Especially when it comes to sex.
Today, I came across this awesome comic and decided to read through, given that while sure, I had heard about and had a vague understanding of the sexual label it was talking about, I still wasn’t entirely clear about the details or what people who identify with that particular label experience culturally right now.
Over and over again, I’ve found that people tend to have a vaguely hazy idea at best of what certain terms about sexuality mean. And while in they end they are only labels and word usage can change and shift over time and cultures, it still is helpful to understand how others that are not you might think of themselves, in their own terms. It’s easier to accept and make connections between you and another person when you speak the same language. So, while some of you may be going “definitions, eeewwww” right now, I’ve decided to throw out a post defining some of the sexual orientation labels that are out there right now.
Now, before we start, let’s be clear about something. Sexual orientation refers to how a person experiences sexual urges. The categories associated with sexual orientation generally correlate with how a person finishes the sentence “I enjoy having/want to have sex with [blank].” While commonly lumped in with sexual orientation, something else called romantic orientation is technically different. Falling in love with someone is not the same as falling into sexual attraction with someone, though the two do often occur together. Along with sexual and romantic attraction, there’s also a third general type of attraction sometimes called filial attraction, which is basically the sort of liking that happens between friends.
One more thing to clear up before we get on to those definitions y’all are waiting for – sexual, romantic, and filial orientation/attraction are NOT the same thing as gender identity. Gender identity is how one thinks about one’s self in relation to general female/male/neutral-ness, to put it very briefly. What’s more, how a person may choose to display their physical assets may or may not be tied into their sexual and gender identity. “I like when I look this way” is a VERY different statement from “I want to have sex with [blank]” or “I feel inside that I am the gender [blank].”
Now, as for those definitions:
heterosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the other.”
Most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the other cisgender binary. However, this can also include attraction of a cisgendered person to a transgendered person of the other gender binary.
So, some examples of heterosexual relationships would be those between:
– a cisgendered male and a cisgendered female
– a cisgendered male to a transgendered female
– a transgendered male to a cisgendered female
– a transgendered male to a transgendered female
homosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the same.”
Again, most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the same cisgender binary, but can also be applied to attraction of a transgendered person to the same transgender binary.
So, some examples:
– a cisgendered female to a cisgendered female
– a cisgendered female to a transgendered female
– a transgendered male to a cisgendered male
pansexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to all.”
And by “all,” pansexuality is still usually a term meaning sexual attraction to all within a given species. So, pansexual generally means that a given individual isn’t attracted to one particular set of gender/sexual identities, and any pairing could happen. Cisgendered to cisgendered, transgendered to transgendered, cis to trans and trans to cis, same gender binary to different gender binary, same gender binary to same gender binary – the individual finds themselves capable of being sexually attracted to pretty much any form of human expression. Often, those who identify as pansexual will describe their sexual attractions as depending on a certain person, not on a certain mold.
asexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to none.”
Yes, it is that simple, and that complex. Those who identify as asexual just generally don’t find the idea of their genitals mashing up against someone else’s genitals all that attractive. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t still like hugs, or that they can’t still fall in love, or that they don’t want friendships. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally have sex. Sometimes, for example, an individual who identifies as asexual will still have sex with a partner who doesn’t identify as asexual in order to gratify that partner sexually. Now, some of you may be going, “Well, if they can stand to have sex sometimes, are they really asexual?”
Yes. They are. Sexual orientation is a descriptor of what you’re sexually attracted to, not what you will do sexually over the entirety of your lifetime. And think about it. How many people have done the dishes or taken out the trash for their partner, or given their partner a foot rub, because they know the other partner would really appreciate it, even if the person themselves find it mortally boring to do the dishes, or intensely disgusting to take out the trash, or really gross to rub another person’s smelly toes? People venture outside of their comfort zones to show love and affection, no matter what sexual orientation they are. For a really good description of the asexual orientation and the discrimination they do unfortunately face in today’s culture, check out the comic I linked above.
Phew! That was long. Hopefully, some of you learned something. Or had some thoughts sparked. Or raised some questions in your brain that you want to go find out more about. And while I know that with every letter I type this is getting even longer and I’m keeping you all staring at even more of my rambling, I’ve got one more point I’d like to make.
Some of you, maybe, didn’t like this post. Not because it’s about sex, but because of what I’ve said about sex. Some of you may be objecting to the fact that I talk about types of sexual orientation falling outside the heterosexual paradigm and seem to be doing so as if they are all right and real and natural and valid.
Well, it’s because I think they are. I won’t go into the thought and deliberation and experiences that have brought me to that opinion, but it is my opinion nevertheless. You may have a different opinion. I am not going to tell you that you should not, that you should have my opinion instead. But I am going to tell you that however you think things should be, that has no bearing, in this moment, on how things are.
Whether you think sexual orientation should only occur under one paradigm or not, the reality is that there are people who experience sexual orientations of multiple types, and regardless of whatever religious or political laws are in place, are going to keep feeling their sexual urges and doing their sexual acts. And yelling at them or telling them that they are wrong is not going to make them or their urges or their acts go away. It is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and make them feel shitty.
We have to learn to deal with the world that we live in. Just because I think that hey, I live in Southern California, and it should not be anywhere near this cold is NOT going to change what temperature it is outside. And if I go outside in shorts and a t-shirt because I don’t want the world to be the way it is, it’s only going to result in my being unhappy. The coldness isn’t going to go away one bit.
So, even if you disagree with the idea that there could be multiple sexual paradigms, the fact is, people are going to keep feeling and acting as if there are. The world will become a lot less frustrating if you learn about what this means and how you can be a reasonable person and deal with it. Go ahead, put on a coat. Yelling at the cold isn’t going to make it go away.
But learning to be okay with shaking its hand and treating it as just as much of a person as you are does have the potential to make this place a whole lot warmer.
Like this post? Whatever your sexual orientation and practices, comic artist Erica Moen over at Oh Joy Sex Toy has LOTS of information on how to make your sexual experience safer and more fun!