Sexual Orientation

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation describes patterns of sexual, romantic, and emotional attraction—and one's sense of identity based on those attractions. Sexual orientation is distinct from gender identity, the internal sense of being male, female, or non-binary.

Heterosexuality (attraction to members of the opposite sex), homosexuality (attraction to members of the same sex), and bisexuality (attraction to members of both sexes) are the three most commonly discussed categories of sexual orientation, although they are by no means the only ones in the world of sexual identification.

The designation queer, for example, is used by some for its non-specificity to sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts as an umbrella term for non-heterosexual, cisgender individuals. Pansexual and omnisexual are terms gaining currency as the binary division of gender itself is called into question in some subcultures.

While most scientists agree that nature and nurture both play complex roles, the determinants of sexual orientation are still poorly understood. Current research frequently focuses on the role of genes, environment, brain structure, and hormones


What Are the Categories of Sexual Orientation?

Many different labels currently exist to describe varieties of sexual orientation, in addition to the larger categories of homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual.

The term "gay" often refers to men who are attracted to other men, and "lesbian" refers to women who are attracted to other women. Asexual individuals do not experience sexual attraction, although that doesn’t preclude them from feeling emotional attraction.

Pansexuality encompasses attraction to persons of any gender or sex. Demi-sexual refers to an individual, perhaps on a spectrum of asexuality, who experiences sexual attraction only once a strong emotional bond has formed with a partner. Similarly, demi-romantic refers to someone who feels romantic attraction only after establishing a sexual connection.

This list isn’t a comprehensive catalog of terms, and the understanding of sexual orientation—and the language used to describe it—continues to evolve.

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