Understanding Sexual Orientation

Understanding Sexual Orientation

  • Sexual orientation – A person’s identity based on emotional and/or physical attraction to individuals of a different gender, the same gender, or more than one gender. Sexual orientation can also be seen as a complex mix of an individual’s identity, attraction and behaviour. However, identity is the most important aspect as sexual orientation can only be determined by the individual; attraction and/or behaviour alone do not determine someone’s sexual orientation.


  • Lesbian - Refers to a woman who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to other women.


  • Gay - Refers to someone who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of the same gender.

Some women prefer to refer to themselves as gay women rather than lesbian, although the word gay is most commonly used in reference to men.

  • Bisexual – A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of more than one gender or regardless of gender. Historically definitions of bisexual refer to ‘an attraction towards men and women’ however many bisexual people recognise that there are more than two genders.


  • Heterosexual/Straight - Used to describe people who are emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of the ‘opposite’ gender.


  • Asexual - A person who does not experience sexual attraction.  Asexual people can experience platonic attraction but may have no sexual desire or need within their relationships.


  • Pansexual – A person who is emotionally and/or physically attracted to people of more than one gender or regardless of gender. Some people use the term pansexual rather than bisexual in order to be more explicitly inclusive of non-binary gender identities.


  • Queer – An umbrella term used for diverse sexual orientations or gender identities that are not heterosexual and do not fit within a gender binary. It may be used to challenge the idea of labels and categories such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It is important to note that it is an in-group term, and may be considered offensive to some people.


Other Terms (Sexual Orientation/ Sexuality)

  • Sexuality – Refers to the sum of various aspects of attraction and behaviour that add up to how a person expresses themselves as a sexual being. This includes the type(s) of partner a person is attracted to, the kinds of sexual activities they prefer and how they organise their relationships for example: monogamy or polyamory. Sexual orientation is an aspect of sexuality and is the more appropriate term when referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual identities.


  • Homosexual - A person whose emotional and/ or physical attraction is toward people of the same gender as themselves. Historically this term has been used to medicalise or criminalise lesbian and gay people and many experience it as a stigmatising term. It is now considered best practice to avoid it.


  • Demisexual – Characterised by a lack of sexual attraction toward any person unless they become deeply emotionally or romantically connected with a specific person or persons


  • Polyamorous/ Polyamory – Polyamory or polyamorous relationships involve more than two intimate partners, with the knowledge and consent of all involved. This relationship structure is not limited to LGBTI people nor do all LGBTI people enter into polyamorous relationships.