Sexual identity

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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] :281287 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 prefix sapio- comes from the Latin for "I [have] taste" or "I [have] wisdom" and refers to a person's preferences, proclivities, and common sense. [28] Sapiosexual-identifying individuals can also be gay, straight, or bisexual. [29] [30] It is not a sexual orientation. [29] [31] It first gained mainstream attention in 2014 when dating website OkCupid added it as one of several new sexual orientation and gender identity options. [29] About 0.5% of OkCupid users identify as sapiosexual, and it is most common among those ages 31–40. [29] Women are more likely to identify as sapiosexual than men. [32] Several commentators have stated that sapiosexuality is "elitist," "discriminatory," and "pretentious." [29] [31] [33]

Unlabeled sexuality

Unlabeled sexuality is when an 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." [34] 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.” [35]

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. [34] [35]



Most of the research on sexual orientation identity development focuses on the development of people who are attracted to the same sex. Many people who feel attracted to members of their own sex come out at some point in their lives. Coming out is described in three phases. The first phase is the phase of "knowing oneself," and the realization emerges that one is sexually and emotionally attracted to members of one's own sex. This is often described as an internal coming out and can occur in childhood or at puberty, but sometimes as late as age 40 or older. The second phase involves a decision to come out to others, e.g. family, friends, and/or colleagues, while the third phase involves living openly as an LGBT person. [36] In the United States today, people often come out during high school or college age. At this age, they may not trust or ask for help from others, especially when their orientation is not accepted in society. Sometimes they do not inform their own families.

According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun (2006), "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process. Unlike members of other minority groups (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities), most LGB individuals are not raised in a community of similar others from whom they learn about their identity and who reinforce and support that identity" and "[r]ather, LGB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality." [6]

Some individuals with unwanted sexual attractions may choose to actively dis-identify with a sexual minority identity, which creates a different sexual orientation identity from their actual sexual orientation. Sexual orientation identity, but not sexual orientation, can change through psychotherapy, support groups, and life events. [2] A person who has homosexual feelings can self-identify in various ways. An individual may come to accept an LGB identity, to develop a heterosexual identity, to reject an LGB identity while choosing to identify as ex-gay, or to refrain from specifying a sexual identity. [37]

Models of sexual identity development

Several models have been created to describe coming out as a process for gay and lesbian identity development (e.g. Dank, 1971; Cass, 1984; Coleman, 1989; Troiden, 1989). These historical models have taken a view of sexual identity formation as a sexual-minority process only. [38] However, not every LGBT person follows such a model. For example, some LGBT youth become aware of and accept their same-sex desires or gender identity at puberty in a way similar to which heterosexual teens become aware of their sexuality, i.e. free of any notion of difference, stigma or shame in terms of the gender of the people to whom they are attracted. [39] More contemporary models take the stance that it is a more universal process. [3] [40] Current models for the development of sexual identity attempt to incorporate other models of identity development, such as Marcia’s ego-identity statuses. [41]

The Cass identity model, established by Vivienne Cass, outlines six discrete stages transited by individuals who successfully come out: (1) identity confusion, (2) identity comparison, (3) identity tolerance, (4) identity acceptance, (5) identity pride, and (6) identity synthesis. [42] Fassinger's model of gay and lesbian identity development contains four stages at the individual and group level: (1) awareness, (2) exploration, (3) deepening/commitment, and (4) internalization/synthesis. [43]

Some models of sexual identity development do not use discrete, ordered stages, but instead conceptualize identity development as consisting of independent identity processes. For example, D'Augelli's model describes six unordered independent identity processes: (1) exiting heterosexual identity, (2) developing personal LGB identity status, (3) developing an LGB social identity, (4) becoming an LGB offspring, (5) developing an LGB intimacy status, and (6) entering an LGB community. [44]

The Unifying Model of Sexual Identity Development is currently the only model that incorporates heterosexual identity development within its statuses to include compulsory heterosexuality, active exploration, diffusion, deepening and commitment to status, and synthesis. [45]

Contemporary models view sexual identity formation as a universal process, rather than a sexual minority one, in that it is not only sexual minorities that undergo sexual identity development, but heterosexual populations as well. [3] More recent research has supported these theories, having demonstrated that heterosexual populations display all of Marcia's statuses within the domain of sexual identity. [40] [46]

See also

Related Research Articles

Heterosexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between persons of the opposite sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, heterosexuality is "an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions" to persons of the opposite sex; it "also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions." Someone who is heterosexual is commonly referred to as straight.

Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality is sometimes identified as the fourth category.

<i>LGBT</i> Initialism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons

LGBT, or GLBT, is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. In use since the 1990s, the term is an adaptation of the initialism LGB, which began to replace the term gay in reference to the broader LGBT community beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. The initialism, as well as some of its common variants, functions as an umbrella term for sexuality and gender identity.

Kinsey scale Scale for measuring sexual orientation

The Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual–Homosexual Rating Scale, is used in research to describe a person's sexual orientation based on one’s experience or response at a given time. The scale typically ranges from 0, meaning exclusively heterosexual, to a 6, meaning exclusively homosexual. In both the male and female volumes of the Kinsey Reports, an additional grade, listed as "X", indicated "no socio-sexual contacts or reactions". The reports were first published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) by Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and others, and were also prominent in the complementary work Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

Pansexuality Sexual or romantic attraction to people regardless of gender

Pansexuality is sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. 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.

The field of psychology has extensively studied homosexuality as a human sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in the DSM-I in 1952, but that classification came under scrutiny in research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. That research and subsequent studies consistently failed to produce any empirical or scientific basis for regarding homosexuality as anything other than a natural and normal sexual orientation that is a healthy and positive expression of human sexuality. As a result of this scientific research, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM-III in 1973. Upon a thorough review of the scientific data, the American Psychological Association followed in 1975 and also called on all mental health professionals to take the lead in "removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated" with homosexuality. In 1993, the National Association of Social Workers adopted the same position as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, in recognition of scientific evidence. The World Health Organization, which listed homosexuality in the ICD-9 in 1977, removed homosexuality from the ICD-10 which was endorsed by the 43rd World Health Assembly on 17 May 1990.

Non-heterosexual is a word for a sexual orientation or sexual identity that is not heterosexual. The term helps define the "concept of what is the norm and how a particular group is different from that norm". Non-heterosexual is used in feminist and gender studies fields as well as general academic literature to help differentiate between sexual identities chosen, prescribed and simply assumed, with varying understanding of implications of those sexual identities. The term is similar to queer, though less politically charged and more clinical; queer generally refers to being non-normative and non-heterosexual. Some view the term as being contentious and pejorative as it "labels people against the perceived norm of heterosexuality, thus reinforcing heteronormativity". Still others say non-heterosexual is the only term useful to maintaining coherence in research and suggest it "highlights a shortcoming in our language around sexual identity"; for instance, its use can enable bisexual erasure.

Estimates and variance for the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) population are subject to controversy and debate. Obtaining precise numbers on demographics of sexual orientation is difficult for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the research questions.

A sexual minority is a group whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority of the surrounding society. Primarily used to refer to LGB or non-heterosexual individuals, it can also refer to transgender, non-binary or intersex individuals.

Homosexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality is "an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions" to people of the same sex. It "also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions."

Bisexual erasure societal act of dismissing or misrepresenting bisexuals in the public perception

Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include the belief that bisexuality itself does not exist.

Historically, studies assumed that transgender sexuality might be distinct from traditional human sexuality. For much of the 20th century, what was described as "transsexualism" was believed to be sexual in nature, and so was defined along these terms.

The questioning of one's sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender, or all three is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, or concerned about applying a social label to themselves for various reasons. The letter "Q" is sometimes added to the end of the acronym LGBT ; the "Q" can refer to either queer or questioning.

Bisexuality Sexual attraction to people of either sex

Bisexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females, or to more than one sex or gender. It may also be defined as romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity, which is also known as pansexuality.

Sexual fluidity is one or more changes in sexuality or sexual identity. Sexual orientation is stable and unchanging for the vast majority of people, but some research indicates that some people may experience change in their sexual orientation, and this is more likely for women than for men. There is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through psychotherapy. Sexual identity can change throughout an individual's life, and may or may not align with biological sex, sexual behavior or actual sexual orientation.

Compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is assumed and enforced by a patriarchal and heteronormative society. In this theory, heterosexuality is seen as able to be adopted by people regardless of their personal sexual orientation, while heterosexuality is socially promoted as the natural state of both sexes, and deviation is seen as unfavorable. The term was popularized by Adrienne Rich in her 1980 essay titled "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence".

Bisexual politics are arguments surrounding individuals who identify as bisexual and their perspectives on issues involving sexuality, equality, visibility and inclusion. Some authors describe "bisexual politics" as a form of identity politics. One form of activism within bisexual politics includes the addition of the word bisexual onto lesbian and gay organisations and fighting employment discrimination for bisexual individuals. However, the political issues as well as the position of bisexuals on these issues are considerably more complex.

Outline of LGBT topics Overview of and topical guide to LGBT topics

The following outline offers an overview and guide to LGBT topics.

Gender and sexual diversity (GSD), or simply sexual diversity, refers to all the diversities of sex characteristics, sexual orientations and gender identities, without the need to specify each of the identities, behaviors, or characteristics that form this plurality.

LGBTQ psychology

LGBTQ+ psychology is a field of psychology surrounding the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, in particular the diverse range of psychological perspectives and experiences of these individuals. It covers different aspects such as identity development including the 'coming out' process, parenting and family practices and supports for LGBTQ+ individuals, as well as issues of prejudice and discrimination involving the LGBTQ+ community.


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