Your A-Z Guide to Sexual Attraction, Behavior, and Orientation Vocab

Did you know that there are over 170,000 words in the dictionary, and that some counts put the number of words in the English language at around 1 million? One million words! And it can start to feel like we’re using around half of them to talk about sexuality, right? Just kidding – but we’d probably all agree that it is an endlessly interesting topic to humans! Endlessly interesting and endlessly diverse, which is why it’s great that we now have all of these terms in common use. 

Knowing how to talk to each other about sexual attraction, behavior, and orientation, whether our own or that of someone in our lives, as well as knowing what other people are experiencing, fosters inclusivity and can help us understand each other better, and that’s always a good thing. 

But all of these terms can become a little confusing if you’re not used to them, so you might need a little refresher course on exactly what all of the vocab surrounding sexual attraction, behavior, and orientation mean. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz afterwards (although it would be a pretty sexy one!), you’ll just hopefully come away with a better understanding of how you and those around you are experiencing this very fluid thing we call sexuality.

Allosexualcouple on the floor kissing half-naked

Do you experience sexual attraction? An Allosexual is anyone who can feel sexual attraction. The only people who would not identify as an allosexual are the asexual. 

Androsexual

A term used to describe those who are sexually or romantically attracted to men, males, or masculinity, including attraction to those who identify as men, male, or masculine, regardless of biology, anatomy, or sex assigned at birth.

Asexual

If you identify as asexual, you experience little or no sexual attraction to others. Asexuality is a spectrum, though, with people experiencing it in different ways. For example, some people who identify as asexual might have romantic feelings for others, or might even engage in sexual behavior (this is known as “cupiosexual,” or experiencing the desire to engage in sexual behavior or a sexual relationship, without experiencing sexual attraction). Some of the other many ways to experience being asexual include feeling sex-favorable, sex-averse, sex-repulsed, or sex-indifferent, or identifying as libidoist asexual, meaning you satisfy your sexual feelings with masturbation. You can also experience being “aromantic,” or not having romantic feelings for others.

Bisexual

Those who identify as bisexual experience sexual, romantic, or emotional attractions to people of more than one gender. Being biromantic, though, would mean that someone feels romantically, but not sexually, attracted to people of more than one gender. 

Demisexual

Demisexuality has its place on the asexual spectrum: if you identify as demisexual, you only feel sexual attraction under certain circumstances, usually after forming an emotional connection with someone.

Fluid

You might have been hearing this word a lot lately in relation to sexuality, and there’s a reason for that. It’s important to recognize that that sexuality, sexual attraction, and sexual behavior can change over time and vary based on circumstances. In addition, many of us will experience shifts in our sexuality, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior in different situations or throughout the course of our lifetimes. We can experience our sexuality in a fluid way, and also our gender. 

Gay2 men in suits holding hands

To some, this term to describe someone who is attracted to someone of the same gender can feel outdated, but others still feel like it describes their experience of sexuality. We put this pretty universally well known term here to point out that it’s always best to use whatever word someone feels best describes their experience, whether that’s “gay,” “queer,” “lesbian,” etc. What most people agree on, though, is “homosexual” is an outdated term.

Graysexual

When it comes to sexuality, and asexuality, there are definitely gray areas. Graysexual can help to describe the experience of those who do have some sexual desire, but perhaps not as much as others who would not consider themselves on the asexual spectrum. 

Gynesexual

Like androsexual refers to being attracted to those who identify as male, gynesexual refers to attraction to those who identify as female. 

Heterosexual

Most people know this term, but we wanted to point out that experiencing heterosexuality or being “straight” applies to both cisgendered and transgender-identified people. It only means that you are attracted to the “opposite” gender to you. 

LGBTQIA+

Not sure what the extra letters/symbols mean here? We got you: “Q” can be “queer” or “questioning,” “I” stands for “intersex,” “A” is for “asexual,” and the plus refers to the fact that there are many sexual orientations and gender identities that are part of the broader LGBTQIA community, but that aren’t included as part of the acronym.

Omnisexual

The next few terms are all somewhat similar, with just slight differences in experience. Omnisexual refers to people whose sexuality isn’t limited to those of a particular gender, sex, or sexual orientation.

Pansexualpansexual flag colors of pink, yellow and light blue

Similar to omnisexual, pansexual describes people who can experience sexual, romantic, or emotional attraction to any person, regardless of that person’s gender, sex, or sexuality.

Polysexual

Polysexual is a bit more of an umbrella term; it describes people with a sexual orientation that involves sexual or romantic attraction to people with varying genders, and can include orientations like bisexuality, pansexuality, omnisexuality, and queer, among many others. 

Queer

Remember when “queer” was a derogatory word? It has been reclaimed now, though (with the caveat that all terms should be used sensitively and respectfully, and should align with how the person views their own sexuality), and is used as an umbrella term to describe people who aren’t exclusively heterosexual. Having this word in our vocabulary can be a useful acknowledgement that sexuality is a spectrum, and not simply a collection of independent and mutually exclusive categories. It can also be a useful term for giving options to people beyond the categories of lesbian, gay, and bisexual if they feel they don’t fit neatly into them, or prefer a category that isn’t dependent on sex and gender.

Questioning

Are you still exploring how you experience sexuality and gender? Or are you curious about exploring your experiences of these categories? The “Q” in LGBTQIA+ might apply to you, since it can stand for either “queer” or “questioning.”

Sapiosexual

A word used to describe those who experience attraction based on intelligence, rather than sex or gender.

Skoliosexual

Identifying as skoliosexual means you are attracted to people with non-cisgender gender identities, like people who identify as nonbinary (experiencing both or neither genders), genderqueer (falling outside of or in between, or fluctuating among the binary gender categories of man and woman), or trans.

We get that all of these terms can be a little bit overwhelming, and you might not always be sure about them, but no one expects anybody else to be the carrier of all knowledge on sexuality. It is important, though, to build our vocabularies when it comes to sexuality, attraction, behavior, and orientation, so we can all better understand each other’s experiences, as well as our own. Knowing how to talk to each other about these things will lead to more validation, and can mean feeling part of an acknowledged community – and it can mean more satisfaction with our sex lives. Nothing wrong with that!

Compulsive Sexual Behavior Is Being Recognized as Mental Disorder

As of June 2018, the World Health Organization, WHO, has recognized and listed “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” as a mental health disorder. There have been many people labeling compulsive sexual behavior disorder, CBSD, as sex addiction, stating that they are the same thing. But addiction is not the correct term for the disorder, with WHO not labeling or putting the mental disorder in the addiction category. This debate has been going on for years between experts. Nevertheless, the disorder is now labeled as a mental health disorder, with the ambition to seek more research.

Compulsive sexual behavior is now labeled as a mental health disorder.
Compulsive sexual behavior is now labeled as a mental health disorder.

In the update of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), WHO said CSBD was “characterised by persistent failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges that cause marked distress or impairment.” Researchers and doctors have long argued to separate the difference between compulsive sexual behavior disorder and sex addiction.  “‘Sex addiction’ and ‘sex compulsivity’ are completely different issues,” says Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist who specializes in sexual behavior and addiction. “Addiction and compulsion manifest differently in the brain, have different patterns of behavior, and have different treatments.”

Compulsive sexual behavior disorder can lead to potential serious consequences if it is left untreated. These people will engage in sexual acts or fantasies without caring about the consequences. Whether that means hurting or even losing their family or job, racking up debt from buying porn or sexual services, or contracting an STD. People with this mental health disorder have tried to control the urge of sexual fantasies or behavior. They often have trouble maintaining or establishing stable and healthy relationships, and use sex to escape problems.

Hopeful for Research

It is unclear how people with compulsive sexual behavior disorder suffer. Doctors are hoping with this new classification as a mental disorder will spark research on it. There are hopes that this break through will bring on finding what the best treatments are, because for now it seems that psychotherapy is the go to. In psychotherapy, doctors can try to find the underlying cause of why people with CBSD conduct the sex acts, and try treat it better.

Some concerns have come about that labeling compulsive behavior disorder will give those who rape or sexually abuse someone an excuse to do it. But as WHO expert Geoffrey Reed stated, “it doesn’t excuse sexual abuse or raping someone any more than being an alcoholic excuses you from driving a car when you are drunk. You have still made a decision to act.”

Sexuality is a part of being human, and for those who suffer with this mental disorder should not be shamed for seeking out sexual fantasies or desires. It is crucial to know the difference of when it is acceptable and when it is not. This acknowledgement of CSBD will anticipate more research on it and it’s treatment to help support and guide the sexuality of those suffering from the disorder.