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What is Sexual Orientation?

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Sexual orientation is an inherent or lasting emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people. Most of us are familiar with gay, lesbian and straight sexual orientations, but there is a wide range beyond those terms!

Sexual Orientation Defined

Before we cover a few types of sexual orientation, it is important to look at the experts for an accurate definition. According to GLAAD, sexual orientation is “the scientifically accurate term for an individual's enduring physical, romantic and/ or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual (straight) orientations. Avoid the offensive term ‘sexual preference,’ which is used to suggest that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is voluntary and therefore ‘curable.’ People need not have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all.” 

We will discuss general explanations of various sexual orientations, but it is important to note that the definition can go beyond these explanations. Some people can define these terms for themselves, which may not match our exact description.


  • LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. According to GLAAD, LGBT and/or GLBT are also often used. The term "gay community" should be avoided, as it does not accurately reflect the diversity of the community. Rather, LGBTQ community is preferred. LGBTQ+ does not refer exclusively to sexual orientation. For example, “transgender” is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth and does not suggest any specific sexual orientation.
  • Queer, according to GLAAD, is an adjective used by some people, particularly younger people, whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual (e.g. queer person, queer woman). Typically, for those who identify as queer, the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual are believed to be too limiting and/or filled with cultural meanings they feel don't apply to them. Some people may use queer, or more commonly genderqueer, to describe their gender identity and/or gender expression. Once considered a judgmental term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community. When Q is seen at the end of LGBT, it typically means queer and, less often, questioning.
  • LGBTQ+ Healthcare. Every single one of us is deserving of world-class healthcare delivered in a safe and welcoming environment. Historically, members of LGBTQ+ community have been underserved. Ochsner is uniquely qualified to provide compassionate, individualized care to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) patients.

Gay, Lesbian and Heterosexual

  • Gay is a term that describes people who are sexually, romantically or emotionally attracted to the same gender. In the past, “gay” referred to men who are mainly attracted to men. Now, it is common for the term to be used by anyone who is attracted to their same gender. It is best to ask for clarification on how a person would like to be addressed.
  • Lesbian is generally a woman who is mainly attracted to other women. Some women prefer to use the term “gay.” Additionally, some individuals may identify as a lesbian but do not refer to themselves or their partner(s) as “women.”
  • Heterosexual is a term that describes people who are romantically, sexually, and/or emotionally attracted to people of the opposite sex. Also, known as “straight.”

Bisexual and Pansexual

  • Bisexual or “bi” people experience physical, romantic and/or romantic attraction to those of the same gender and/or those of another gender. Bisexual people may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.
  • Biromantic people experience romantic attraction, but not sexual attraction, to people of more than one gender. Romantic attraction is defined as a desire for romantic interactions with others. Romantic and sexual attraction are not the same.
  • Bicurious people are questioning or exploring whether they may identify as bisexual.
  • Pansexual is a term that describes people who experience sexual or romantic attraction to people regardless of the other person’s gender, sex or sexuality.
  • Panromantic people experience romantic or emotional attraction (but not sexual) to others regardless of gender, sex or sexuality.

The Asexuality Spectrum

  • People who identify as asexual or “ace” don’t experience sexual attraction. Some people who are asexual do experience romantic attraction. An asexual person may or may not experience sexual feelings or have an active sex drive. Learn more at
  • Demisexual people are on the asexual spectrum. Those who identify as demisexual experience sexual attraction only under specific circumstances, such as after building a romantic or emotional relationship with a person. For example, demisexual people may develop attraction to close friends.
  • Demiromantic is an orientation that describes people who only experience romantic attraction under specific conditions, typically after building an emotional relationship with someone.
  • Aromantic, also known as “aro” describes individuals who experience little or no romantic attraction.
  • Graysexual and grayromantic are terms that acknowledge the gray area on the sexuality spectrum for people who don’t identify as asexual or aromantic and experience limited sexuality attraction. Learn more about this gray area at
  • People who identify as cupiosexual are on the asexual spectrum. They don’t experience sexual attraction but still have the desire to engage in sexual behavior.
  • Allosexual or “allo” describes people who experience sexual attraction. This term exists to help normalize asexuality. Allosexism refers to society operating under the assumption that all people do and should experience sexual attraction.

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