According to the World Health Organization, sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.

Multiple factors influence people's sexual behavior: biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, life experiences, and social and cultural influences. The way we talk about these subjects has changed over the years. Here are important definitions to be aware of:

  • Gender identity is a person's innermost sense of self as male or female, both or neither. A person's gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth.
    • People whose gender identities are the same as the sex they were assigned at birth may refer to themselves as cisgender.
    • People whose gender identities are different than the sex they were assigned at birth may refer to themselves a transgender.
    • People who do not subscribe to gender distinctions and/or identify with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders may refer to themselves as genderqueer.
  • Gender expression is the ways in which someone shows masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of gender identity and can be expressed by the ways people style their hair, wear clothing, and carry their bodies.
  • Sexual orientation is the direction of a person's sexual interest (who they are sexually and/or romantically attracted to). For example:
    • A man who is attracted to men may refer to himself as gay or homosexual.
    • A man who is attracted to women may refer to himself as heterosexual or straight.
    • A woman who is attracted to women may refer to herself as gay, lesbian, or homosexual.
    • A woman who is attracted to men may refer to herself as heterosexual or straight.
    • People who are attracted to both women and men may refer to themselves as bisexual.
    • People who are attracted to people of any gender identity may refer to themselves as pansexual.
    • People who are not sexually attracted to anybody may refer to themselves as asexual.

A person's sexual orientation can not be determined by the way they talk, dress, or act. The best way to know someone's sexual orientation is for them to share it.

Page last updated: April 2018