Sexuality, or sexual orientation, refers to who someone is or is not attracted to. Most people are familiar with only the most common LGBTQ+ types, but numerous other less-known ones exist. Learning about these sexual orientations and romantic feelings can help you better understand the variety of ways people experience and identify their sexuality.
What Is Sexuality?
Sexuality describes who a person does or does not feel physically or sexually attracted to. Many people assume sexuality is static, but it can be fluid and change over the course of a person’s life. Some people question their sexuality and some people spend time exploring sexuality. It’s important to never assume you know someone’s sexuality based on how they look or act, whom they currently have sex with, or who they are in a relationship with.
When people hear the word sexuality, they may think of biological or assigned sex and gender. You may also often hear the word “romantically” added alongside this definition. For example, some will note sexual orientation has to do with who a person is or is not attracted to romantically or sexually.
It’s important to note that sexual orientation, sex, and gender and are not the same, and for many LGBTQ+ folks, sexual orientation and romantic orientation are separate.
Sex, gender, and orientation can be described as:
- Biological sex (assigned sex): A person’s biological sex is determined at birth by hormones, genitals, and other genetic factors.1
- Gender: A person’s gender is the innermost concept of being male or female, both, or neither.2
- Sexual orientation: One’s sexual orientation refers to who an individual is or is not attracted to sexually.
- Romantic orientation: This is someone’s pattern of romantic attraction based on any number of factors, regardless of their sexual orientation. For example, someone may be sexually attracted to all genders but only be romantically involved with men.
What Are the Different Sexualities?
Sexuality is a large spectrum and includes more than just straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks. In fact, you’ll notice some of these terms are non-LGBTQ+ specific, meaning they can apply to cisgender heteronormative people, too.3 Knowing these terms is a great way to learn about yourself and where you fit in. It can also help you be a better ally to those in your life.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of different types of sexuality:
Allosexual refers to those who experience sexual attraction to others. Allosexual individuals can be bisexual, pansexual, queer, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, or so forth. Some note allosexual is the opposite of asexual.4
Allotroposexual is a relatively new term used to replace skoliosexual. It refers to individuals whose primary attraction is to transgender or non-binary individuals. The term does not refer to the fetish, sexualization, and objectification of trans people by cisgender individuals.
Androsexual individuals are attracted to masculinity regardless of the person’s sex or gender. For some, this could best be described as being attracted to masculine expression, presentation, or characteristics.
4. Asexual (Aces)
People who are asexual experience little or no sexual attraction to others or have limited to little desire for sexual contact. It’s important to remember not all asexual folks are repulsed or refuse sex. People who identify as asexual don’t always experience no desire for romance and may have many successful relationships regardless of sexual contact.
Someone who is bicurious has historically been heterosexual, but is considering or curious about engaging in sexual activity with an individual who may have a sex or gender different than their partners in the past. The word “curious” should always be used instead of confused to help decrease the shame and stigma often associated with non-heterosexual activity.
A bisexual individual experiences sexual attraction to both sexes and genders. Recent research shows that the bisexual+ or bi+ (an identity label that encompasses all non-monosexual identities) female population in the US is larger than that of lesbians, gay men, and bi+ men combined.5
Ceterosexual is another term used to describe an individual who is attracted to transgender or nonbinary individuals. The term does not refer to the fetish, sexualization, and objectification of trans people by cisgender individuals.
A person who is demisexual often feels sexual attraction after building an emotional bond or connection with someone. Those who are demisexual note they do not feel immediately attracted to individuals based on looks, smell, and other features.
Fluid individuals’ sexuality changes and is not fixed. Many folks can resonate with their sexuality being stable, but some feel their sexuality is ever-changing. Fluid individuals can also utilize other sexual orientation terms to describe themselves or may feel they do not resonate with any of them.
A gay man’s primary sexual attraction is to other men. This includes transgender men who are attracted to other men. Some have also used gay to refer to LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
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Graysexual individuals don’t identify as asexual, but also feel less sexual attraction than most folks. Therefore, they fall into the gray area of sexuality. It can be helpful to think of asexuality as a spectrum and see graysexual as a part of this spectrum.
Gynosexual individuals are attracted to femininity regardless of the person’s sex or gender. For some, this could best be described as being attracted to feminine expression, presentation, or characteristics.
Those attracted to individuals of the opposite sex or gender are referred to as heterosexual or “straight.” For example a woman who is attracted to men. Cisgender, transgender, and non-binary folks can all identify as heterosexual.
Homosexuality refers to those who are attracted to individuals of the same sex or gender. For example, a woman who is attracted to women. Cisgender, transgender, and non-binary folks can all identify as homosexual. However, many now feel this term is a bit outdated and clinical. The term is also now heavily used by many anti-LGBT groups, making it less used by LGBTQ+ folks and allies.
A lesbian woman’s primary sexual attraction is to other women. This includes transgender women who are attracted to other women whether cisgender, transgender, or non-binary. There is a common misconception lesbian women are also transmen. Remember, sexuality and gender are not the same.
16. Libidoist Asexual
These individuals are asexual, but experience sexual feelings and satisfy these through self-stimulation or masturbation. As mentioned above, asexual people are not always completely avoidant of sexual attraction, feelings, or urges. For some, satisfying these needs is more pleasurable without a partner.
Mono means “one”. Monosexual individuals are sexually attracted to one sex or gender only. These folks could be heterosexual or homosexual. Monosexual people may use this term for many reasons, whether it be homosexual or heterosexual doesn’t feel right for them, or they just want to use a more inclusive term.
Multisexual individuals are attracted to multiple sexes or genders. Historically, this term has been used to include those who may have sex characteristics outside of male or female and also to be inclusive of trans folks.
Individuals who are attracted to “all” individuals regardless of sex or gender often identify as omnisexual. Most LGBTQ+ folks grow up without language that represents their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and because of this have to create their own. While terms’ meanings may sound similar to you, they hold importance to the person using them, and this should be respected.
People who identify as pansexual are attracted to individuals regardless of their sex or gender. The original term was first coined by Sigmund Freud as “pan-sexualism.” The term has come a long way and even has its own history of advocacy and activism.
Poly stems from the Greek prefix for “many,” so polysexual individuals are attracted to multiple or many genders or sexes. Some people assume polysexual is the same as polyamory, but they are not used interchangeably. Polysexual folks also do not always engage in polyamorous relationships.
Queer is an umbrella term used for those who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Queer was historically used as a slur to refer to LGBTQ+ individuals, but in recent years has been liberated and taken back by the community. It’s important to remember the history of the term and realize there are still some LGBTQ+ individuals who consider this term offensive or degrading. Therefore, it’s important to only use the term if someone has expressed comfort with it.
Sapiosexual individuals experience sexual attraction based on intelligence vs. sex or gender. Both LGBTQ+ folks and heterosexual folks can be sapiosexual. Sapiosexual individuals may also still find physical characteristics or qualities attractive, but it is not the most important.
Skoliosexual individuals are attracted to those who are transgender or non-binary. This term has become controversial in nature and is no longer a preferred term. Instead, the above terms of Allotroposexual and Ceterosexual are used.
The term does not refer to the fetish, sexualization, and objectification of trans people by cisgender individuals. However, it has been used in this way, putting trans folks in danger. The controversy also stems from the meaning of “scolio” which means “crooked,” “bent,” or “twisted” and carries negative connotations.6
Spectrasexual individuals are attracted to multiple sexes and genders, but not necessarily all or any. At times there can be some debate about the use of spectrasexual. Some people find the term problematic, as they feel it provides an avenue for certain folks to be discriminated against. Others feel it gives them the fluidity they desire.
Types of Romantic Orientations
Many people assume romantic orientation and sexual orientation are the same, but there are differences between romantic and sexual attraction. While many individuals do not differentiate between the two, some people find it important to do so
Here is a non-exhaustive list of common romantic orientations:
- Alloromantic: those who experience romantic attraction to others. Similar to allosexual, but used when referring to romantic relationships versus sexual relationships.
- Aromantic (Aro): those who experience little to no romantic attraction. Aro folks can and may have successful relationships. Another important note is that someone who is aromantic may not also be asexual and vice versa.
- Autoromantic: those who experience their relationship with themselves as romantic. Autoromantic has been known to fall under the ace and aro umbrella and may be used instead of those terms.
- Biromantic: individuals who experience romantic attraction to both sexes and genders. Similar to bisexual, but not used in conjunction.
- Ceteromantic: romantic attraction to transgender or non-binary individuals. Like ceterosexual, the term is commonly used by transgender or non-binary folks.
- Demiromantic: someone who develops romantic feelings or attraction when they build an emotional connection to the person. Demiromantic folks may not feel they are demisexual and vice versa.
- Heteroromantic: those who experience romantic attraction to someone of the opposite sex or gender. Cisgender, transgender, and non-binary folx can all be heteroromantic.
- Homoromantic: those who experience romantic attraction to someone of the same sex or gender. For example, someone may be asexual and homoromantic, meaning they experience limited sexual attraction and form relationships with those of the same sex and gender.
Sexuality Is a Spectrum
As mentioned above, sexuality is a spectrum, and it’s okay if you don’t feel attached to one term or if you question your sexuality at times. In fact, this is exactly why there are so many terms used. Language is always evolving to better fit people, and sexuality is no different. It’s also important to remember sexuality does not have to be a constant. For example, someone may come out as a lesbian but later in life feel bisexual fits best. There can be a lot of pressure, even within the LGBTQ+ community, to “pick one,” but know you don’t have to. Your sexuality is just that…your own.
Why Is Sexuality & Sexual Identity Important?
For many, sexuality provides a way to connect with others and form meaningful relationships. For LGBTQ+ individuals, being in touch with sexuality and sexual identity also provides access to community and support. Sexuality and sexual identity are part of every person. For some, sexuality and sexual identity are central to who they are, while it may be more of an afterthought for others. No matter the role, sexuality and sexual identity are important to most individuals.
Where to Get Support if Your Sexuality Is Not Accepted
If you find support is limited, or you are rejected, know you are not alone. Unfortunately, thousands of LGBTQ+ folks come out and have negative experiences, but there is a growing list of resources available.
When your sexuality is not accepted, it can increase or fuel feelings of shame, sadness, anger, or guilt. It can also lead to increased alcohol and drug use. In fact, in 2016 the LGBTQ+ community was identified as a “health disparity population” by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.7
The primary health disparity for LGBTQ+ individuals surrounds minority stress, which refers to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that creates a hostile and stressful social environment. All this to say, many LGBTQ+ folks are likely to struggle with anxiety and depression, not because they are LGBTQ+, but because of being LGBTQ+. There is no shame in reaching out for professional help, and there are ways to find an LGBTQ+ therapist, including platforms that offer LGBTQ+ online therapy.8
Sexuality is an important part of identity, and knowing these definitions can help you figure out who you are or can help you be a better ally to those in your life. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers at once or ever!