People often mistake the terms gender, sex, and sexuality. It is important to understand the differences in order to better identify questions you may have about yourself and be able to discuss these issues in the correct way with other people you may encounter.
"Sexual orientation" is a term used to describe a person's romantic or sexual attraction toward others—whether it be heterosexual (male and female), homosexual (female and female or male and male), or bisexual (attracted to both males and females). Some people feel like they are born with a sexual orientation and have always known, while others feel like sexual orientation may evolve over the course of their lives.
"Sexual identity" refers to how a person chooses to express their sexuality to others. Typically, sexual identity will be an expression of a person's underlying sexual orientation. But sexual orientation and sexual identity do not always match. Sexual health information from the Kinsey Institute describes how some people choose a sexual identity that makes a political statement. For example, somebody that is bisexual (attracted to both males and females) may refer to themselves as pansexual (attracted to people regardless of biological sex, gender, or gender identity) to show support for transgender and intersex people. Further, people who identify as heterosexual can still experience a level of attraction to their same sex.
Sex refers to a person's physical anatomy or genetics. This usually refers to reproductive anatomy or genitalia the person has. Therefore, there can be a difference between the person's assigned sex at birth and what gender they identify with later in life.
Gender is used to describe a person's own, internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither. It is a social identity based on culturally defined concepts of masculinity and femininity. Gender does not always coincide with sex. A person could have reproductive female anatomy but identify as a man.
Sexual behavior is a behavior. Behavior does not define identity or orientation. Many people engage in homosexual behavior without identifying as homosexual. For example, a heterosexual male can engage in sexual behaviors with another male while still primarily being attracted to females.
Want to know more? Check out LGBT Alphabet Soup
Below are articles with information relating to sexual orientation, as well as a list of local and national resources for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.
- What If I'm Not Straight?, by college student writer: Anna Rafferty.
- Essay by Dr. Nancy Brown: "In Memory of Larry King," a teen murdered February 12, 2008 for being gay.
- The New Gay Teenager, book review by college student writer: Anna Rafferty.
- Homophobia, by college student writer: Anna Rafferty.
- Resources for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth
Back to top
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
The Trevor Project.
It Gets Better Project.