Connect With UC

Terms and Definitions

Sexual Orientation - A person's self-concept as based on sexual or emotional attractions to other persons who are of the same sex (a homosexual orientation), the other sex (a heterosexual orientation), or both same and other sex (a bisexual orientation). Realization of this self-concept may be outwardly expressed as a sexual identity, it may be privately acknowledged but not publicly expressed, or the individual may be unaware of it consciously.

Sexual Identity - Personally and outwardly identifying oneself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, queer, and so forth. A consistent enduring sense of the meanings that the sexual orientation and sexual behavior have for a person.

Sexual Behavior - Actual sexual behavior between people. Sexual practices may or may not be consistent with a person's sexual identity or orientation.

Homosexual - A term used to refer to a person based on her or his same-sex sexual orientation, identity, or behavior; that is, sexual orientation, identity, and behavior are distinct dimensions of sexuality. For example, a person may engage in homosexual behavior but not identify himself or herself as homosexual; conversely, persons with same-sex orientations and identities may not engage in homosexual behavior.

Heterosexual - A term used to refer to a person based on her or his other-sex sexual orientation, identity, or behavior. Sometimes referred to as "straight." As commonly used, this term usually implies other-sex orientation, identity, and behavior. A person may, for example, identify herself as heterosexual but engage in homosexual behavior, however.

Bisexual - A term used to refer to a person whose sexual orientation, identity, or behavior is for both the same and other sex. This term is also a self-identity used by people who are sexually and emotionally attracted to persons of both genders.

Lesbian - A self-label for a woman whose sexual and emotional attractions are for another woman.

Gay - A self-label for a man whose sexual and emotional attractions are for another man.

Queer - A historically pejorative term that has been reclaimed by LGBT groups as an affirmative identity when used among themselves. Also used to describe a certain academic approach that eschews categories and interpretations that were previously perceived as stable and uncontested.

Transsexual - A medical term coined in the 1950s to refer to individuals who not only desire to live in another gender, but to alter their bodies through surgeries and hormone treatments. Not all transsexuals choose to complete all possible surgeries or hormone treatments.

Transgender - This term originally referred to individuals who lived in another gender but did not desire surgery. Increasingly the term has been adopted by many to refer to everyone who transgresses social norms of sex and gender.

Heterosexism - The presumption that everyone is (or should be) heterosexual, resulting in the ignorance of or devaluing of LGBT behavior, orientations, identities, or relationships.

Homophobia - This term literally means "fear of homosexuals," but in recent decades, it has come to be used to indicate prejudice against sexual minorities.

Adapted from:

Fletcher, Anne C. and Stephen T. Russell. "Incorporating Issues of Sexual Orientation in the Classroom: Challenges and Solutions." Family Relations. 50.1 (Jan. 2001): 34-40.