What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual Orientation is a term used to describe our patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction—and our sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions. A person's sexual orientation is not a black or white matter; sexual orientation exists along a continuum, with exclusive attraction to the opposite sex on one end of the continuum and exclusive attraction to the same sex on the other. 

Heterosexuality (attraction to members of the opposite sex), homosexuality (attraction to members of the same sex), and bisexuality (attraction to members of either sex) are the three most commonly discussed categories of sexual orientation, though are by no means the only categories in the world of sexual identification labels. (Queer, for example, is useful for its non-specificity to orientation, and acts as an umbrella term.)

Few issues are as hotly contested as what determines a person's sexual orientation. While most scientists agree that nature and nurture both play complex roles, the determinants of sexual orientation are still poorly understood. Current research into its underpinnings frequently focuses on the role of genes, environment, brain structure, and hormones

Recent posts on Sexual Orientation

A Guide for Gay Men on Both Open and Monogamous Marriage

A conversation with therapist and author Michael Dale Kimmel about open and monogamous marriage, for gay men and for us all.

Sexual Disorientation of Male Sexual Abuse Survivors

Sexual abuse disorients you; it does not orient you. Consider straight men who have sex with men due to childhood sexual abuse.

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Bible

By Neel Burton M.D. on August 09, 2017 in Hide and Seek
Many traditional attitudes have come down from the Bible. What is their basis?

Follow the Leader: Authority-Based Relationships Uncovered

An expert on alternative lifestyles shatters myths on these relationships.

What’s the Deal with “Furries?”

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on July 24, 2017 in Animals and Us
An international team of social scientists has been studying the psychology of "furries" for a decade. What they have found is fascinating.

Besides Religion, Immutable Nature Is Key to Civil Rights

Confusing "immutable nature" with "lifestyle choices" leads to disrespect, oppression, and "slippery slopes."

If You Got It, Think Hard About Flaunting It

By Jesse Marczyk Ph.D. on July 21, 2017 in Pop Psych
To what extent does promiscuity drive attitudes towards homosexuality?

My Gay Uncle: When Diversity Was Deviance

It was only after my uncle died that I found a photograph of him and Fred dressed as Rhett and Scarlett; Fred was a coy Vivian Leigh and my uncle a smiling Clark Gable.

Relationship Satisfaction Entails Playing by the Rules

Alternative relationship types come under scientific scrutiny in a new study on monogamous, open, and polyamorous couples. As long as you play fair, it seems that anything goes.

The Oldest Gays in History

By Neel Burton M.D. on July 14, 2017 in Hide and Seek
Three tales of homosexuality in Ancient Egypt.

Gender Fluidity in the Gods

By Neel Burton M.D. on July 09, 2017 in Hide and Seek
And what it might mean.

Why Does the LGBT Community Experience More Drug Abuse?

Worried about the high rates of of drug abuse in the LGBT community? Here's what you can do to safeguard your LGBT child.

Is Sexual Shame Worth Preserving?

By David J Ley Ph.D. on July 03, 2017 in Women Who Stray
Advice columnist Dan Savage shares his experiences and views of sexual shaming. Some of it will surprise you.

Your Biases And Beliefs Are Impacting Your Decision-Making

A line must be drawn when the beliefs of one person or a group of people harm another person or group of people.

Reflections on LGBTQ Rights

By Robert Dingman Ed.D. on June 30, 2017 in Mind Matters
One highly alarming consequence of the marginalization of LGBTQ individuals is vulnerability to human trafficking. How do we stop this?

Pride in Mental Health: Visibility

An interview with LGBTQ+ activists Dior Vargas and Cole Ledford.

Pride in Mental Health: Advocacy

An interview with Jillian Weiss of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and Calvin Stowell of DoSomething.org.

Monumental Los Angeles Bullying Verdict Rewards Homophobia

By Izzy Kalman on June 23, 2017 in Resilience to Bullying
No one seems to realize that an unprecedented award of $17.4 to a homophobe in a Los Angeles workplace bullying lawsuit represents the ultimate insult to the gay population.

Pride in Mental Health: Education

An interview with GLSEN (creating safe schools for all, regardless of orientation or identity) and The Hetrick-Martin Institute (a safe space for LGBT youth and families).

Pride in Mental Health: Crisis Intervention

An interview with David Bond, Vice President of Programs at The Trevor Project, and Shoko Morikawa, Crisis Counselor Supervisor at Crisis Text Line.

The Demisexual Phenomenon

When sexual attraction comes only after establishing an emotional connection over time...

Atheist in Appalachia

By Phil Zuckerman Ph.D. on June 14, 2017 in The Secular Life
What's it like being secular in the Bible Belt?

The Doctor Is In: New Web Series Explores the World of Kink

A new web series provides insight, humor and education about BDSM.

Is Teaching Tolerance the Solution or the Problem?

Tolerance is part of discrimination, which explains why we have intolerance. Acceptance is the answer, not tolerance.

I Didn't Want to Betray My Wife Again

By Loren A. Olson M.D. on June 07, 2017 in Finally Out
​I had broken my vows to my wife, and I left her when I realized that if I made those vows again I would only betray her again. My attraction to men was too powerful to contain.

Mature Gay and Bisexual Men and Suicide

By Loren A. Olson M.D. on June 03, 2017 in Finally Out
Gay and bisexual men seek mental health care more frequently than heterosexual men but are more likely to have attempted and succeeded at suicide.

Parent's Guide to the Gender Revolution

Three guidelines for discussing gender identity with your kid.

Denmark Declassifies Transgender as Mental Illness

Transgender is not considered to be a mental illness in Denmark, making it the first country to remove the link between transgender identity and mental illness.

Straight Life Cycle/Queer Life

A psychotherapy vignette about navigating traditional milestones as a gay man.