Sexuality Goes Beyond Sexual Orientation

Some people think sexuality and sexual orientation are synonymous, but it’s deeper than that. Sexuality can include your inner experience, how this is outwardly expressed, and feelings of sexual attraction.

A woman with braided hair kisses a woman with curly hair on the cheek, they are wearing pride colours

What is sexual orientation?


Our sense of sexuality is heavily related to our sexual orientation; it describes the characteristics we are attracted to. Sexual orientations that relate to gender are based on gender identity rather than sex assigned at birth. This includes transgender people whose sex and gender don’t align. Some may only have sexual relationships with trans people if they have undergone medical transition, some don't have sexual relationships with trans people at all. Sexual orientation is less about strict rules and more about self-identification.


Well-known sexual orientations


Heterosexual/“Straight”: People who identify as straight are attracted to people with the “opposite” gender, for example a man being attracted to a woman and vice versa. Some may identify as straight if they are attracted to non-binary people with a gender expression quite masculine/feminine, or those with certain body parts. Even without these qualifiers straight people may feel that attraction to non-binary people fits within their sexuality, while others disagree.


Homosexual/Gay/Lesbian: Identifying as homosexual means being attracted to people with the same gender as yourself. The prefix homo is Greek and means “same”. There are separate gay and lesbian communities with their own cultures.


Bisexual: This is a very individual sexual orientation, it doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Traditionally bisexuality was sexual attraction to both men and women, but the community is generally moving away from this definition. The Latin prefix bi means having two, but more recently many bisexual people have defined the two as referring to their own gender and other genders. People have different perspectives on what it means to be bisexual, it may or may not include sexual attraction to non-binary people. Some have said bisexuality is not inclusive of trans people, but this isn’t true.


Pansexual: Pan is a Greek prefix meaning all, and people who identify as pansexual are sexually attracted to any and all genders. Pansexuals may be sexually attracted to the same genders as some bisexual people, it is a personal preference which label is used. Pansexual as a label is newer than bisexual, and some feel that using the newer term separates people from the history of bisexual activists. Some pansexuals may refer to the older definition of bisexuality to differentiate, much to the dismay of the bisexual community.


Lesser-known sexual orientations


Autosexual: Sexual attraction to oneself and/or preference for only engaging in sexual activities alone


Sapiosexual: Sexual attraction to intelligent people


Heteroflexible/Homoflexible: Sexual attraction that fits with heterosexuality/homosexuality primarily, but with occasional sexual attraction that is inconsistent with heterosexuality/homosexuality


Gynesexual: Sexual attraction to femininity and/or female sex organs


Androsexual: Sexual attraction to masculinity and/or male sex organs


Skoliosexual: Sexual attraction to people who are not cisgender, i.e., trans and non-binary people


Beyond sexual orientation


We’ve gone over the focus of sexual attraction, but what about sexual attraction itself? The experience of sexual attraction varies from person to person. There is a spectrum from people who experience sexual attraction (allosexuals) to people who don’t feel sexual attraction (asexuals), and there's a lot of grey area in between. It’s worth noting that asexual people can still have sex and enjoy it, they just don’t have feelings of sexual attraction towards their partner. It can be difficult to describe the feeling of sexual attraction, many can’t distinguish between feelings of romantic attraction and sexual attraction.


Here's a clue: romantic attraction could feel like contentment around someone, feelings of excitement or butterflies in your stomach. You may want to spend time cuddling or talking to them for hours. Sexual attraction could be feeling unable to concentrate because you are thinking about sex with a specific person, sexual arousal in your body or having the desire to engage in sexual activities with a specific person. People can experience romantic attraction only, sexual attraction only, both types of attraction or neither.


The spectrum and other related spectra:


Sexual attraction: How much and how often people feel sexual attraction towards others from allosexual (often) to grey asexual (rarely), to completely asexual (never). This may change over time.


Romantic attraction: How much and how often people feel romantic attraction towards others from alloromantic (often) to aromantic (never).


Libido: The physical and psychological desire for sex on a scale of low to high, not necessarily directed at a particular person. This may change due to life circumstances, mental health, diet or medication.


Sex favourability: The degree to which sex is appealing and enjoyable, those who do not find sex appealing may be described as sex repulsed and not want to engage in sexual activity. Sex favourability can vary due to context.


Touch favourability: Whether people enjoy being touched in platonic, romantic and sexual ways. Some may vary in their touch favourability based on the type of touch or type of relationship. For example, enjoying sexual touch but not cuddles or enjoying hugs in a romantic relationship but not in a platonic one.


Sex positivity: A person’s ideology relating to sex generally, not within their own sexuality. Some may wish that people in society did not engage in sexual activity, especially if they are sex repulsed as sex in media is unavoidable.


What does it all mean?


Within these spectra there are so many combinations possible. Often asexual people prefer to talk about their orientation in terms of romantic attraction, for instance panromantic rather than pansexual. People may also have several orientation descriptors as they have romantic attraction towards one gender but sexual attraction towards another gender e.g., homosexual AND heteroromantic.


Demisexuality is somewhere in the middle of the sexual attraction spectrum. It is the inability to experience sexual attraction without an emotional bond being present, and people experience this in different ways. It can feel like being stuck between two worlds because sexual attraction is felt within relationships but is only slight or non existent outside of relationships.


Sexual/romantic orientation and sexual attraction are linked but separate concepts, and this is poorly understood. Even people from within the LGBTQ+ community struggle to understand the complexities of sexuality and gender, but things are progressing and people are beginning to understand the many facets of sexuality.

Interested in LGBTQ+ topics? Learn about how Pride started here, take a look at this comprehensive list of sexualities/orientations and learn more from this explanation of asexual identities.