Glossary of Must-Know Sexual Identity Terms

sexual identity

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

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Sexual identity terms refer to words and phrases used to describe human sexuality and orientation including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual. These terms are not related to gender identity and may differ depending on the individual person or culture. In addition, terminology changes over time and will continue to evolve into the future.

It’s important to understand and use the proper terminology to refer to sexual identity and sexual orientation in order to be an ally and empower and affirm individuals who in the past may have faced prejudice and judgment over their sexual orientation.

Use of the correct words can be affirming while use of incorrect terminology can be disempowering. If you are in doubt, it is always best to ask a person what terminology they prefer that you use.

Below is a glossary of terms related to sexual identity. Remember that this list will continue to evolve so it is always important to keep up with any changes and the most up-to-date usage.

A Through E

Ally: Referring to a person who supports the LGBTQ+ community but does not identify as a member of the community (e.g., heterosexual).

Aromantic: Referring to a person who has no romantic attraction or interest in romantic relationships with any gender.

Asexual: Referring to a person who is not sexually attracted to any gender but may still be romantically interested in a relationship.

Autosexual: Referring to a person who feels sexually attracted to themselves. These individuals are capable of having relationships with others but prefer sex with themselves.

Androsexual/Androphillic: Referring to a person who experiences sexual or romantic attraction to masculinity, males, or men including those who identify as men regardless of assigned sex at birth.

Allosexual: Referring to a person who experiences sexual attraction.

Allosexism: The assumption that people in society experience or should experience sexual attraction. This leads to privilege for those who experience attraction and prejudice against people who are asexual.

Autoromantic: Referring to a person who is romantically attracted to themselves.

Bicurious: Referring to a person who is curious and exploring their attraction to people of the same sex/gender but who don’t necessarily identify as bisexual.

Biphobia: Fear, intolerance, discomfort, dislike, stigma, or hatred toward people who identify as bisexual. These attitudes are generally based on stereotypes about bisexual people such as the supposed inability to be monogamous.

Bi-positive: An attitude toward bisexual individuals that is validating and accepting (the opposite of biphobia).

Biromantic: Referring to a person who feels a romantic or emotional connection to two or more genders regardless of whether they feel sexual attraction.

Bisexual: Referring to a person who feels sexually attracted to two or more genders.

Butch: A term used to refer to a woman who acts or looks masculine or who plays the dominant role in a partnership. This term can be used in a derogatory way for lesbian women but may also be used in an affirming way for some people if that is how they identify.

Cishet: A person who is both cisgender and heterosexual.

Closeted: Referring to a person who does not accept their own sexual orientation or chooses to keep it a secret from other people out of fear of rejection or being judged.

Coming out: The ongoing emotionally difficult process of disclosing and acknowledging one’s sexual orientation to people in one’s life including friends, family, work colleagues, etc. For example, by sharing about a same-gender relationship or attraction.

Cupiosexual: Referring to people who don’t experience sexual attraction but still desire to be in a sexual relationship or engage in sexual behavior.

Demiromantic: Referring to a person who only experiences romantic feelings after they build a strong emotional connection with a person.

Demisexual: Referring to a person who doesn’t innately feel sexual attraction but can develop it over time through a strong emotional connection to a person.

Erasure: The practice of ignoring that sexuality exists on a spectrum.

F Through L

Family of Choice: A group of people chosen for their support and validation that may be missing from the family of origin.

Family of origin: A person’s biological family or the one that was involved in their development.

Fluid: The concept that sexuality and sexual orientation can change over time and depend on the context or situation.

Gay: A person who has a sexual orientation or romantic attraction toward people of the same gender. The term usually refers to men who are attracted to men, but can also be used for other genders.

Gay-positive: An attitude that is accepting and affirming of gay individuals.

Gynesexual/Gynephilic: Attraction to femininity, women, or females regardless of their assigned sex at birth.

Graysexual: Referring to people who are in a gray area of the spectrum of sexuality and don’t identify as sexual or asexual.

Grayromantic: Referring to people who are in the gray area of the spectrum of romantic attachment and don’t identify as romantic or aromantic.

Heterosexual: Referring to people who have a sexual orientation or emotional attraction toward members of the opposite gender (also known as being “straight”). 

Heteroflexible: Referring to people who are primarily heterosexual but who may have interest in same-sex relationships.

Heterosexual Privilege: Privileges experienced by people who are heterosexual simply because of their sexual orientation. This includes the ability to publicly display affection without fearing judgment or raising children without fear of discrimination.

Homophobia: Fear, prejudice, anger, or negative attitudes aimed at people who are gay or lesbian. This can range from mild to severe forms.

Homosexual: Referring to a person with a sexual orientation toward members of the same gender. This is a somewhat outdated term and most people prefer gay or lesbian.

Heteronormativity: The belief by people or institutions that heterosexuality is the normal/default way for people to identify and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities.5 Heteronormativity can create social, cultural, political, and economic ideologies that can harm the lifestyles and livelihoods of LGBTQ people.9

Hypersexual: Referring to the ability to experience sexual attraction to someone without knowing them in a personal way.

Internalized homophobia: Self-hatred based on fear and judgment about one’s sexual orientation that is rooted in homophobia that has been internalized.

Lesbian: A female or female-identifying person with a sexual orientation or attraction toward other women or people of the same gender expression. Nonbinary people can also identify as lesbian. Some lesbians may also identify as gay or queer.

LGBTTTIQ: An acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, and queer communities. 

LGBTQIA: An acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual communities. 

LGBTQ+: An acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, etc. communities.

LGBTQIA+: An acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, etc. communities.

M Through Q

MSM: An acronym referring to a man who has sex with men regardless of whether they are heterosexual, bisexual or gay. This term is generally used for men who may not identify as gay but who have relations with other men in certain situations.

Monoamorous/Monogamous: People who only have relationships with one person at a time.

Monosexual: Referring to people with a sexual orientation or attraction toward people of only one gender whether they are heterosexual, gay, or lesbian.

Neptunic: A nonbinary person attracted to men.

Out or Out of the closet: The ongoing process of being open about one’s sexual orientation with other people.

Outing: Exposing someone’s sexual orientation without their prior consent. This can be very harmful as they may not be in an environment that's safe to come out in.

Omnisexual: Referring to a person whose sexuality is not limited to a particular sexual orientation.

Pansexual: Referring to a person who experiences a sexual orientation or romantic attraction to all persons regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Panromantic: Referring to a person who experiences romantic or emotional attraction to all persons regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Perioriented: Referring to a person with a sexual and romantic orientation toward the same gender. For example, being sexually interested in women and also romantically interested in women.

Polyamorous: A term referring to people who have relationships with more than one person at the same time.

Polysexual: A term referring to people who have a sexual orientation or romantic attraction to people of varying genders.

Pomosexual: A term referring to people who reject labels regarding their sexual identity or don’t identify as any particular label.

Queer: Historically this term was used in a derogatory way to refer to the LGBTQ community. This word has since been used in a positive way by individuals to convey their identity when they prefer not to use terms that depend on sexuality or gender such as lesbian or gay.

Questioning: The process through which an individual questions, explores, or discovers their sexual orientation.

R Through Z

Romantic Attraction: The process by which people have an emotional attraction and the desire to be in a romantic relationship with another person.

Same Gender Loving: Term used by the Black community to convey a same-gender sexual orientation.

Skoliosexual: Attraction to transsexual and genderqueer individuals and presentations.

Sexual Minorities: The subset of people who identify as LGBTQ.

Sexual Orientation: Referring to the enduring patterns or specific type of physical and emotional attraction that a person experiences toward other people. For example, heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. Sexual orientation can change over the course of one’s life and depending on the situation.

Sexuality: How a person experiences romantic and sexual attraction.

Straight: Another term used to refer to people with a heterosexual orientation or who are attracted to people of the opposite gender or a different gender. This can include both people who are cisgender and transgender.

Sapiosexual: Referring to a person who experiences attraction based on the intelligence of another person rather than any other characteristic.

Sexual Attraction: The experience of sexual desire toward a person or group of people.

Sex Averse: Referring to people who are disinterested or averse to sexual behavior including those who are asexual.

Sex Favorable: Referring to people who are asexual but in some situations have positive feelings about sex.

Sex Indifferent: Referring to people who are asexual and feel neutral about sexual behavior.

Sex Repulsed: Referring to people who are asexual and are repulsed by sexual behavior or are very disinterested in sexual behavior.

Spectrasexual: Referring to people who are attracted to individuals of multiple genders.

Trixic: A nonbinary person attracted to women. Trixic people can also identify as lesbian.

Varioriented: When a person’s sexual interest and romantic orientation are not aimed at the same gender. For example, a man being romantically attracted to women (heteroromantic) but sexually attracted to both men and women (bisexual).

WSW: Referring to women who have sex with women. This can include lesbians, bisexual women, and heterosexual women. Not all women who fall into this category identify themselves as bisexual or lesbian.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that this list is not exhaustive and the terminology will change over time. While it is important to keep up with recent changes to terms, the best way to ensure that you are using inclusive language is to listen and ask someone what they identify with or what they prefer to be called.

When in doubt, don’t make assumptions based on your own social rubric or point of view, particularly if this involves a normative stance or the experience of being in a position of heterosexual privilege.

While you may not understand the need for being careful with your words, those who potentially face discrimination or prejudice daily will be appreciative of the effort you make to understand things from their point of view.

As terminology continues to evolve, you may also find that terms people prefer that you use also change. Rather than feeling frustrated by this request, acknowledge that you can’t understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s position and do what you can to be an ally and supporter.

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  1. Persad I. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Glossary.

  2. Government of Canada. Gender and Sexual Diversity Glosssary.