Sexual identity

Sexual identity is how one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is romantically or sexually attracted.[1] Sexual identity may also refer to sexual orientation identity, which is when people identify or dis-identify with a sexual orientation or choose not to identify with a sexual orientation.[2] Sexual identity and sexual behavior are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguished,[1] with identity referring to an individual's conception of themselves, behavior referring to actual sexual acts performed by the individual, and sexual orientation referring to romantic or sexual attractions toward persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, to both sexes or more than one gender, or to no one.

Historical models of sexual identity have tended to view its formation as a process undergone only by sexual minorities, while more contemporary models view the process as far more universal and attempt to present sexual identity within the larger scope of other major identity theories and processes.[3]

Definitions and identity

Sexual identity has been described as a component of an individual's identity that reflects their sexual self-concept. The integration of the respective identity components (e.g. moral, religious, ethnic, occupational) into a greater overall identity is essential to the process of developing the multi-dimensional construct of identity.[4]

Sexual identity can change throughout an individual's life, and may or may not align with biological sex, sexual behavior or actual sexual orientation.[5][6][7] In a 1990 study by the Social Organization of Sexuality, only 16% of women and 36% of men who reported some level of same-sex attraction had a homosexual or bisexual identity.[8]

Sexual identity is more closely related to sexual behavior than sexual orientation is. The same survey found that 96% of women and 87% of men with a homosexual or bisexual identity had engaged in sexual activity with someone of the same sex, contrasted to 32% of women and 43% of men who had same-sex attractions. Upon reviewing the results, the organization commented: "Development of self-identification as homosexual or gay is a psychological and socially complex state, something which, in this society, is achieved only over time, often with considerable personal struggle and self-doubt, not to mention social discomfort."[8]


Heterosexuality describes a pattern of attraction to persons of the opposite sex.[9] The term straight is commonly used to refer to heterosexuals.[10] Heterosexuals are by far the largest sexual identity group.[10]

Bisexuality describes a pattern of attraction toward both males and females,[9] or to more than one sex or gender.[11] A bisexual identity does not necessarily equate to equal sexual attraction to both sexes; commonly, people who have a distinct but not exclusive sexual preference for one sex over the other also identify themselves as bisexual.[12]

Homosexuality describes a pattern of attraction to other persons of the same sex.[9] The term lesbian is commonly used to refer to homosexual women, and the term gay is commonly used to refer to homosexual men, although gay is sometimes used to refer to women as well.[13]

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity.[14] It may also be categorized more widely to include a broad spectrum of asexual sub-identities.[15] Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy.[16][17]

Pansexuality describes attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity.[18][19] Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.[20][21] Pansexuality is sometimes considered a type of bisexuality.[22]

Polysexuality has been defined as "encompassing or characterized by many different kinds of sexuality",[23] and as sexual attraction to many, but not all, genders.[24]:281-287 Those who use the term may be doing so as a replacement for the term bisexual, believing bisexual reifies dichotomies.[25] Major monotheistic religions generally prohibit polysexual activity, but some religions incorporate it into their practices.[26] Polysexuality is also considered to be another word for bisexuality.[24]:322

Sapiosexuality describes attraction to the intelligence of another person.[27] The word sapio means, "I discern or understand", in Latin.[28] Sapiosexual-identifying individuals can also be gay, straight, or bisexual.[28][29] It is not a sexual orientation.[28][30] It first gained mainstream attention in 2014 when dating website OkCupid added it as one of several new sexual orientation and gender identity options.[28] About 0.5% of OkCupid users identify as sapiosexual, and it is most common among those ages 31-40.[28] Women are more likely to identify as sapiosexual than men.[31] Several commentators have stated that sapiosexuality is "elitist," "discriminatory," and "pretentious."[28][30][32]

Unlabeled sexuality

Unlabeled sexuality is when a individual chooses not to label their sexual identity. This identification could stem from one's uncertainty about their sexuality or their unwillingness to conform to a sexuality because they don't necessarily like labels, or they wish to feel free in their attractions instead of feeling forced into same, other, both, or all attractions because of their sexual identity. Identifying as unlabeled could also be because of one's "unwillingness to accept their sexual minority status."[33] Because being unlabeled is the purposeful decision of no sexual identity, it is different from bisexuality or any other sexual identity. Those who are unlabeled are more likely to view sexuality as less stable and more fluid and tend to focus more on the “person, not the gender.”[34]

It is reported that some women who identify as unlabeled did so because they are unable or uncertain about the types of relationships they will have in the future. As such, this divergence from sexual labels could provide for a person to be able to more fully realize their "true" sexuality because it frees them from the pressure of liking and being attracted to who their sexual identification dictates they should like.[33][34]