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Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality

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Topic Overview

Sexual orientation means how you are attracted romantically and sexually to other people. There are different kinds of sexual orientation. A person can be:

  • Heterosexual—attracted only or almost only to the other gender.
  • Homosexual (gay or lesbian)—attracted only or almost only to the same gender.
  • Bisexual—attracted to both men and women, though not necessarily as strongly or at the same time.
  • Asexual—not attracted to either gender. This is different from deciding not to have sex with anyone (abstinence or celibacy).

Scientists can't say yet why a person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual. Most people feel that their sexual orientation is not a matter of choice: it's just part of who they are.

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Many people discover more about this part of themselves over time. For example, some girls and boys date heterosexually in high school then find later on that they are really more comfortable, romantically and sexually, with members of their own gender.

You may hear many different words and phrases about homosexuality and sexual orientation. Here are some definitions:

  • Ally: A heterosexual person who fully accepts and supports his or her LGBT friends or family members. An ally recognizes the equality of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • Bi: A short, informal way of saying "bisexual."
  • Gay: A man who is homosexual. "Gay" is sometimes used to refer to both men and women who are homosexual.
  • Gender identity: Your internal sense of whether you are male or female. This may not be the same as your physical sex.
  • In the closet: A person who realizes that she or he is gay and keeps this a secret is "in the closet" or "closeted."
  • Lesbian: A woman who is homosexual.
  • LGBT: Popular shorthand for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender." Often seen as "GLBT." Sometimes a "Q" is added (LGBTQ), for "queer" or "questioning." A person who is "questioning" is one who isn't sure about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Queer: A word meaning "not heterosexual." Some gay people are offended by the word. But many people have reclaimed the word as a way of saying that they are open about their sexual orientation.
  • Straight: Heterosexual.
  • Transgender: People who don't feel that their gender identity fully "matches" their physical sex or other body characteristics, or who feel different from most other people of their physical sex in some significant way, sometimes call themselves transgender. This is a very general term. There are many ways to be transgender.
  • Transsexual: People who use medical treatments, such as hormone medicine or surgery, to make their bodies match their gender identity.

For more information, see the topics:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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