Defining "Sexual Orientation"
If you were to Google “sexual orientation definition” you’d discover a variety of definitions. My definition is a modification of one offered by Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams in his book, The New Gay Teenager.
Sexual orientation is the preponderance of one’s emotional and physical attractions — whether stable or fluid — to males, females, both, or neither.
“Preponderance” means “the weight of the evidence.” The evidence that points to the truth about your sexual orientation is rooted in your attractions — both emotional and physical — to other people. Dr. Savin-Williams and I do not include sexual behavior in the definition because even a celibate person has a sexual orientation.
My definition emphasizes "emotional and physical attractions," which are at the core of the evidence that you will collect in Part 4. Let me explain why I chose each of those four words.
My definition acknowledges that some people do not experience sexual attraction for others. The term for this sexual orientation is "asexual" (the prefix a- means "not"). Many asexuals do experience emotional attractions for others. Some asexuals will define their "romantic orientation" using a term such as "hetero-romantic," "homo-romantic," or "bi-romantic." To learn more, check out the book The Invisible Orientation and visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network website.
My definition also acknowledges that some people experience their sexual orientation as being fluid rather than stable. This is an expansion of our understanding of sexual orientation that we'll explore further in Part 4.
Sexual Orientation & the Gender Binary
Finally, my definition assumes what is called "the gender binary," the assumption that everyone is either a man or a woman, a boy or a girl. But for some people, their gender transcends the male-or-female gender binary. They may identify as Beyond the Binary, Agender, Bigender, Gender Fluid, etc. Additionally, some people are attracted to transgender people, perhaps as well as to cisgender people.
Integrating beyond-the-binary transgender people into the definition of sexual orientation may be impossible because the very concept of sexual orientation is been rooted in the question, "Are you attracted to people of the same sex as you, the other sex, or both sexes?" Indeed, for some people the concept of sexual orientation isn't even meaningful.
Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?
No, because people do not choose their emotional or physical attractions. Rather, each of us discovers our emotional and physical attractions through life experiences. We do choose our sexual behavior, however. We also choose how we label our sexual orientation identity, and that identity is the topic of Part 2, “What is Sexual Orientation Identity?” (Use the navigation, on the left at the top of the page.)
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