Terms to Know about Sexuality and Gender Identity

It can be hard to talk about sexuality and gender identity. For some, sexual orientation or gender identity feels like a taboo subject that isn’t suitable for discussion and should be kept private. For others, it might be a fear of saying the wrong words or phrases to someone else. There are many different terms that people use when talking about sexual orientation or gender identity, which can sometimes be confusing. Whether you are trying to understand your sexuality or gender identity or want to support someone you care about, these terms can help you have those conversations.

It’s important to remember that sexuality is a spectrum. Therefore, it means that there is a range of sexualities, and you might not feel one specific term defines you. Sexuality isn’t permanent; it is fluid and can change throughout your life.

Common Terminology for Sexuality and Gender Identity

Aromantic

Aromantic people experience little or no romantic attraction.  Aromantic (or aro) individuals can experience sexual attraction to other people, but they don’t desire romantic relationships with others.

Asexual

Asexual individuals (“ace” for short) experience little or no sexual attraction to others or have little desire for sexual contact. This doesn’t mean that they are grossed out by sex or sexual intimacy. They don’t have a strong desire for sex. Remember: just because someone is asexual does NOT mean that they aren’t interested in romantic relationships.

Bisexual

Someone who is bisexual (or “bi” for short) experiences emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to more than one gender. These attractions are not always at the same time or in the same way.

Cisgender

Cisgender is used to describe someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Demi-sexual

Demisexuality is when someone is not sexually attracted to another person until an emotional connection is established. Sexual attraction is not based on looks alone but on emotional connection and trust in another person. Someone who is demisexual can be attracted to any gender.

Gay

An individual who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. Men, women, and transgender individuals can all identify as gay.

Gender binary

The gender binary is a system in which gender is strictly defined as two categories: male and female. This system also expects gender identity to align with the sex assigned at birth and gender expressions and roles to fit a traditional expectation.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is a person’s innermost idea of who they are: male, female, a mix of both, or neither. Gender identity can align with their assigned sex at birth or can be different from it.

Genderqueer

Someone who is genderqueer typically rejects the idea of static gender identities. People who identify as ‘genderqueer’ embrace fluid gender identity and sexual orientation. They often see themselves as male and female, neither, or completely outside of these categories. Some people who identify as genderqueer use the term gender-fluid interchangeably.

Intersex

Intersex people are born with a variety of different sex traits and reproductive anatomy. There is a wide variety of what this can be, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, internal sex organs, and hormone production, to name a few.

Lesbian

A woman whose primary emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction is to other women. Women and non-binary people may use the term lesbian to describe themselves.

LGBTQIA+

An acronym standing for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual” with a plus sign to signify the limitless sexual orientations and gender identities used in the queer community.

Non-binary

Someone whose gender is not defined as male or female is non-binary. They do not fit into the gender binary. This is different from genderqueer because a non-binary person’s gender does not move between male or female; it is neither of those gender identities.

Pansexual

Someone who identifies as pansexual is attracted to people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

Polyamory

Polyamory is the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Also known as consensual nonmonogamy, these relationships can be sexual, romantic, or both. Polyamory can involve people of any sexuality or gender identity.

Queer

Queer is often used as an umbrella term for a person who is not straight. It expresses a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the gender binary. It is often used as a catch-all to include many people, including those who don’t identify exclusively as straight. This term was used as a slur towards the LGBTQIA+ community in the past. However, it has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQIA+ community. As with all the terms listed, use the term each person (friend, family, or classmate) uses, so you can respectfully acknowledge their identity and orientation.

Questioning

Questioning is a term used to describe someone who is in the process of figuring out their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sapiosexual

Sapiosexual refers to someone who is attracted to another person’s intelligence and finds that to be their most attractive quality. Someone who is sapiosexual may identify as any gender or sexuality.

Sexuality

Sexuality can be defined in many ways. It is the attitude, activities, and beliefs related to sex. A person’s sexuality defines who they are emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to. It is often used interchangeably with sexual orientation.

Straight

Someone who is straight is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender. Men, women, and transgender folks can all identify as straight.

Transgender

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a trans man is someone who was assigned as a woman at birth but identifies as a man. Some transgender people don’t exclusively identify with one gender (gender-fluid) or with any gender at all (non-binary). “Trans” can be used interchangeably with transgender.

Help is available.

It can take time to fully understand your sexual orientation or gender identity. These parts of ourselves are crucial to who we are, so it is important to reflect and understand the nuances. Remember, our advocates are available 24/7 to offer support and resources as you navigate these identities and their impacts on your relationships. You are not alone.