What Is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation has to do with the persons whom you are attracted to and want to have a relationship with. It is about you in relation to the persons you feel emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to. The idea is completely different from gender identity. Gender identity is not about the kind of person to whom you are attracted, whether sexually or romantically. Rather, it defines what you are, e.g., male, female, or transgender. Sexual orientations include all types of individuals, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, and asexual.
A Note on Transgenderism
One should not see transgenderism as a sexual orientation. Transgenderism has nothing to do with being gay, lesbian, or straight. Sexual orientation describes a person based on whom they want to be with, while transgenderism refers to having a gender identity or expression that differs from one’s conventionally-assigned sex.
Commonly-Known Sexual Orientations
- Individuals who are attracted to the opposite gender are often called straight or heterosexual, for example, women who are attracted towards men and men who are attracted to women.
- Individuals who are attracted to other individuals of the same gender as theirs are often called gay or homosexual. Women who fall under this category prefer to call themselves lesbians.
- Individuals who are attracted to both men and women are often termed bisexual.
- Individuals who are uncertain about their sexual orientations can describe themselves as curious or questioning.
- Individuals who do not experience any sexual attraction toward anyone are often termed asexual.
- Individuals whose sexual attractions span across different gender identities can call themselves queer or pansexual.
Not everyone likes to be labeled with the above terms and definitions. Some feel comfortable with certain labels while others do not find them accurate. In the end, the label by which one wants to be called, assuming one wants a label, is really up to the individual.
The Kinsey Scale
The Kinsey scale was developed in the year 1948 by renowned doctors Alfred Kinsey, Clyde Martin, and Wardell Pomeroy. The scale organizes sexuality into a gradient scale of zero to six. Zero represents exclusive heterosexuality, and six exclusive homosexuality, while the numbers in between represent various levels or degrees of bisexuality.
The scale is based on an individual's sexual experiences; each number accounts for how different instances of heterosexual or homosexual sexual interactions imply one’s sexual orientation. This scale is still referred to in modern literature, although more current models have been developed to further explore the full spectrum of sexual orientation.
The main purpose of these models is to show that sexuality lies on a continuum, rather than in separate boxes, and can change over the course of an individual’s life. When a person’s sexuality changes, it does not mean that sexual orientation is a choice or preference. The consensus among psychologists is that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be altered at will. It is the result of the interplay between genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors, and one need not have any sexual experience to have knowledge of one's sexual orientation.
Even though sexuality is not binary, there does exist a binary categorization that describes the general types of sexual orientation: monosexual and plurisexual. Individuals who are monosexual are attracted to a single gender. This category includes homosexuals and heterosexuals. Plurisexual people, meanwhile, are attracted to more than one gender.
More on Various Sexual Orientations
Androphilia, or androsexuality: Androphilia is defined as attraction towards men or masculinity. For example, a heterosexual woman's or a gay man's attraction to men is seen as androphilia, since both individuals are sexually interested in males. Androsexuality is often used as a synonym for androphilia.
Aromanticism: This is the absence of any romantic desire for anyone, hence, a person who has no such feelings is considered aromantic. It should be noted that being aromantic is not the same as being asexual.
Asexuality: This is the absence of any feeling of sexual attraction, or having little-to-completely-no desire to be part of any sexual activity. Studies reveal that it can be defined as those in whom sexual behavior or sexual attraction is absent. Asexual people may desire a romantic relationship, either with the same or different gender, but do not necessarily enjoy or desire sexual pleasure.
Bisexuality: An individual who is referred to as bisexual is attracted to people of his or her own gender and another gender as well. In simple terms, one can say that such people are attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily equally. In some cases, individuals have a preference for one gender over the other. Such people often feel invisible in society. People often perceive bisexual men as more homosexual than bisexual, and bisexuals often receive more criticism and suffer more discrimination than homosexuals and are rejected by both the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
Demisexuality: This is a gray area between sexuality and asexuality. Demisexuality is expressed in individuals who usually do not feel sexually attracted towards another person unless they are emotionally involved with that person. It relates to the formation of committed relationships, but does not allow for physical relationships without the necessary element of an emotional bond. The emotional bonding necessary to arouse sexual attraction can range from a short, intense period of closeness, to a close friendship of many years. A sexual interaction prior to sexual attraction may not necessarily help the formation of an emotional bond. Rather, the emotional bond must be present in order for sexual attraction to develop. Demisexual people do not wish to have sex before forming an emotional relationship.
Gynesexuality: Individuals who are erotically involved or attracted to females are known as gynephilic. This sexual orientation does not involve the individual’s gender, but simply denotes their sexual attraction to feminine qualities.
Heterosexuality: This orientation is used to describe an individual who is physically, emotionally, and romantically attracted to individuals of the opposite sex. For example, men who are attracted to women are considered heterosexual. Heterosexuals are the dominant group in terms of sexual orientation. Heterosexuality is mostly thought of as a sexual, romantic and emotional attraction towards the opposite sex and the existence of more than just two sexes makes this definition obsolete. The definition of heterosexuality also assumes that “sex” and “gender” words can be used interchangeably. Those individuals who are often identified as heterosexual prefer to be called as straight and hence treated as a member of the societal sexual majority. Heterosexual individuals have no issues in expressing their love publicly. They can show their affection, kiss hug or even hold hands without any fear of being criticized by anyone. They can also have children and start their own family. These individuals can marry whenever and wherever they want without facing any kind of opposition.
Homosexuality: An individual who identifies as homosexual is one who is sexually or romantically involved with a person of the same gender, for example, a man who is attracted to another man. Men in this category are referred to as gay, and women are referred to as lesbians. The society has its own way of labeling those who do not follow their set of rules and hence ostracizes them by associating them with negative characteristics and hurtful stereotypes.
Pansexuality: This term is derived from the Greek prefix “pan,” meaning “all." Individuals in this category are attracted to individuals irrespective of the other person's sex or gender identity. To pansexuals, neither sexual nor gender identity determines whether or not they are attracted sexually or romantically to another person; they identify themselves as "gender-blind." By saying pansexual it does not mean that the individual is attracted to anyone or everyone. The only thing is that they do not prefer any one gender for another. Pansexual people do not desire every other person they meet. Similar to bisexual, a pansexual individual can have a stronger or a weaker preference for a certain type of gender. This term is mostly used by those individuals who do not fit into homosexual or heterosexual categories.
Queer: This term serves as an umbrella term for those who are neither heterosexual nor cisgender (those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth). The term has been used to establish a community and an identity different from that of the gay community. People who call themselves queer seek a deliberately ambiguous alternative to traditional gender identities and sexual orientation labels, including LGBT.