for female, start having sexual fantasies or dreams, or they may start to explore their bodies in a sexual way through masturbation
. This is a normal part of development. While some girls may choose to have sex for the first time in high school, other women may wait well into their lives before becoming sexually active or may never do so. That’s fine too.
The most important thing is that you can make the right decisions for you and that you always feel safe and respected.
Sexual orientation and gender identity
is a way of describing who you are primarily sexually attracted to. A woman who is primarily attracted to other women may describe herself as a lesbian. Men who are mostly attracted to other men describe themselves as gay. Bisexuality is being attracted to more than one sex or gender. Asexuality means that you don’t have strong sexual feelings in general. Women who are primarily attracted to men are heterosexual.
Who you are attracted to may change over time. Some women may start out feeling attracted to men, but may later feel attracted to women; some women have the opposite experience. The important thing to remember is that it is fine to be attracted to different sexes over the course of your life, or not to feel sexual at all.
can also relate to sexuality. For example, if a person is born female, but identifies as a boy or man, he may describe himself as heterosexual if he is primarily attracted to women, or gay if he is primarily attracted to men.
It is never okay to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Everyone should be treated with respect and no one should pressure you into doing things you are uncomfortable with.
While sexuality and sexual pleasure can involve your whole body as well as your mind, there are some parts of women’s anatomy that can be particularly important in providing sexual pleasure, such as the clitoris.
Sometimes it can take lots of experimenting by yourself (masturbation) or with your partner to become comfortable and familiar with the different parts of your anatomy and what feels good for you. The Labia Library has a diagram that provides a basic breakdown of the anatomy of women’s genitals
Remember, just like any other part of the body, women’s genitals can look very different from one another. For more information on the diversity of women’s genitals check out the Labia Library.
Find out more about the female reproductive system
Women and sexual pleasure
A lot of things can impact how much pleasure you get from a sexual experience, including how relaxed and happy you feel, how you feel about your body at the time, and respectful communication with your sexual partner.
The culture or environment around you, and around your partner, can also shape your attitudes and expectations in relation to sex, sexuality and sexual pleasure. This can be good or bad or both.
For example, historically it was thought that women shouldn’t enjoy sex at all and that the only purpose of sex was having babies.
Movies and pornography can show men being dominant or aggressive during sex, whereas women may be shown as submissive or passive. Some movies and pornography seem to show women having multiple orgasms as soon as sex begins. This can lead to unrealistic expectations for women and their sexual partners and lead to situations where people feel they are acting out sexual scripts written by someone else without actually feeling much pleasure.
While it’s normal to take time to experiment and find out what you enjoy, it’s always important to remember that sexuality and sex should feel good
and that no one has the right to make you feel disrespected, scared or uncomfortable during sex
. It can be hard to talk about what really feels good with a sexual partner, but communication can be key to having a mutually enjoyable sexual experience.
One sign of intense sexual pleasure or stimulation is an orgasm
. For women, an orgasm can feel like an explosion of sexual pleasure, that may last for a few seconds or a few minutes. Most often orgasms result from stimulation of the clitoris or through vaginal penetration. Not all women orgasm during sex with another person.
Not all sex is great. It’s fine to have lots of sexual partners over your life, just a few or none at all. It’s about what makes you happy.
If you have experienced unwanted sexual contact and would like information or support, please contact 1800 Respect
– a 24-hour national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling support service. You can chat online or over the phone (Tel. 1800 737 732).
Sex and consent
If you are having sex or doing sexual things with another person they must have your consent, and you must have theirs. Some people might think that consent is just the absence of saying ‘no’, but it’s much more than that. Having someone’s consent means being sure that they are enthusiastically consenting, and are happy and comfortable with the sexual activity taking place.
Consent is about communication and it should happen every time you engage in sexual activity with another person. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for another activity or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future. You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable and the best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.
Checking that you have consent can include things like asking your partner questions during your sexual activities like ‘is this okay?’ and ‘is this what you want? and ‘does this feel good?’. You can also ask your partner to ask you those questions or check in with you in other ways during sex to make sure that everyone feels safe and is having a good time.
Consent is NOT:
- assuming that dressing sexily, flirting, accepting a ride or accepting a drink is in any way consenting to anything more
- saying yes (or saying nothing) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- saying yes or giving in to something because you feel too pressured or too afraid to say no.
If any type of sexual activity, including sexual touching, kissing, fondling, oral sex, or intercourse, is forced on a person without their consent, it is sexual assault and it is a crime.
Safe sex – 1800 my options
Another important part of sexual communication is talking about contraception, which can protect women from pregnancy and from sexually transmissible infections. Forms of contraception include condoms, the oral contraceptive pill or long-acting reversible contraception such as an IUD (intra uterine device). For information about contraceptive options for you and your partner, whether you are lesbian, heterosexual or trans, please visit 1800 My Options.
Women’s sexuality and related health issues
There are many issues related to sexuality or being a sexually active woman, such as:
The Better Health Channel also has information about men and sexuality.
Further information and resources on women’s sexuality
- It’s time we talked – for information about how porn can impact our sex lives
- 1800 Respect – for information and support in relation to sexual assault, family violence and domestic violence
- The Labia Library – information and photo gallery promoting positive genital body image for women
- 1800 My Options – Victoria’s sexual and reproductive health information service (including how to access abortion and contraception services)
- Family Planning Victoria – statewide sexual and reproductive health service, including lots of great info on sexuality, gender identity and respectful relationships
- Switchboard – Switchboard Victoria is a community-based not for profit organisation that provides a peer based, volunteer-run support service for LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) people and their friends, families and allies.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Women's Health Victoria
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