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Sexual identity refers to how one thinks of oneself in terms of whom one is romantically or sexually attracted to. Sexual identity and sexual behavior are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguished, with identity referring to an individual's conception of themselves, behavior referring to actual sexual acts performed by the individual, and sexual orientation referring to romantic or sexual attractions toward the opposite sex, the same sex, both sexes, or having no attractions.
Sexual identity may or may not relate to a person's actual sexual orientation. For example, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people may not openly identify as such in a homophobic/heterosexist setting or in areas whose record on LGBT rights is poor.
Sexual identity can change throughout an individual's life, and may or may not align with biological sex. In a 1990 study by the Social Organization of Sexuality, only 16% of women and 36% of men who reported some level of same-sex attraction had a homosexual or bisexual identity. Sexual identity is more closely related to sexual behavior than sexual orientation is. The same survey found that 96% of women and 87% of men with a homosexual or bisexual identity had participated in sex with someone of the same sex, as contrasted to 32% of women and 43% of men who had same-sex attractions. Upon reviewing the results, the organization commented, "Development of self-identification as homosexual or gay is a psychological and socially complex state, something which, in this society, is achieved only over time, often with considerable personal struggle and self-doubt, not to mention social discomfort."
See also 
- "Sexual Identity and Gender Identity Glossary".
- Reiter L (1989). "Sexual orientation, sexual identity, and the question of choice". Clinical Social Work Journal 17: 138–50.
- Sinclair, Karen, About Whoever: The Social Imprint on Identity and Orientation, NY, 2013 ISBN 9780981450513
- Laumann, Edward O. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press. p. 299.