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A-Z of sexual orientation

Our crash course to sexual orientation

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in life

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What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is a term that is used to describe what gender, or genders, someone is attracted to. The most common sexual orientations that people identify with are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, but there’s a whole range of other terms and language around it that are important to know too. Make sure not to confuse it with gender identity - sexual orientation describes what gender or genders you’re attracted to, and gender identity describes what gender or genders you are.

Please note, that although we tried to list as many terms as we can here, sexual orientation is a complex issue, and new terms are being developed to describe different orientations and ways of thinking about sexual orientation and attraction all the time. It’s always important to respect everyone’s sexual orientation, even if they identify as something you’ve never heard of before.

Remember, sexual orientation can be fluid, and many people identify as different orientations at different stages of their lives. It's normal to question your sexual orientation, and to identify with something different than what you did before.

We understand also that if you feel your particular sexual orientation isn’t represented or accurately described by any popular terms, you might feel pretty alienated and alone. But you should try to realise that whatever you identify with is great, even if there’s no popular word out there that describes it. You might just be a bit ahead of your time, and society and language will catch up with you eventually.

A-Z of sexual orientation


Asexual is the term used to describe people who feel little or no sexual attraction to anyone. Asexual people can have romantic feelings and the strenght of those feelings can vary from person to person. Here is a short comic on being Asexual to help understand it better.  


This is the term used to describe people who are sexually attracted to more than one gender. It is sometimes shortened to just “bi”.


This is used to describe people who are exclusively attracted to members of the same gender. Some gay women will prefer to refer to themselves as lesbians.


This the word used to describe someone who is exclusively attracted to members of the opposite gender.


This a word used to describe someone who is exclusively attracted to members of the same sex. Many people will prefer to simply be referred to as gay or lesbian. 


This is a word used to describe women who are exclusively attracted to other women. Some of these women will prefer to simply describe themselves as gay.


LGBTQIA+ is a commonly used acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex or Asexual. The + sign is to signify other categories of gender and sexual orientation that aren’t accurately described by these terms.


An acronym for “men who have sex with men”. People who fall under this category do not necessarily identify as gay or bisexual, but may be straight men who have had sexual experiences with men at different stages of their life. You are most likely to hear it in the context of blood donation, as MSM are currently not legally allowed to give blood in Ireland. This is because they are perceived to be at a higher risk for STIs and HIV. This is known as the “MSM Blood Ban”.


This is used to describe someone who is attracted to people irrespective of gender identity and expression.


Queer is an umbrella term used to describe people who do not fall into a traditional gender role or sexual orientation. Essentially, it can be used to describe anyone who is not heterosexual and cisgender. However, it has historically been used as a slur against LGBTQIA+ people, and some will still be pretty offended by it. As such, it’s only ok to use it about another person if that person self-identifies as queer.


This is when someone is unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity and are in the process of questioning it. Many people go through phases of questioning in their life, whether they’re straight, gay, bi, lesbian, trans or cis.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is a term used to describe what gender or genders someone is attracted to.


A term used to describe people who are exclusively attracted to members of the opposite gender. It can be used interchangeably with heterosexual.

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Published October 30th, 2014
Last updated March 12th, 2018
Tags sexual orientation sexuality lgbt
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