Updated: FEBRUARY 25, 2019
Sexual orientation is a term that describes an individual's emotional and sexual attraction to men, women, both sexes, or neither sex, and the sense of identity which stems from these attractions.
Sexual orientation is traditionally classified as heterosexual (attraction to the opposite sex), homosexual (attraction to the same sex), or bisexual (attraction to both sexes). Alfred Kinsey's research suggests, however, that rather than three distinct groups, people tend to sit somewhere on a spectrum ranging from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. The term asexual has recently been added to the spectrum, to describe people who are not attracted to either sex.
More About Sexual Orientation
An individual’s sexual orientation defines who they will be attracted to, who they will fall in love with, and in some cases, who they will want to make a long-term romantic commitment to.
It’s generally believed that people are born with a particular sexual orientation, but to group the tendency along with other genetic factors like sex and eye color, does an injustice to the complex nature of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation differs from these characteristics as it is defined and expressed in terms of relationships with other people.
People express their sexual orientation through a variety of sexual behaviors, from hand holding and kissing to intercourse, as well as nonsexual behaviors. As sexual orientation is linked to the human need for love and intimacy, tasks such as communicating and working towards common goals with a partner of a particular sex may also be seen as ways of expressing one's orientation.
Sexual orientation is not just a personal characteristic, but one which defines groups of individuals. People can look to a community of others who share their sexual orientation for support, and to establish the romantic connections which are an important part of personal identity for many.
Labels are often used to describe people of varying sexual orientations. For example, heterosexual men are generally called straight men, while homosexual women are typically called lesbians. However, some people may prefer different labels, or none at all.