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 built-in and unchangeable. The term is 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 describes his or her sexuality and how that person expresses that self 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. One can have a homosexual orientation and choose to outwardly express a heterosexual identity.
Gender refers to social identity based on culturally defined concepts of masculinity or femininity. A person can therefore identify as a different gender, regardless of their biological 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.
Sexual behavior is a behavior. Homosexual sexual experiences do not define an orientation – many more people have homosexual experiences than ever identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
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
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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.