Sexual Orientations: A Helpful Guide

Have you ever thought about who you are attracted to? Have you been confused by your sexual orientation? Are you a mental health clinician who has had clients use new terms for sexual orientation that you have never heard before? Then this article is for you! 

Sexual orientation has often been thought of as a binary, with many people having the belief that you can only either be straight or gay (heterosexual or homosexual). Many people also still struggle to accept the existence of bisexual individuals. Indeed, it is often only lesbian, gay, and straight individuals that are included in academic research or offered as a choice on intake paperwork for medical appointments or therapeutic appointments.

When the term “sexual orientation” is Googled, the definition that is given states, “A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.” If you are looking for information about sexual orientation through the American Psychological Association (APA), they only identify and discuss lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals [1]. This kind of erasure of other sexual orientations may make people feel lost and confused, or as if their personal identity does not matter.

Although bisexual individuals are beginning to be identified and accepted in today’s world, academic research on bisexuality and bisexual relationships is still relatively rare when compared to research on heterosexual or homosexual individuals and relationships. However, the spectrum of sexual orientation is so much larger than homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual identities. It may be helpful to think of sexual and romantic attraction as an intricate web, rather than a binary line.

Most people have some basic knowledge of sexual orientation. To give a basic overview, straight or heterosexual means a person is attracted to people of the other gender (a woman being attracted only to men, or a man only being attracted to women). A gay/lesbian/homosexual individual will only be attracted to people of the same gender (Woman being attracted only to other women, men being attracted only to other men). Someone who identifies as bisexual will be attracted to both men and women, but not always in an equal capacity.

Heteroflexible means “mostly straight,” while homoflexible means “mostly gay.” However, these two sexual orientations acknowledge that their own sexual orientation may be fluid, depending on the person or the situation. Heteroflexible people may be primarily attracted to people of the other gender, but occasionally have an attraction to someone of the same gender. They may even be able to imagine themselves dating someone of the same gender, or have dated someone of the same gender despite their primary attraction to the other gender. Homoflexible people are primarily attracted to, and date, people of the same gender. However, they may occasionally be attracted to, or date, someone of the other gender.

Pansexuality is similar to bisexuality. There is some debate about whether these terms are interchangeable, and it is important to note that some people do, in fact, use them interchangeably. However, some people who identify as pansexual think of it as a more inclusive identity, as the term “bisexual” suggests that gender exists on a binary (bi means “two” and is derived from the Latin language). Therefore, many people who identify as pansexual are attracted to people who are men, women, transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, or intersex (for more information on the definitions of these gender identities, click here).

Asexual individuals do not experience sexual attraction to others. They may find other people attractive or want to be in a romantic relationship with another person, but they often do not want to have sexual experiences with other people [2]. Asexual individuals may often use the term “ace” for short. Asexual people may still have a sex drive and may masturbate, but others may not feel any sexual arousal.

Asexuality itself exists on a spectrum. Some people identify as gray-asexual, or gray-ace/gray-a for short. An individual with a gray-asexual identity will experience very little sexual attraction to others, but some sexual attraction is present. Other people may identify as demisexual, which is a person who only becomes sexually attracted to another individual after they have a close and intimate emotional relationship. It is important to note that people who identify on the asexual spectrum can also identify as gay/straight/bisexual/pansexual. They may be gray-a or demisexual, but only experience that sexual orientation toward certain gender(s).

Queer people identify in a way that is simply “not straight, and/or not cisgender.”  Some people differentiate between queer as a sexual orientation and queer as a gender identity by using the term “genderqueer.” I have also heard some people use it in a more expansive context, to include the fact that they are in (or are interested in) an ethically non-mongamous relationship. However, the term “queer” does have a history of being used as an insult toward the LGBTQ community. As our language has changed and adapted, some people in the LGBTQ community has reclaimed the term queer to be an empowering identity. It is important to be aware of the history of this word, because some people do still consider it an offensive term. They may think you are speaking to them disrespectfully if you use this term to describe them, and that is not their identity.

People who are Questioning are curious about their sexual orientation and are unsure where they fall in this web of sexual orientations. They may end up identifying as straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or any other possible sexual or romantic orientation. This means they are going through their own identity process, and this process cannot be rushed.

If you are Androsexual or Androphilic, you are most likely primarily attracted to masculinity. A person’s gender identity and sex characteristics may not matter to you as much as their gender expression and appearance as a masculine person.

Gynesexual or Gynephilic people are primarily attracted to femininity. A person’s gender identity and sex characteristics may not matter to these individuals as much as their gender expression and appearance as a feminine person [3].

If you are not interested in labeling yourself, that’s okay too! This list is just meant to help people understand some of these identities and labels a bit better. In addition, sexual orientation can be very fluid for many people. Just because you identify in one way right now does not mean that this identity cannot change over time. This is completely normal, and changing your identity across time as you learn more about yourself and have more experiences is not uncommon.

If you are a mental health clinician or a family member/friend of someone who identifies somewhere within this web of sexual orientations, try to understand that each label is unique to that individual person. This list is not comprehensive, and some people may have their own individualized understandings of these terms; they may be more flexible and fluid than they are stated here. Always err on the side of the individual, rather than any book definition of a sexual orientation. That individual knows themselves best, and they will be able to describe their own meanings in their own way!

These identities are the collection of lived experiences and adjusted to account for those. Feel free to share anything in this post that fits or does not fit with your own identity experience in the comments below!

-Steph.

[1] American Psychological Association (2018). Sexual orientation and homosexuality. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on November 10, 2018 from https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx

[2] Planned Parenthood. (2018). Sexual orientation. Planned Parenthood. Retrieved on November 8, 2018 from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/sexual-orientation

[3] Brabaw, K. (2018). What it means to be asexual, bicurious – & other sexualities you need to know. Refinery 29. Retrieved on November 9, 2018 from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/sexual-orientation-types-of-sexualities#slide-22

One thought on “Sexual Orientations: A Helpful Guide

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s