It might sound complicated – but I was very impressed indeed with Laura when she gave such a wonderfully precise definition of her sexual identity. Which got me thinking: what about all of those other interesting shades of sexual orientation? Well, it turns out that there is a word for most all of them!
There I was in the pub, not minding my own business. Nope, instead I’d fallen into conversation with three strangers. One, a young woman in her first year at UCD and an avid reader of this fine publication, recognised me and the talk turned, as it often does, to sex and sexuality.
Laura described herself as a hetero-romantic bisexual, to which I had two reactions. The first was “snap” because that’s how I identify too; the other was the wish that I’d been that clued up in my early twenties – hell, my late twenties even!
At various points in my life I have described myself as either straight or bi. This wasn’t an example of sexual fluidity – merely confusion. I didn’t have the vocabulary to define exactly what my sexual orientation was. Eventually, I decided to throw my lot in with Team Straight. This seemed easier and, let’s be honest, it’s generally been a whole lot more socially acceptable. But more importantly, the vast majority of my relationships had been with men, and I knew that if I was going to get into anything committed, it was almost certainly going to be with a man. That’s what hetero-romantic means.
One of the more interesting developments in the way we talk about sexuality these days is that there are a whole rash of terms to describe various sexual orientations. But for the uninitiated, terms like “grey sexual” or “aromantic” can be confusing. As always, my aim in life is to amuse and educate, so here’s your brief HP guide to sexual orientations and romantic attractions. I’m going to skip defining heterosexuality and homosexuality, or straight and gay, because you’re not seven years old. Nor am I going to look at gender identity because that’s a completely separate topic. Instead let’s do a run through of some of the less well-known sexual orientations and romantic attractions.
This is not a particularly common term, but if you break it down the meaning is obvious. Androgynosexuals are attracted to both men and women, but they prefer people who look androgynous.
Androsexual and gynosexuality
Androsexuals are attracted to men or people with masculine characteristics. This is different to being a straight woman or gay man. An androsexual woman could be attracted to masculine presenting women, but not feminine women. Gynosexuality is the opposite of androsexuality. It’s an attraction to women or people with feminine characteristics.
The term “autosexual” was coined by the sex researcher Bernard Apfelbaum. It refers to people who prefer masturbation to having sex with others, or who only respond to their own touch.
Most of you will already be aware that asexuals do not have, or only experience low levels, of sexual attraction to others. Asexuals, also known as aces, can widely differ. Some asexuals experience absolutely no sexual attraction at all; others can, on occasion or for specific people. Aces can be gay or straight. Some experience romantic attraction; others don’t. Like sexuality, asexuality is a spectrum.
Another easy one – bisexuals are attracted to both men and women. Bisexuals, however, are not necessarily equally attracted to both sexes and may have a preference for one or the other. ''
Bi-curious folks can be gay or straight. They want to explore sexual relationships with the gender that they are not normally attracted too.
Demisexuality is part of the asexuality spectrum. Demisexuals don’t experience sexual attraction unless they have a strong bond or emotional connection with their partners.
Greys, grey-As or graces, don’t normally experience sexual attraction and/or they have low sex drives. Grey sexuality also includes people who do feel sexual attraction, but not strongly enough to act on it. Graces can be straight or gay, and they may or may not also experience romantic attraction. Grey sexuality is also known as semi-sexuality.
Hetero-flexibility and homo-flexibility
Hetero-flexibles are normally straight, but open to relationships or sexual encounters with people of the same sex. Homo-flexibility is the equivalent for people who generally have same-sex relationships.
Romantic attraction is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation refers to who you want to fuck; romantic attraction is who you’d liked to cuddle with. Sometimes these are the same, but not always.
Hetero-romantics are romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex or gender. Homo-romantics are the opposite, preferring people of the same sex or gender for relationships. Aromantics are generally uninterested in forming romantic attachments. This is not the same as preferring to keep things casual, which most of us have felt on occasion. Instead, aromantics generally don’t experience feelings of romantic attachment.
LGBTQ / GSM / DSG / QUILTBAG
These initials are used as umbrella terms for people within the homosexual and/or queer community. The terms cover both sexual orientations and gender identities. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. GSM is Gender and Sexual Minorities. DSG is similar and refers to Diverse Genders and Sexualities. QUILTBAG is probably the most inclusive term – and the easiest to remember. The acronym stands for Queer/ Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual and Gay/Genderqueer.
The term pansexuality comes from the Greek prefix “pan” meaning “all”. Pansexuals can have sexual and romantic relationships with people of all genders or gender identities and expressions. This does not mean they are attracted to everyone, but rather that they are attracted to specific people irrespective of sex or gender. Pansexuals are also known as omnisexual.
Polysexuals are attracted to a number of different genders or gender identities and expressions, but not necessarily all of them.
People who are skoliosexual are attracted to genderqueer folk or people who are not cisgender. One of the criticisms levelled at people working with sexuality or within queer activist communities is that there are just too many labels. I disagree. These are helpful, particularly for anyone growing up and aware that they don’t quite fit into either heterosexual or homosexual boxes. Besides which, these labels show the diversity of human sexuality. In themselves, they are an education.
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