Healthy lives for young people
Sexuality

Sexuality: a few definitions

The language we use when talking about sexuality is very important, because it can have an effect on people’s wellbeing. Learn about various terms to do with sexuality. 

The language we use when talking about sexuality is very important, because it can have an effect on people’s wellbeing. It can be daunting; it might seem like you will never know it all, or like it changes without you realising, or you might be worried about ‘getting it wrong’.

What is important to remember is that language is personal; your meanings or use of these words may be different to how other people use them. Not everyone will want to be known by the same terms so the most important thing is to be respectful of someone else’s identity and the labels they choose to use. In turn, you deserve that respect back.

Read more about what sexuality is.

Brook works hard to keep up to date and to reflect all the terms out there, but if you feel we’ve missed something out, or would like to share a term we haven’t mentioned, please email us with the subject ‘sexuality definitions’.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


A

Allosexual
Someone who experiences sexual attraction, desire or sexual interest directed at other people. The opposite of asexual.

Ally
Someone who supports the LGBTQ+ community and challenges discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. This can be a person who is not LGBTQ+, and it can also be someone who is a member of one part of the LGBTQ+ community supporting members of other parts of the community.

Aromantic 
Someone who experiences limited or no romantic attraction to others, or has little or no interest in forming or pursuing romantic relationships.

Asexual/ace
Someone who experiences limited or no sexual attraction, interest or desire.


B

Bi erasure
The ignoring or questioning of the validity of bisexuality, as well as the use of terminology that excludes bisexuality, such as ‘gay marriage’, ‘gay/straight relationship’. This can come from both outside of and within LGBTQ+ communities. 

Biphobia
Prejudice and discrimination towards, and/or fear and dislike or someone who is bisexual, based on their sexual orientation. 

Bisexual/bi
Someone who is romantically or sexually attracted to people of more than one gender. Sometimes this word is used more specifically to describe people who are attracted to people of their own gender and people of other genders. Bisexual people don’t necessarily experience attraction to different genders in the same way, at the same time, or to the same degree. Bisexual people may also describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, such as bi, pan, bi-curious and queer. Not all those who use those terms will necessarily identify with the word bisexual. 


C

Closeted/in the closet
A term used to describe someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ in some way, but has not openly told anyone about this aspect of their identity.

Coming out
When someone tells someone else about their LGBTQ+ identity. Coming out is rarely a once-in-a-lifetime event, as many LGBTQ+ people may want or need to come out to each new person they meet, or may realise different aspects of their LGBTQ+ identity over time which they might then choose to tell people about. See our advice on coming out.


D

Demisexual
Someone who experiences limited or no feelings of sexual attraction to anyone they have not already formed a deep romantic connection with. 


G

Gay
Someone who is largely or exclusively romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of the same gender. The term can be used to describe anyone regardless of gender identity but is more commonly used to describe men. 


H

Heterosexual (straight)
Someone who is largely or exclusively romantically and/or sexually attracted to people of a different gender, typically a man who is only attracted to women or a woman who is only attracted to men. 

Heterosexism
The belief that non-heterosexual people are inferior to heterosexual people based on the assumption that heterosexuality is ‘normal’ and preferable, and being lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer is ‘abnormal’. Heterosexism is also a form of indirect discrimination based on not taking into account the existence of non-heterosexual people as equal to heterosexual people. 

Heteronormativity
The assumption that all people are heterosexual, and the lack of consideration that people with other sexualities exist and how statements or actions might exclude them. 

Homonormativity
The privileging of a particular idea of what it means to be LGBTQ+, based on conflating wider LGBTQ+ experiences with a dominant gay, male, cisgendered (and usually white) experience. 

Homosexual
A term used to describe someone who is almost exclusively attracted to people of the same gender. Some people think this word is too medical and prefer the terms ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ or ‘queer’.

Homophobia
Prejudice and discrimination towards someone who is attracted to people of the same gender as themselves, based on their sexual orientation. 


I

Intersectionality
A word used to refer to the approach of thinking about intersecting or overlapping areas of power, discrimination and identity. The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way to help explain the oppression of African-American women as being informed by both their ethnicity and their gender. Learn more about intersectionality here. 


L

Lesbian
Generally considered to be a woman who is largely or exclusively romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women. However ‘lesbian’ is also an identity which people who are not women may identify with, such as non-binary people. See our page Gender: A Few Definitions for more information on non-binary identity.  

Lesbophobia
Prejudice and discrimination towards someone who is a lesbian, based on their sexual orientation. Lesbophobia is about the specific intersection of homophobia and misogyny experienced by lesbians. This can come from both outside of and within LGBTQ+ communities. Read more about misogyny on our page Gender: A Few Definitions.

LGBTQ+
The acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. The ‘+’ is used to be more inclusive of other identities beyond those in the acronym. 


M

Monogamy
A relationship dynamic where both partners are expected to be romantically and sexually exclusive to each other. 

Monosexuality
An overarching term to describe sexual orientations where attraction is directed towards only one gender, such as lesbian, gay or straight. 

MSM/MLM
This stands for ‘men who have sex with men’/’men loving men’. MSM is used as a term within sexual health and other services to make these services more inclusive to men who have sex with other men but may not identify as LGBTQ+.


N

Non-monogamy 
A relationship dynamic where one, both or all partners are consensually not romantically and/or sexually exclusive. Partners agree on limits and boundaries regarding non-monogamy, and these agreements will be personal and unique to each relationship. 


O

Outing/Out
Telling someone about someone else’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent. 


P

Pansexual/pan
‘Pan’ means ‘all’ and describes someone who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to others regardless of their gender identity. 

Polyamorous/poly
‘Poly’ means ‘more than one’ and describes someone who has or is open to having more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at a time with the full awareness and consent of everyone involved. 

Pride
Having a positive view of being part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also a worldwide event which celebrates of LGBTQ+ cultures, protests against current discrimination, and is a reminder of past discrimination against the community.


Q

Queer
Queer is an umbrella term used by some to describe members of the LGBTQ+ community. It can also be used as an identity in its own right that rejects specific labels of romantic/sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

The term has been reclaimed by members of the community from its historical use as a slur, but some members of the community may not wish to use it due to this history. You can read more about the political history of the word ‘queer’ here. When Q is seen at the end of LGBTQ+, it typically refers to the word ‘queer’. In some contexts, the Q can stand for ‘questioning’, but this is much less common.

QPOC/QTIPOC
This stands for ‘Queer People of Colour’ or ‘Queer, Transgender and Intersex People of Colour’. Queer people of colour experience intersecting oppressions on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and other factors. 

Questioning
A term used to describe people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity.


R

Romantic attraction
An emotional connection to someone that is separate from sexual attraction. 

Romantic orientation
How a person feels romantically about people of various genders. The term describes who a person is likely to pursue a romantic relationship with. 


S

Sexual attraction
Desiring sexual contact with a specific other person or group of people. 

Sexual orientation
How a personal feels sexually about people of various genders. The term describes who they are likely to pursue a sexual relationship with. Sexual activity is not necessarily representative of sexual orientation; people who have sexual relations with someone of the same gender may not identity as LGBTQ+. This is why terms like MSM and WSW are used in some contexts. 

Sexuality
This is a holistic term for someone’s sexual behaviours, attractions, likes, dislikes, kinks and preferences. Sexual orientation makes up a part of someone’s sexuality, and sexuality is sometimes used interchangeably with sexual orientation. However, it covers more than just who a person is attracted to. Sexuality is what you enjoy and how you enjoy it, whether that is about partners or activities. 


W

WSW/WLW
This stands for ‘women who have sex with women’/’women loving women’. WSW is used as a term within sexual health and other services to make these services more inclusive to women who have sex with other women but may not identify as LGBTQ+.


For more definitions, see the LGBTQ+ terminology guide from The National LGB&T Partnership, produced in partnership with Brook.


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