Sexuality, or sexual orientation, has to do with who a person is or is not attracted to either sexually or romantically. There are many ways of identifying sexually, and a person may identify more with one sexuality than another at different points during their life.
In this article, we discuss what sexuality is and provide definitions of some sexual orientations.
We also provide information on where a person can find support groups and clinics.
A note on identity definitions
Medical News Today uses definitions of sexual, romantic, and gender identities that come from LGBTQIA+ and ally sources.
However, it is important to note that these identities are personal, and people may define them differently. Always refer to a person’s sexual, romantic, or gender identity the same way the person describes it.
A person’s sexuality, or sexual orientation, determines whom they do or do not feel attraction toward. This attraction is typically sexual or romantic.
Sexual attraction describes a person’s desire to have sex or form a sexual relationship with other people. It often also describes physical attraction toward others or a lack of it.
Romantic attraction can describe a person’s expression of love within a relationship. This relationship does not have to be sexual, and a person does not have to experience both romantic and sexual attraction to have a sexuality.
There are a lot of sexual orientations, and people who identify with one or more may find that their sexuality changes over time. This is perfectly normal — a person’s orientation can be fluid.
Below are definitions of some types of sexuality.
A person who identifies as alloromantic experiences romantic attraction toward others.
This is an umbrella term.
A person who identifies as allosexual typically feels sexual attraction toward other people. They may also want to have sex with a partner.
People who identify with this orientation may also identify with another sexuality, such as being gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
People who consider themselves androsexual feel attraction toward men, males, or perceived masculinity, irrespective of whether or not they were assigned male at birth.
A person who identifies as aromantic may not feel any romantic attraction toward anyone. They may not want a relationship beyond friendship.
Those who identify with this orientation may also identify with another orientation.
A person’s romantic attraction can differ from their sexual attraction. For example, a person may not feel romantic attraction toward people but may still be sexually attracted to some individuals.
Asexual is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad spectrum of sexual orientations.
According to the LGBTQIA Resource Center, asexuality is a spectrum. Some people may experience no sexual or romantic attraction toward anyone, while others may experience varying degrees of sexual or romantic attraction toward people.
Those who identify with this orientation do not have to abstain from sex to be asexual.
Some orientations that exist within the asexuality spectrum include:
- Sex-averse: This is when a person is averse to or entirely disinterested in sex and sexual behavior.
- Sex-favorable: This is when a person has positive feelings toward sex in some situations.
- Sex-indifferent: This refers to those who feel neutral about sex and sexual behavior.
- Sex-repulsed: This refers to those who are repulsed by sex and sexual behavior.
- Cupiosexual: If someone identifies as cupiosexual, they do not experience sexual attraction but still desire to engage in sexual behavior or have a sexual relationship.
- Libidoist asexual: This term refers to those who identify as asexual but experience sexual feelings that they can satisfy with masturbation or self-stimulation.
- Graysexual: Those who are graysexual experience sexual attraction either infrequently or not very intensely.
- Grayromantic: People who identify as grayromantic may experience romantic attraction either rarely or not very strongly.
Those who are autoromantic experience a romantic attraction toward themselves.
This does not mean they do not also experience romantic attraction toward others.
Those who identify as autosexual experience a sexual attraction toward themselves.
Similar to those who are autoromantic, people who are autosexual may also experience sexual attraction toward other people.
People who identify as bicurious are interested in having a sexual or romantic experience with someone of the same gender.
The term indicates that the person experiences some uncertainty as to how they identify romantically or sexually.
People who identify as biromantic feel romantic, but not necessarily sexual, attraction toward more than one gender.
A person who identifies as bisexual can be of any gender.
Bisexuality means that a person feels attraction toward their own gender and other genders or toward anyone regardless of their gender.
The LGBTQIA Resource Center notes that some people may use the terms bisexual and pansexual interchangeably to describe their sexual orientation.
People who identify as demiromantic usually do not feel romantic attraction toward people with whom they do not have a strong emotional bond.
A person who identifies as demisexual typically only feels sexual attraction toward a person with whom they have already established a strong emotional bond.
Some people who are demisexual may have no interest or only a slight interest in sexual activity.
A person who identifies as gay typically only feels sexual attraction toward people of the same gender.
Socially, people use this term to refer to men who are romantically and sexually attracted to men. However, those in the community use it as an umbrella term.
Gynesexual or gynosexual
People who identify as gynesexual feel sexual attraction toward women, females, and perceived femininity, irrespective of whether they were assigned female at birth.
Those who are heteroromantic may experience romantic attraction, but not necessarily sexual attraction, toward those of a different gender.
People who are heterosexual, or “straight,” typically feel sexual and romantic attraction toward people who are of a gender different than their own.
Homoromantic refers to people who are romantically attracted to those of a similar gender to their own. They may not feel sexual attraction toward these people, though.
Homosexuality is a term describing those who are emotionally and physically attracted to people of the same gender.
However, the LGBTQIA Resource Center states that this term is outdated and may have negative connotations due to the past.
Those who identify as lesbian are usually women who feel sexual and romantic attraction toward other women.
Some nonbinary people — those who do not identify with the traditional binary sexes of male and female — may also identify as lesbians. This may be because they feel a closer connection to womanhood and are mainly attracted to women.
Monosexual is an umbrella term encompassing all sexual orientations that feel a romantic or sexual attraction toward only one gender.
The sexual orientations that come under this term include heterosexuality, gay, and lesbian.
Multisexual is a broad term that encompasses all sexual orientations in which people are attracted to more than one gender.
Some sexual orientations that come under this term are bisexual and omnisexual.
Pansexual and omnisexual
These sexual orientations refer to people who feel attraction toward people of all genders and sexes.
A typical identifier for people with this orientation is that gender is not a factor in sexual or romantic attraction.
While there is overlap between these two terms and bisexuality and polysexuality, some people may prefer to use one term over another.
This term refers to those who experience romantic attraction, but not sexual attraction, toward people of any gender or sex.
People who identify as polysexual feel sexual or romantic attraction toward more than one gender.
People of all sexualities under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella may also identify as queer.
Historically, many people used the word queer as a slur. People belonging to LGBTQIA+ communities may now choose to use this term to reclaim it.
It is generally not a good idea for people outside of these communities to use this term.
People’s sexuality can be fluid. This means that their sexual orientation is not fixed, and they may not define themselves by any particular sexuality.
People who identify as skoliosexual typically only feel attraction toward people who are nonbinary.
Spectrasexual is a term that describes those who are romantically and sexually attracted to multiple sexes, genders, and gender identities but not all of them.
Some people suggest that sexuality exists on a spectrum or sliding scale.
The Kinsey Scale, first published in 1948, acknowledges that many people may not identify as heterosexual or homosexual.
The scale has six ratings, with an additional category:
- 0: Exclusively heterosexual
- 1: Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
- 2: Predominantly heterosexual but more than incidentally homosexual
- 3: Equally heterosexual and homosexual
- 4: Predominantly homosexual but more than incidentally heterosexual
- 5: Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
- 6: Exclusively homosexual
- X: No socio-sexual contacts or reactions
Although groundbreaking at the time, the scale now presents some issues as it does not address all possible sexual orientations and identities.
Learn more about the Kinsey Scale.
The Trevor Project suggests that there are a variety of spectrums focusing on a person’s:
- biological sex
- gender identity
- gender expression
- gender presentation
- sexual orientation
At one end of the sexual orientation spectrum, a person may only be attracted to women, and at the other end, a person may only be attracted to men.
In the middle of the spectrum are those who feel a range of sexual and romantic attraction toward different genders and sexes.
It is important to remember that a person can feel different types of attraction toward different genders. For example, a person may feel sexual attraction toward one or more genders and romantic attraction toward different genders.
Also, a person may identify with one sexual orientation and experience different levels of sexual and romantic attraction within that orientation. For example, one person who identifies as bisexual may greatly prefer women over men, and another may experience greater romantic attraction toward women but stronger sexual attraction toward other genders.
A person’s sexuality determines who they feel romantic or sexual attraction toward. People may feel that labeling their sexuality helps them deal with any oppression or difficulties they face. It may also help them find a community in which they can share their experiences.
People may also find it helpful to know the terms describing other sexual orientations. By knowing the terminology, people can better understand another person’s sexuality.
Do people need to identify their sexual orientation?
People do not necessarily need to identify as one type of sexual orientation.
People’s sexual orientation can change over time. They may also sit under an umbrella term but not find a label that accurately describes their experience.
However, some individuals may find that choosing a label for their sexual or romantic orientation helps them form communities with others who may share similar experiences.
Some groups and clinics that people can turn to for support include:
- The Trevor Project: This organization describes itself as providing information and support to the LGBTQ community.
- Audre Lorde Project: Based in New York City, this organization promotes social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit, trans and gender nonconforming (LGBTSTGNC) People of Color.
- Zuna Institute: This advocacy organization for Black lesbians focuses on the areas of health, public policy, economic development, and education.
- National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance: This organization states that it “empowers LGBTQ+ Asians and Pacific Islanders through movement capacity building, policy advocacy, and representation.”
- The American Institute of Bisexuality: Also known as the Bi Foundation, this organization supports people who identify as bisexual.
- CenterLink: People in the United States, Australia, Canada, Colombia, China, and Uganda can use this website to find local LGBTQIA+ community centers.
- Equality Federation: This federation provides a directory of statewide LGBTQIA+ organizations.
Learn more about mental health resources.
What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?
LGBTQIA+ is an inclusive term that includes people of all sexual identities and gender identities.
LGBTQIA+ stands for:
- questioning or queer
The ‘+’ refers to members of other LGBTQIA+ communities and allies.
What does ‘closeted’ mean?
The term “closeted” refers to those who have not disclosed their gender identity or sexual orientation. There are many reasons why a person might not wish to let others know their gender or sexual identity. For example, they may fear how people around them will react.
It is important to remember that no one is under any obligation to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation if they do not wish to do so. It is also important never to reveal another person’s gender identity or sexual orientation without their permission, which is an action that others may refer to as “outing”.
A person’s sexual orientation describes whom they feel romantic and sexual attraction toward.
Sexuality can exist on a spectrum, and people do not have to feel sexual and romantic attraction at the same time or toward the same gender.