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What Is Sexual Orientation? How Is It Different from Gender Identity?

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Sexual orientation is a person’s patterns of sexual, romantic, and emotional attraction. It’s not something that’s necessarily visible to others, and a person may not act on their attractions or sexual feelings.

While society tends to focus on three sexual orientations—heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual—our understanding of sexual orientation has expanded over time to include new identities.

In general, sexual orientations include:

  • Heterosexual: Attraction to people of the opposite sex

  • Bisexual: Attraction to people of either sex

  • Homosexual: Attraction to people of one’s own sex

  • Pansexual: Attraction to people of any gender identity

  • Asexual: Not sexually attracted to other people

Not everyone will identify with any of these labels. And people who are unsure about their sexual orientation sometimes call themselves questioning or curious.

Why Does It Matter?

Sexuality and sexual orientation are important parts of who we are. Our sexuality is not just about reproduction. It impacts how we see ourselves and relate to others.