Understanding Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation isn’t a binary, although we tend to think of things as binaries. Are you gay or straight? Are you attracted to X or Y? Do you have feelings for this or that? But sexual orientation, attraction, and feelings are never just absolute.
Sexual orientation is a spectrum. It is our emotional, physical, or romantic attraction towards others. Some common sexual orientations include:
Gay: People, typically men, whose primary attraction is to members of the same sex
Lesbian: A woman whose primary attraction is to other women
Bisexual: A person whose attraction is to more than one sex or gender
Straight: People whose primary attraction is to members of a different sex or gender
Queer: A term that can be used to describe gender and sexual identities, claim a unique identity, or to describe the LGBTQ community
Asexual – A person who generally does not experience sexual attraction or has little to no desire to engage in sexual activity. Someone who is asexual may have romantic attraction and relationships.
Sexual Orientation DOES NOT EQUAL Gender
Gender and sexual orientation are two distinct, but related, aspects of who we are. Gender is personal and it is how we see ourselves (internally and external expression), while sexual orientation is interpersonal, such as who we are physically, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to.
A person can be physically attracted to someone and not emotionally. A person can experience an emotional attraction to someone of the same gender, but that doesn’t necessarily make them gay or queer.
When we confuse gender with sexual orientation, we are likely to make assumptions about a young person that have nothing to do with who they are. Heteronormative beliefs say that someone who is male should automatically be attracted to females. This is the assumption and society norms. However, as we understand that gender and sexual orientation are spectrums of who someone is, it is important to move away from heteronormativity and making assumptions.
Sexual orientation is difficult to put on a spectrum, considering there are not just two genders to choose from. Some people identify as gay, meaning they’re attracted to people who share their gender. Other people are bisexual or pansexual, meaning they are attracted to people of two or more genders.
Labels Exist, But Do Not Define An Entirety
Labels exist to help us categorize our thoughts and feelings, and its just that. Labels do not define an entire person and it does not capture who we are, our experiences, feelings, or thoughts. Below are just a few words people might use to describe their sexuality. Your identity is yours to define in whatever way feels most authentic to yourself.
Ace: An informal label for asexuals or people under the asexual umbrella.
Aromantic: Someone who doesn’t experience romantic attraction*.
Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual attraction* or an intrinsic desire to have sexual relationships (or the adjective describing a person as such).
Bicurious: Someone who might be exploring if they’re bisexual or not bisexual.
Bisexual: Someone who is attracted to those of their same gender as well as to those of a different gender.
Diamoric: An umbrella term referring to the attractions* experienced by non-binary individuals.
Demisexual: Someone who can only experience sexual attraction* or desire after an emotional bond has been formed (or the adjective describing a person as such). This is different from the choice to abstain from sex until certain criteria are met.
Gay: Someone who is attracted to those of their same gender. This is often used as an umbrella term, but is used more specifically to describe men who are attracted to men.
Graysexual: Someone who identifies with the area between asexuality and sexuality.
Grayromantic: Someone who identifies with the area between aromantic and romantic.
Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women. Some lesbians prefer to identify as gay women.
Pansexual: Someone who is attracted to people of any or all genders.
Polysexual/romantic: Someone who is sexually / romantically attracted to multiple genders, respectively.
Queer: In a very basic sense, anyone who is not heterosexual and/or cisgender. In the past, queer was a negative or pejorative term for people who are gay, and thus it is sometimes disliked.
* attraction can exist in many forms: sexual, romantic, intellectual, emotional, aesthetic, spiritual, sensual, etc. Not experiencing one form of attraction does not necessarily limit one from feeling other forms of attraction.