|Part of a series on|
Sexual identity is how one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is romantically and/or sexually attracted. Sexual identity may also refer to sexual orientation identity, which is when people identify or dis-identify with a sexual orientation or choose not to identify with a sexual orientation. 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 persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, to both sexes or more than one gender, or to no one.
Historical models of sexual identity have tended to view its formation as a process undergone only by sexual minorities, while more contemporary models view the process as far more universal and attempt to present sexual identity within the larger scope of other major identity theories and processes.
Definitions and identity
Sexual identity has been described as a component of an individual's identity that reflects their sexual self-concept. The integration of the respective identity components (e.g. moral, religious, ethnic, occupational) into a greater overall identity is essential to the process of developing the multi-dimensional construct of identity.
Sexual identity can change throughout an individual's life, and may or may not align with biological sex, sexual behavior or actual sexual orientation. 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 engaged in sexual activity with someone of the same sex, 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."
Heterosexuality describes a pattern of attraction to persons of the opposite sex. The term straight is commonly used to refer to heterosexuals. Heterosexuals are by far the largest sexual identity group.
Bisexuality describes a pattern of attraction toward both males and females, or to more than one sex or gender. A bisexual identity does not necessarily equate to equal sexual attraction to both sexes; commonly, people who have a distinct but not exclusive sexual preference for one sex over the other also identify themselves as bisexual.
Homosexuality describes a pattern of attraction to other persons of the same sex. The term lesbian is commonly used to refer to homosexual women, and the term gay is commonly used to refer to homosexual men, although gay is sometimes used to refer to women as well.
Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. It may also be categorized more widely to include a broad spectrum of asexual sub-identities. Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy.
Pansexuality describes attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others. Pansexuality is sometimes considered a type of bisexuality.
Polysexuality has been defined as "encompassing or characterized by many different kinds of sexuality", and as sexual attraction to many, but not all, genders.: 281–287 Those who use the term may be doing so as a replacement for the term bisexual, believing bisexual reifies dichotomies. Major monotheistic religions generally prohibit polysexual activity, but some religions incorporate it into their practices. Polysexuality is also considered to be another word for bisexuality.: 322
Sapiosexuality describes attraction to the intelligence of another person. The prefix sapio- comes from the Latin for "I [have] taste" or "I [have] wisdom" and refers to a person's preferences, proclivities, and common sense. Sapiosexual-identifying individuals can also be gay, straight, or bisexual. It is not a sexual orientation. It first gained mainstream attention in 2014 when dating website OkCupid added it as one of several new sexual orientation and gender identity options. About 0.5% of OkCupid users identify as sapiosexual, and it is most common among those ages 31–40. Women are more likely to identify as sapiosexual than men. Critics responded that sapiosexuality is "elitist," "discriminatory," and "pretentious." OkCupid removed the Sapiosexual identity on February 11, 2019 following considerable negative feedback, specifically quoting an article from Vice magazine.
Relationship anarchy combines polyamory and anarchical principles. Its practice has no norms but tends towards criticism of American relationship norms, absence of demands and expectations on partners, and lack of distinction between hierarchical value of friendship and romantic relationships.
Unlabeled sexuality is when an individual chooses not to label their sexual identity. This identification could stem from one's uncertainty about their sexuality or their unwillingness to conform to a sexuality because they don't necessarily like labels, or they wish to feel free in their attractions instead of feeling forced into same, other, both, or all attractions because of their sexual identity. Identifying as unlabeled could also be because of one's "unwillingness to accept their sexual minority status." Because being unlabeled is the purposeful decision of no sexual identity, it is different from bisexuality or any other sexual identity. Those who are unlabeled are more likely to view sexuality as less stable and more fluid and tend to focus more on the “person, not the gender.”
It is reported that some women who identify as unlabeled did so because they are unable or uncertain about the types of relationships they will have in the future. As such, this divergence from sexual labels could provide for a person to be able to more fully realize their "true" sexuality because it frees them from the pressure of liking and being attracted to who their sexual identification dictates they should like. Pham, Q.T. (2022) conducted an empirical qualitative research on the sexual identity management strategies of working women who experience sexual fluidity. The results show that female employees first consider or choose (non)identity that matches their new sexual attractions. These (non)identity choices include identity change, fluid identity, non-identity, and resisting identity. Next, strategies are utilized for managing that (non)identity at work—pass, cover, implicitly out, explicitly out, inform/educate. These strategies can be used independently or multiply (mixed/change), in which mixed strategy takes account of communication object and situation, while change strategy relies on time.
Most of the research on sexual orientation identity development focuses on the development of people who are attracted to the same sex. Many people who feel attracted to members of their own sex come out at some point in their lives. Coming out is described in three phases. The first phase is the phase of "knowing oneself," and the realization emerges that one is sexually and emotionally attracted to members of one's own sex. This is often described as an internal coming out and can occur in childhood or at puberty, but sometimes as late as age 40 or older. The second phase involves a decision to come out to others, e.g. family, friends, and/or colleagues, while the third phase involves living openly as an LGBT person. In the United States today, people often come out during high school or college age. At this age, they may not trust or ask for help from others, especially when their orientation is not accepted in society. Sometimes they do not inform their own families.
According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun (2006), "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process. Unlike members of other minority groups (e.g., ethnic and racial minorities), most LGB individuals are not raised in a community of similar others from whom they learn about their identity and who reinforce and support that identity" and "[r]ather, LGB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality."
Some individuals with unwanted sexual attractions may choose to actively dis-identify with a sexual minority identity, which creates a different sexual orientation identity from their actual sexual orientation. Sexual orientation identity, but not sexual orientation, can change through psychotherapy, support groups, and life events. A person who has homosexual feelings can self-identify in various ways. An individual may come to accept an LGB identity, to develop a heterosexual identity, to reject an LGB identity while choosing to identify as ex-gay, or to refrain from specifying a sexual identity.
Models of sexual identity development
Several models have been created to describe coming out as a process for gay and lesbian identity development (e.g. Dank, 1971; Cass, 1984; Coleman, 1989; Troiden, 1989). These historical models have taken a view of sexual identity formation as a sexual-minority process only. However, not every LGBT person follows such a model. For example, some LGBT youth become aware of and accept their same-sex desires or gender identity at puberty in a way similar to which heterosexual teens become aware of their sexuality, i.e. free of any notion of difference, stigma or shame in terms of the gender of the people to whom they are attracted. More contemporary models take the stance that it is a more universal process. Current models for the development of sexual identity attempt to incorporate other models of identity development, such as Marcia’s ego-identity statuses.
The Cass identity model, established by Vivienne Cass, outlines six discrete stages transited by individuals who successfully come out: (1) identity confusion, (2) identity comparison, (3) identity tolerance, (4) identity acceptance, (5) identity pride, and (6) identity synthesis. Fassinger's model of gay and lesbian identity development contains four stages at the individual and group level: (1) awareness, (2) exploration, (3) deepening/commitment, and (4) internalization/synthesis.
Some models of sexual identity development do not use discrete, ordered stages, but instead conceptualize identity development as consisting of independent identity processes. For example, D'Augelli's model describes six unordered independent identity processes: (1) exiting heterosexual identity, (2) developing personal LGB identity status, (3) developing an LGB social identity, (4) becoming an LGB offspring, (5) developing an LGB intimacy status, and (6) entering an LGB community.
The Unifying Model of Sexual Identity Development is currently the only model that incorporates heterosexual identity development within its statuses to include compulsory heterosexuality, active exploration, diffusion, deepening and commitment to status, and synthesis.
Contemporary models view sexual identity formation as a universal process, rather than a sexual minority one, in that it is not only sexual minorities that undergo sexual identity development, but heterosexual populations as well. More recent research has supported these theories, having demonstrated that heterosexual populations display all of Marcia's statuses within the domain of sexual identity.
- Androphilia and gynephilia
- Erikson's stages of psychosocial development
- Kinsey scale
- Men who have sex with men
- Queer heterosexuality
- Questioning (sexuality and gender)
- Situational sexual behavior
- Women who have sex with women
- Reiter L (1989). "Sexual orientation, sexual identity, and the question of choice". Clinical Social Work Journal. 17 (2): 138–50. doi:10.1007/BF00756141. S2CID 144530462. Archived March 10, 2022, at the Wayback Machine
- "Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation" (PDF). American Psychological Association. 2009. pp. 63, 86. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 3, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
Sexual orientation identity—not sexual orientation—appears to change via psychotherapy, support groups, and life events.
- Dillon, F. R., Worthington, R. L., & Moradi, B. (2011). Sexual identity as a universal process In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds), Handbook of identity theory and research (Vols 1 and 2), (pp.649-670). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media
- Luyckx, K., Schwartz, S. J., Goossens, L., Beyers, W., & Missotten, L. (2011). Processes of personal identity formation and evaluation. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles(Eds), Handbook of identity theory and research (Vols 1 and 2) (pp.77-98). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media
- Sinclair, Karen, About Whoever: The Social Imprint on Identity and Orientation, NY, 2013 ISBN 9780981450513
- Rosario, M.; Schrimshaw, E.; Hunter, J.; Braun, L. (2006). "Sexual identity development among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time". Journal of Sex Research. 43 (1): 46–58. doi:10.1080/00224490609552298. PMC 3215279. PMID 16817067.
- Ross, Michael W.; Essien, E. James; Williams, Mark L.; Fernandez-Esquer, Maria Eugenia. (2003). "Concordance Between Sexual Behavior and Sexual Identity in Street Outreach Samples of Four Racial/Ethnic Groups". Sexually Transmitted Diseases. American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association. 30 (2): 110–113. doi:10.1097/00007435-200302000-00003. PMID 12567166. S2CID 21881268.
- Laumann, Edward O. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press. pp. 298–301. ISBN 9780226470207. Archived from the original on November 13, 2020. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
- "Sexual orientation, homosexuality and bisexuality". American Psychological Association. Archived from the original on August 8, 2013. Retrieved August 10, 2013.
- Bailey, J. Michael; Vasey, Paul; Diamond, Lisa; Breedlove, S. Marc; Vilain, Eric; Epprecht, Marc (2016). "Sexual Orientation, Controversy, and Science". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 17 (2): 45–101. doi:10.1177/1529100616637616. PMID 27113562. Archived from the original on June 11, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
- "Understanding Bisexuality". American Psychological Association. 2019. Archived from the original on February 17, 2019. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
- "GLAAD Media Reference Guide" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on November 12, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2011.
- Robert L. Crooks; Karla Baur (2016). Our Sexuality. Cengage Learning. p. 300. ISBN 978-1305887428. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
- Scherrer, Kristin (2008). "Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire". Sexualities. 11 (5): 621–641. doi:10.1177/1363460708094269. PMC 2893352. PMID 20593009.
- Margaret Jordan Halter; Elizabeth M. Varcarolis (2013). Varcarolis' Foundations of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 382. ISBN 978-1-4557-5358-1. Archived from the original on July 26, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
- DePaulo, Bella (September 26, 2011). "ASEXUALS: Who Are They and Why Are They Important?". Psychology Today. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved December 13, 2011.
- Hill, Marjorie J.; Jones, Billy E. (2002). Mental health issues in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. American Psychiatric Pub. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-58562-069-2. Archived from the original on January 23, 2021. Retrieved February 28, 2011.
- Marshall Cavendish, ed. (2010). Sex and Society. Vol. 2. Marshall Cavendish. p. 593. ISBN 978-0-7614-7907-9. Archived from the original on November 4, 2020. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
- Diamond, Lisa M.; Butterworth, Molly (September 2008). "Questioning gender and sexual identity: dynamic links over time". Sex Roles. 59 (5–6): 365–376. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9425-3. S2CID 143706723. Pdf. Archived November 10, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
- The Oxford Dictionary of English defines pansexual as: "Not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity"."definition of pansexual from Oxford Dictionaries Online". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
- Firestein, Beth A. (2007). Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan. Columbia University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-231-13724-9. Archived from the original on February 4, 2021. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
- Simpson, John (ed.) (2009). Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN 9780199563838
- Board, Mykel. "Pimple No More." In Tucker, Naomi S. (ed.) Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, and Visions. Routledge, ISBN 9781560238690
- Garnets, Linda; Kimmel, Douglas C. (2003). Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences. Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231124133
- Hutchins, Loraine; Williams, H. Sharif (2011). Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives. Taylor & Francis, ISBN 9780415783040
- Ulaby, Neda (December 4, 2014). "Sapiosexual Seeks Same: A New Lexicon Enters Online Dating Mainstream". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on August 8, 2019. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Dolan, Eric W. (January 4, 2018). "Study of sapiosexuality suggests some people really are sexually attracted to intelligence". PsyPost. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
- "Latin Word Study Tool". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Archived from the original on November 29, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
- North, Anna (June 2, 2017). "The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual, It's the Brain". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 8, 2019. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
- McKnight, Zoe (March 27, 2017). "'Sapiosexual': yes, there's an app for that". The Record. Archived from the original on March 28, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
- Allen, Samantha (April 18, 2015). "Pretentious Is Not A Sexual Orientation". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on October 13, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Gignac, Gilles; Darbyshire, Joey; Ooi, Michelle (Winter 2018). "Some people are attracted sexually to intelligence: A psychometric evaluation of sapiosexuality". Intelligence. 66: 98–111. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2017.11.009.
- Dogra, Aditya (June 7, 2017). "Are you a sapiosexual? That's the term bouncing around the sphere of social media". Hindustan Times. Archived from the original on October 11, 2018. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- "Gender and Orientation on OkCupid". OkCupid.com. Archived from the original on January 27, 2021. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
- "People Who Only Want to Fuck Smart People Created Their Own 'Sexual Orientation'". Archived from the original on December 6, 2020. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
- DeLamater, John; Plante, Rebecca F. (2015). Handbook of the Sociology of Sexualities. Springer. p. 230. ISBN 978-3-319-17341-2. Archived from the original on November 2, 2021. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
- Diamond, Lisa M (2007). "A dynamical systems approach to the development and expression of female same-sex sexuality". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2 (2): 142–161. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00034.x. PMID 26151957. S2CID 9799972.
- Brooks, Kelly D.; Quina, Kathryn (2009). "Women's sexual identity patterns: Differences among lesbians, bisexuals, and unlabeled women". Journal of Homosexuality. 56 (8): 1030–1045. doi:10.1080/00918360903275443. PMID 19882425. S2CID 29970857.
- Pham, Q.T. (2022). "Female Sexually Fluid (Non)identity Management Strategies at Work". Journal of Homosexuality. online first: 1–27. doi:10.1080/00918369.2022.2111537. PMID 36047905. S2CID 251978462.
- "The Coming Out Continuum". Human Rights Campaign. Archived from the original on November 2, 2007. Retrieved May 4, 2007.
- Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation Archived June 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, pp. 60-61.
- Savin-Williams, R. (2011) Identity development among sexual-minority youth. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles(Eds), Handbook of identity theory and research (Vols 1 and 2) (pp.671-689). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media
- Savin-Williams, R. (2005). The new gay teenager. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
- Morgan, E. M. (2012). "Not always a straight path: College students' narratives of heterosexual identity development". Sex Roles. 66 (1–2): 79–93. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0068-4. S2CID 145141123.
- Worthington, R. L.; Navarro, R. L.; Savoy, H. B.; Hampton, D. (2008). "Development, reliability, and validity of the measure of sexual identity exploration and commitment (MOSIEC)". Developmental Psychology. 44 (1): 22–33. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206. PMID 18194002.
- Cass, V. C. (1979). "Homosexuality identity formation: A theoretical model". Journal of Homosexuality. 4 (3): 219–235. doi:10.1300/j082v04n03_01. PMID 264126.
- Fassinger, R. E.; Miller, B. A. (1997). "Validation of an Inclusive Modelof Sexual Minority Identity Formation on a Sample of Gay Men". Journal of Homosexuality. 32 (2): 53–78. doi:10.1300/j082v32n02_04. PMID 9010826.
- D'Augelli, A. R. (1994). Identity development and sexual orientation: Toward a model of lesbian, gay, and bisexual development.
- Dillion, F. R., Worthington, R. L., & Moradi, B. (2011). Sexual identity as a universal process. In S. J. Schwartz, K. Luyckx, & V. L. Vignoles (Eds.), Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 649-670). New York: Springer.
- Worthington, R. L.; Savoy, H. B.; Dillon, F. R.; Vernaglia, E. R. (2002). "Heterosexual identity development. A multidimensional model of individual and social identity". Counseling Psychologist. 30 (4): 496–531. doi:10.1177/00100002030004002. S2CID 4817535. Archived from the original on March 10, 2022. Retrieved October 3, 2020.