The Sexual Health Center

Overview Of Sexual Identity, Including Gender And Sexuality

Sexual identity is about how you see and express yourself in terms of to whom you are sexually or romantically attracted. So, it is about an individual’s identity which is based on their sexual self-concept. Sexual orientation on the other hand refers to the sex of those to whom a person is sexually or romantically attracted.

Sexual orientation identity is also used to indicate sexual identity. This refers to a state where people identify or disidentify with sexual orientation. It may also suggest instances when people choose not to identify with a sexual orientation. 

In simple terms, sexual identity is how a person identifies themselves, sexual behavior is the sexual acts performed by a person, and sexual orientation is the sexual or romantic attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, to both sexes, to more than one gender, or no one. Sexual identity is fluid, overlapping, contingent, and contextual. It can change throughout a person’s life and is more closely associated with sexual behavior than sexual orientation. 

As sexual identity is completely fluid, there are different categories including heterosexuality (attraction to the opposite sex), bisexuality (attraction to both sexes or more than one sex or gender), homosexuality (attraction to the same sex), asexuality (lack of sexual attraction or desire for sexual activity), pansexuality (attraction regardless or sex or gender identity), polysexuality (sexual attraction to many), and sapiosexuality (attraction to the intelligence of another person). 

The two concepts that people assume to be related are gender and sexuality. But, the fact is that both these concepts are separate and distinct. Gender is a social construct that encompasses psychological, social, behavioral, and cultural aspects of being a man, woman, and/or nonbinary person. Sexuality on the other hand refers to how an individual experiences and expresses themselves sexually. 

Overview Of Sexual Identity, Including Gender And Sexuality

Gender Identity

The term ‘gender identity’ was coined by Robert J. Stoller and popularized by John Money. Gender identity is internal and it refers to a person’s sense of one’s own gender. Gender is a spectrum and people can correlate their gender identity with their assigned sex or can differ from it.

Individuals can define their gender in different ways including male, female, a combination of both, a completely separate gender, or agender. There are different terms associated with the concept of genders such as gender expression and gender roles. 

Gender expression is the way an individual expresses or presents themselves in association with their gender. Gender role also referred to as sex role includes a range of behaviors and attitudes that society considers acceptable and appropriate for an individual based on their sex. These roles are completely based on the norms or standards created by society to define people.

Gender socialization is a term used to indicate the process whereby a person learns and acquires a gender role. This social construct is a bit complex. Though a person might express a certain behavior, attitude, or manner based on their gender role, this gender expression might not reflect their gender identity. 

When it comes to assigning gender attributes, society has constructed a basic division. The gender binary, as the term suggests, is the classification of gender into two distinct types, male and female. This categorization is to which most people belong and it expects masculinity and femininity in every aspect of sex and gender.

These aspects include biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression. Some people adhere to this categorization while some don’t. People who do not identify with the aspects of gender assigned to their biological sex include nonbinary, transgender, or genderqueer. Over time, some societies have started accepting another category, the ‘third gender’ which is used to recognize three or more genders. 

There are different gender identities such as cisgender (identifies with the sex assigned at birth), agender (a person who does not identify with any particular gender), androgyne (either both masculine and feminine or between masculine and feminine), bigender (express both masculine and feminine roles), genderfluid (gender identity and expression shifts), gender outlaw (refuses to identify themselves with gender roles assigned by the society), transgender (an umbrella term to refer to all people who do not identify with the gender suggested by their assigned sex at birth), and many more. As such, gender identity can be presented or expressed in different ways in different cultures. 

Gender And Sexuality

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is a term used to refer to an individual’s sexual or romantic attraction or a combination of both to another person. This orientation can be to a person or persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or both sexes or more than one gender. These patterns are usually included under categories such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.

Heterosexuality defines attraction to people of the opposite sex, homosexuality is the attraction to the same sex, and bisexuality is the attraction to people of both sexes. Asexuality is the fourth category used to refer to people with no sexual attraction or desire for sexual activity.

Though these are the categories used to define sexual orientation, it is not a concept that is definable. Research suggests that sexual orientation is a continuum. 

Sexual orientation is different from other aspects of sex and gender including biological sex, gender identity, and social gender roles or sex roles. Sexual orientation has a broader sense and it indicates relationships with others.

This is entirely different from gender identity. Gender identity is the sense of your gender and it is not about who you are attracted to. A simple example is that being transgender is not the same as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. 

Two concepts that are closely related to sexual orientation but distinct are sexual identity and sexual behavior. While sexual identity is a person’s conception of themselves, sexual behavior is the actual sexual acts carried out by a person.

And orientation refers to relationships with others that include attachments, fantasies, and longings. A term that is used interchangeably with sexual orientation is sexual preference. But, according to the American Psychological Association, sexual preference is to some extent a voluntary choice. 

The exact cause for the development of sexual orientation is not clear. Research so far suggests that biological and environmental factors play an important role in forming orientation. 

  • Biology – Research has found many biological factors associated with the formation of sexual orientation including genes, prenatal hormones, and brain structure. 
  • Environmental – Environmental or social factors like parenting, childhood experiences, sexual abuse, or other events might affect the development of sexual orientation. 

Coming Out

Identifying one’s sexual identity can be a difficult process and disclosing your true self to your parents or society is even harder.

This coming out experience will be different for each individual. The process of exploring one’s sexual identity and deciding to reveal it to the world is tagged along with mixed emotions and several questions and doubts.

Coming out is a continuous and obstacle-filled process during which LGBTQI individuals should be in complete control of their choices and conversations. This process involves forging new relationships as well. So, each step that you take is crucial. 

  • The first step is to come to terms with your identity, that is, coming out to yourself. This happens once you identify your sexual orientation, sexual identity, or gender identity. Then, you decide to disclose it to your loved ones and this is a major step to owning who you are.
  • Next, coming out is a constant process as people have a general conception that all are so-called ‘straight’. Every time LGBTQIA person meets new people, they have to decide when and how to disclose their identity. 
  • Deciding to come out also depends on the situation. In the society we live in, coming out is not an easy process. This is one way to own yourself and be true to the people around you. At the same time, it can be risky. Considering the situation that you are in, you can do what is best for you.
  • If you are planning to come out, there are several things to keep in mind. This process might involve the risk of loading your loved ones, physical dangers, societal pressures, and more. Make sure to consider these factors and see where you stand in life. Then decide when to come out and express your true self to the world.  

You are the person in charge of your coming out experience. You can decide when, where, and how to disclose your true orientation. The process might be difficult but owning who you are is very important.

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