Sexual orientation, also known as sexuality,[1] refers to a person's sexual attractions (or lack thereof) toward other people.[1][2] It is not defined by sexual activity, which can be independent of a person's orientation.[2] It also is not equivalent to a person's gender, but the most common terms use the language of the gender binary (male or female).[1]

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Examples of sexual orientations


An abrosexual pride flag

Abrosexual people experience their sexual orientation as fluid and/or changing over time. Although other kinds of fluidity may involve changes in the genders someone is attracted to, abrosexuality involves someone's entire orientation changing over time. The intensity of their attractions may change as well.[3] There is no set schedule experienced by all abrosexual people; it may fluctuate between hours, days, weeks, months, or even years for their orientations to change. Some abrosexual individuals do have their own fixed patterns or schedules, but not all. Some may be fluid between a few orientations, while others are fluid between several.[4]

Because abrosexual people can sometimes be asexual, abrosexuality can fall under the asexual spectrum. It also falls under the multisexuality umbrella, which includes people who are romantically or sexuality attracted to multiple genders.[4]


An achillean pride flag

Achillean refers to a man or man-aligned individual who is attracted to other men and men-aligned people.[note 1] This describes all sexual orientations where someone male or man-aligned is attracted to others, serving as an umbrella term for men and non-binary people who are gay, pansexual, bisexual, queer, or other sexualities in which men or man-aligned individuals identifying as those orientations can be attracted to men and men-aligned people. It is similar to and sometimes known as men loving men (MLM).[5]


The asexual pride flag

Asexual refers to people who do not experience sexual attraction toward others.[6] They may experience other forms of attraction, such as romantic, sensual, or aesthetic attraction. Asexuality is a sexual orientation,[7] not a gender identity, behavior, or medical condition. Some asexual people choose to engage in sexual activities for various reasons despite not experiencing sexual feelings and desire toward any particular person.[8] Asexuality is part of the asexual spectrum (abbreviated "ace spectrum"), an umbrella term and a broad community of identities that are closely related to asexuality when placed on a spectrum ranging from asexual to sexual.[6]


The bisexual pride flag

Bisexual is a label that describes attraction to two or more genders on the gender spectrum.[9][10] Some bisexual people have a preference toward one or several genders, while others do not.[11] An alternate definition is the sexual attraction to one's own gender and different gender(s).[12]


A ceterosexual pride flag

Ceterosexual,[3] also known as skoliosexual[3][13][14] or allotroposexual,[15] refers to sexual attraction to non-binary[3][13][14] and/or potentially binary transgender people,[14][15] sometimes exclusively.[3] People who are ceterosexual may or may not be attracted to cisgender individuals, especially those who break gender roles, though this definition is disputed.[15][16]


The demisexual pride flag

Demisexual is a term used to describe those who do not experience sexual attraction to others unless they form a strong emotional bond with someone first. Demisexual people may still experience romantic attraction, but until a deep connection is formed, there is no sexual attraction involved. They may have little to no interest in sex and may only experience sexual attraction rarely, but that is not the case with all demisexuals.[17]

Another definition is a person who does not experience primary sexual attraction, defined as sexual attraction that is based on sight, smell, or other instantly available information. In this definition, demisexuals experience secondary sexual attraction after knowing more about the person than just their looks; how much demisexuals need to know about said person and for how long they need to know about them for secondary sexual attraction to develop varies from person to person.[18] After secondary sexual attraction is developed, demisexuals may or may not experience arousal or desire based on the physical traits of the persons they already experience secondary sexual attraction towards; usually they are not only aroused by personality traits.[19][20]

Demisexuality is included on the asexual spectrum, but demisexual people can be gay, straight, bisexual, or any other orientation in addition to being demisexual.[21]


The modern version of the rainbow flag is commonly used as a gay pride flag

Gay is an adjective referring to those with an enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to people of the same gender.[22] This is most commonly associated with men,[23] as a gay woman may prefer to use the term "lesbian" instead.[24][25] Queer and bisexual are also among the terms used for those who are attracted to members of the same gender.[26] In a broader sense of the word, gay can also be used as an umbrella term to identify any LGBTQIA+ individual,[27] though some note that doing so excludes other sexual orientations and gender identities and should thus be avoided.[28]

"Gay" as an identity is defined by the attraction and self-identification as such rather than having had any sexual experience with people of the same gender.[2] Thus, having had sexual intercourse with someone of the same gender does not make anyone gay by definition. There is not just one way to experience same-sex attraction, nor is there a set period in life to discover that you experience it. While some may know that they experience same-sex attraction from a young age, it can take others decades to figure it out or be comfortable enough with their identity to acknowledge it to themselves and others.[29]

Being gay is also referred to as "homosexuality" and thus forms the counterpart of "heterosexuality", the sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite gender.[30] However, controversy has arisen surrounding the use of the word "homosexuals" to refer to gay people, as it has been considered an outdated term that is derogatory and offensive to many lesbian and gay people due to its usage by anti-LGBTQIA+ individuals to imply that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered.[31]


Heterosexual, or straight, refers to an individual who feels sexual attraction to people of a gender different than their own,[2] or, someone who feels sexual attraction to the opposite gender when referring to cisgender individuals who are either male or female.[32] A person who is both cisgender and heterosexual is sometimes referred to as "cishet".[2] Within the Split Attraction Model, its romantic equivalent is heteroromantic.[33]


The community lesbian pride flag

Lesbian, a term with multiple definitions, is most often defined as a woman who is attracted to other women romantically, sexually, or both.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43] The term is generally used as a self-identification of sexual or romantic orientation.[43] Although lesbians are frequently defined as women who are exclusively attracted to women,[35] another definition is women primarily attracted to other women.[42] Some prefer to use or additionally use "gay" or "gay woman" as an identifier.[44]

Definitions vary in whether or not they use expanded language, such as a person who self-describes as a woman,[42] or phrasing that explicitly includes people who do not identify only as women, such as woman-aligned[note 2][44] and some genderqueer and/or non-binary people who feel a connection to womanhood.[45] Lesbians may be cisgender or transgender;[35][46][47] since gender is a separate concept from sexual orientation, someone may be both trans and lesbian.[note 3][35][46] Based upon assigned gender at birth, and prior to realizing their gender identity and transitioning, some trans women identify as straight and some trans men identify as lesbians based on their attractions to women. Trans women sometimes subsequently understand and identify themselves as lesbian; trans men may or may not remain in or be accepted by lesbian communities after they transition as men. This does not mean that all butch or otherwise masculine lesbians are transgender.[48]

Certain lesbians have used the label to describe their gender in addition to their attractions.[49] In the 2021 Gender Census, an annual online international survey of people who do not strictly identify with the gender binary, participants indicated their personal identifiers; the item "lesbian (partially or completely in relation to gender)" was selected by 12.9% of the participants.[50]

For over a century, lesbians have debated who shares their identity and is part of the lesbian community.[51] They have variously been defined based on sexual behaviors, sexual attractions, or self-identifying with the label. For instance, women who self-identify as both bisexual and lesbian[note 4] would not be included in a definition that specifies lesbians are only oriented toward women, but would be in a broader definition that encompasses other labels.[53]


The omnisexual pride flag

Omnisexuality is the sexual attraction to people of all sexes and gender identities, wherein gender plays a role in one's attraction. This could be a preference or a recognization and that attraction feels differently depending on the gender or sex.[54] Some omnisexual people may be more attracted to certain genders, but that is not always the case.[55]


The pansexual pride flag

Pansexuality is the sexual attraction toward people regardless of their sex or gender identity.[56] Since gender or sex are not determining factors in who a pansexual person is attracted to, some pansexuals might call themselves gender-blind, therefore rejecting the gender binary.[57]


The polysexual pride flag

Polysexuality is the sexual attraction to various, but not necessarily all, genders.[58] A polysexual person may experience sexual attraction to any number of genders, varying between (at least) two and many. Polysexual individuals may have a preference when it comes to which gender they are attracted to, but this is not necessarily the case.[59]


A common queer flag

Queer is an identifier for individuals and/or the community of people who are not cisgender heterosexual.[31][2] It can be used instead of, or in addition to, other identifiers of sexual orientation, such as lesbian, bisexual, or gay. Queer can also refer to gender identity or gender expression,[31] whether as a standalone term or part of another like genderqueer.[60] The "Q" in LGBTQIA+ and similar acronyms commonly means Queer.[31] As a reclaimed word, it has been used in fights for LGBTQIA+ rights and liberation[61] as an inclusive and sometimes defiant term. PFLAG[2] and GLAAD[31] are two of the organizations that recommend only using it for people who self-identify as queer because it has varying meanings and is not universally accepted.[31][2] In addition, the term may be used in preference to other identifiers by members, for a variety of reasons.[62]


A sapphic pride flag

Sapphic, sometimes known as women loving women (WLW),[63] or sapphist,[64] refers to a woman or woman-aligned person of any sexual orientation who is attracted to other women and/or women-aligned individuals.[63][2] Another definition is specifically inclusive of non-binary people.[63] It is an umbrella term for many identities, including those who are lesbian, pansexual, bisexual, or queer.[2] It is used to promote solidarity among women and non-binary people of all identities who are attracted to those who are women and woman-aligned. It may also be used as an identity, and may be found particularly useful for individuals who know they are attracted to women but may be uncertain if they are attracted to other genders.[65] It can also be used to describe a relationship between two women.[66][67]

See also


  1. Gender identity is a personal experience, so defining "man-aligned" may lead to different answers depending on whom you ask, but it generally refers to a non-binary person who is partially aligned or identifies with being male, with masculinity, and/or with manhood. They may or may not individually identify with this term, and their identity may be fluid between others. Its use here attempts to encapsulate multiple identities without listing each possibility.
  2. Gender identity is a personal experience, so defining "woman-aligned" may lead to different answers depending on whom you ask, but it generally refers to a non-binary person who is partially aligned or identifies with being female, with femininity, and/or with womanhood. They may or may not individually identify with this term, and their identity may be fluid between others. Its use here attempts to encapsulate multiple identities without listing each possibility.
  3. While transgender people are generally implied in definitions, trans lesbians are explicitly noted here to make clear that lesbian identity is not limited to cisgender women.
  4. Examples of labels used to self-identify as both lesbian and bisexual include bisexual lesbian, bi-lesbian, and lesbian-identified bisexual.[52]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Trans Language Primer: "Sexuality / Sexual Orientation". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on November 2, 2021).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 PFLAG: "National Glossary of Terms". (Archived on January 25, 2022).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Hardell, Ash. The ABC's of LGBT+. Mango Media Inc., 2016. ISBN 9781633534087.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "LGBTQ+ 101- What does abrosexual mean?" (2021-06-21). Gay Times.
  5. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus (LGBTQ+) Resource Center: "Glossary of Terms". (Archived on November 18, 2021).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Asexual Visibility and Education Network: "General FAQ". Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (Archived on January 8, 2022).
  7. Asexual Visibility and Education Network: "Overview". Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (Archived on December 17, 2021).
  8. The Trans Language Primer: "Asexual". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on October 28, 2021).
  9. American Psychological Association: "Understanding Bisexuality".
  10. Bisexual Resource Center: "What is Bisexuality?".
  11. "What is Bisexuality?" (2022).
  12. "Bisexuality: What Does It Mean?" (2021-06-28). WebMD.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Holleb, Morgan Lev Edward. The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9781784506636.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Dyer, Harriet. The Little Book of LGBTQ+: An A-Z of Gender and Sexual Identities. Summersdale Publishers, 2021. ISBN 9781787839748.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "6 Things to Know About the Term Skoliosexual".
  16. "What is Ceterosexuality?".
  17. The Trans Language Primer: "Demisexual". The Trans Language Primer.
  21. "What Is Demisexuality?". WebMD.
  22. "What is LGBTQ?". The Center - The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
  23. "LGBTQ+ Glossary of Terms". Out Alliance.
  24. GLAAD: "Glossary of Terms - Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Queer". GLAAD Media Reference Guide - 10th Edition. (Archived on September 26, 2021).
  25. PFLAG: "National Glossary of Terms". (Archived on January 25, 2022).
  26. Stollznow, Karen (Ph.D.): "Why Is the Word "Homosexual" Considered to Be Offensive?" (2021-05-17). Psychology Today.
  27. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "Gay Definition".
  28. PFLAG: "National Glossary of Terms". (Archived on January 25, 2022).
  29. "What Is Homosexuality?". WebMD.
  30. Stollznow, Karen (Ph.D.): "Why Is the Word "Homosexual" Considered to Be Offensive?" (2021-05-17). Psychology Today.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 GLAAD: "Glossary of Terms - Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Queer". GLAAD Media Reference Guide - 10th Edition. (Archived on September 26, 2021).
  32. "Heterosexual".
  33. The Trans Language Primer: "Split Attraction Model (SAM)". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on December 8, 2021).
  34. Davis, Chloe O.. The Queens' English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2021. ISBN 9780593135013. "Lesbian: adjective: As a woman, having a sexual and emotional attraction toward other women." […] "noun: A lesbian woman."
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 Holleb, Morgan Lev Edward. The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9781784506636. "LESBIAN — A woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to women. Lesbian can mean women who are attracted exclusively to other women, but it is also a broader term for women and femmes who are attracted to other women and femmes. This includes bisexual and pansexual women, asexual women who are romantically attracted to women, and non-binary people who identify with womanhood."
  36. Huegel Madrone, Kelly. LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens. Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 2018. ISBN 9781631983023. "lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to other women."
  37. Martínez, Elena M.. Lesbian Voices From Latin America. Routledge, 2017. ISBN 9781351817899. "In this book, the word 'lesbian' is used to refer to the representation of women who have erotic and sexual interest in each other and whose fundamental emotional connections are with other women. My definition coincides with the one proposed by Catherine R. Simpson and Charlotte Bunch, for whom both the erotic and sexual involvement of women is intrinsic to the definition of lesbianism."
  38. Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. The National Academies Press, 2011. ISBN 9780309210621. "Lesbian—As an adjective, used to refer to female same-sex attraction and sexual behavior; as a noun, used as a sexual orientation identity label by women whose sexual attractions and behaviors are exclusively or mainly directed to other women."
  39. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "Lesbian". "Lesbian: (adj.) of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to other women or between women" […] "(noun) woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to other women : a gay woman" (Archived on December 3, 2021).
  40. Coalition of African Lesbians: "Violence based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa" (PDF). "Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to other women." (Archived on December 28, 2021).
  41. ILGA-Europe: "ILGA-Europe Glossary". "Lesbian: A woman who is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to women." (as PDF)
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 LGBTIQ+ Health Australia: "'LGBTI' people and communities" (2019-06-28). "A lesbian is a person who self-describes as a woman and who has experiences of romantic, sexual, and/or affectional attraction solely or primarily to other people who self-describe as women. Some women use other language to describe their relationships and attractions." (Archived on April 20, 2021).
  43. 43.0 43.1 Stonewall: "List of LGBTQ+ terms". "Lesbian: Refers to a woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term." (Archived on November 17, 2021).
  44. 44.0 44.1 McNabb, Charlie. Queer Adolescence: Understanding the Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual Youth. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781538132814. "Lesbians are women or woman-aligned people who are sexually or romantically attracted to other women or woman-aligned people. Some lesbians prefer to identify as gay or as gay woman."
  45. Hardell, Ash. The Gay BC's of LGBT+: An Accompaniment to The ABC's of LGBT+. Mango Media Inc., 2017-11-09. "Lesbian: This term is commonly used to refer to women who are attracted to other women. However, some non-binary and/or genderqueer people who feel a connection to womanhood and who are attracted to women, also identify with this term." (web archive)
  46. 46.0 46.1 The Trans Language Primer: "Lesbian". The Trans Language Primer. "Lesbian: Someone, who can be transgender or cisgender, who generally considers themself to be a woman who is attracted to other women. This attraction does not have to be exclusively to women, though many are exclusively attracted to women. Being a lesbian is separate from the concept of gender, and so it is possible for a trans person to be both trans and lesbian. Also, it is generally understood that people who are trans and lesbian are attracted to people of the same broad category of gender, not necessarily of the same trans status." (Archived on October 22, 2021).
  47. DIVA Media Group, et al.: "Not in our name" (2018-12-18). DIVA. "DIVA, Curve, Autostraddle, LOTL, Tagg, Lez Spread The Word, DapperQ, GO Magazine and LezWatch.TV believe that trans women are women and that trans people belong in our community. We do not think supporting trans women erases our lesbian identities; rather we are enriched by trans friends and lovers, parents, children, colleagues and siblings." (Archived on June 29, 2021).
  48. Cromwell, James. "Transgender". Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Zimmerman, Bonnie (editor), Garland Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0815319207. (web archive)
  49. Calhoun, Cheshire. "The Gender Closet: Lesbian Disappearance under the Sign 'Women'". Feminist Studies. vol. 21, no. 1, Spring 1995. (web archive)
  50. "[GC2021 Worldwide Raw Data - DO NOT EDIT]" (Google Sheets).
  51. Whisnant, Clayton J.. Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880–1945. Harrington Park Press, 2016. ISBN 9781939594105.
  52. Weise, Elizabeth Reba. Closer to Home: Bisexuality & Feminism. Elizabeth Reba Weise (ed.), Seal Press, 1992. (web archive)
  53. "Defining 'Lesbian'". Lesbian Health: Current Assessment and Directions for the Future. Solarz, Andrea L., National Academies Press, 1999. "There is no standard definition of lesbian. The term has been used to describe women who have sex with women, either exclusively or in addition to sex with men (i.e., behavior); women who self-identify as lesbian (i.e., identity); and women whose sexual preference is for women (i.e., desire or attraction)." […] "To the extent that lesbian is defined only by sexual activity with other women, bisexual women may then be included in the category of lesbian. If other definitions of lesbian are used, such as self-identification as lesbian or attraction to women, then a different group is identified that may or may not include women who self-identify as bisexual." (web archive)
  54. "What Is Omnisexual?". WebMD.
  55. "Omnisexual: A Closer Look at Omnisexuality". Queers for a Cause.
  56. Human Rights Campaign: "Glossary of Terms".
  57. Admin Silverchip: "What it Means to be Pansexual or Panromantic" (2019-05-21).
  58. Hardell, Ash. The Gay BC's of LGBT+: An Accompaniment to The ABC's of LGBT+. Mango Media Inc., 2017-11-09. (web archive)
  59. "What Is Polysexuality?". WebMD.
  60. Cassian: "Gender Census 2021: Worldwide Report" (2021-04-01). Gender Census. (Archived on November 21, 2021).
  61. The Trans Language Primer: "Queer". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on November 5, 2021).
  62. Scherrer, Kristin: "Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire" (October 1, 2008). National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  63. 63.0 63.1 63.2 Chandra: "Why 'Sapphic' Is Back In Style" (2021-08-09). Autostraddle. (Archived on August 13, 2021).
  64. "Sapphic/Sapphist".
  65. Queer in the World: "What Does Sapphic Mean? + Other Sapphic Information".
  66. The Sex and Secrets Column: "5 Reasons Why I Recommend Being in a Sapphic Relationship".
  67. etymonline: "Etymology, origin and meaning of sapphic". Online Etymology Dictionary.