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Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression

Sexual Orientation

​​​​​​​​​​​​What is sexual orientation?

  • Sexual orientation describes a person’s emotional and/or sexual attraction to others.
  • Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing.
  • For many people, sexual orientation may change over time. Sexual orientation may not always reflect sexual behaviours.

​​​​​What are sexual orientations?

  • A person who identifies as straight (heterosexual) is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex or gender.
  • A person who identifies as gay is emotionally or sexually attracted to people of the same sex or gender. This term is most often used for a male who’s emotionally or sexually attracted to males.
  • A female who identifies as lesbian is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to females.
  • A person who identifies as bi or bisexual is emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people of any gender or sex. Also means a person who’s sexually attracted to males and females.
  • A person who identifies as asexual doesn’t feel sexually attracted to anyone, but may have emotional or romantic attractions to someone.
  • The word homosexual is a dated and potentially offensive word used for someone who’s emotionally and/or sexually attracted to people of the same sex. When you talk about people who are attracted to members of the same sex, it’s best to use the words gay or lesbian.

People may use different terms to describe their sexual orientation. If you don’t understand, ask the person what that term means to them (e.g., pansexual, demisexual, omnisexual).

You might also hear the word ally when people talk about sexual orientation. An ally is a person who advocates for human rights of sexual and gender-diverse people by challenging discrimination and heterosexism.​​​​

Current as of: August 1, 2016

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services