Sexual Attraction and Orientation

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Sexual Attraction is a form of physical attraction where one may desire sexual interaction with a particular individual. This may include a desire for sexual intercourse, sexual touching/groping, kissing, etc. One's pattern of sexual attraction towards certain genders typically (but not always) forms that individual's sexual orientation. Sexual orientations are often identified by the usage of the '-sexual' suffix, such as heterosexual, or bisexual.

Sexual attraction should not be confused with sex drive (libido). While sex drive and sexual attraction may both cause an individual to desire sexual interaction, sex drive is a general desire not directed at a specific person, whereas sexual attraction is specifically directed at a target individual(s).

Sexual attraction also should not be confused with sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is a physical response to stimulus, often triggered by sexual stimulation or preparation for sexual interaction. While sexual attraction and sex drive both may result in sexual arousal, they are not the same thing.

Sexual attraction can be caused by or enhanced by things such as the physical qualities, clothing, movements, voice, personality, or other qualities of a individual. An individual who regularly experiences sexual attraction would be allosexual. Someone who does not regularly experience sexual attraction may be asexual or otherwise a-spec.

A sexual desire for another individual may be called a smush or a lust, similar to a romantic crush.


The term sexual orientation was created by various sexologists, or social scientists who observed and catalogued sexuality in the mid-1800s. One of the earliest sexual orientation classification schemes was proposed in the 1860s by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.[1] The classification scheme, which was meant only to describe men, separated them into three basic categories:

In addition, Ulrichs created four terms describing variations of urning, including mannling, or a masculine urning; weibling, or a feminine or "effeminate" urning; zwischen, or a somewhat manly and somewhat "effeminate" urning that is comparable to androgynous; and virilised, or an urning that sexually behaves like a dioning, comparable to straight-passing.

In 1894, Richard von Krafft-Ebing created the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" in his sexology book Psychopathia Sexualis,[2] leading to the long-standing medicalization of LGBT+ identities and association between queer sexuality and mental health and neurodivergence.[3]

In 1896, Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld published a scheme that applied to both women and men that measured the strength of an individual's sexual desire on two independent 10-point scales, the "A" or homosexual scale and "B" or heterosexual scale.[4] A heterosexual individual may be A0, B5; a homosexual individual may be A5, B0; an asexual would be A0, B0; and someone with an intense attraction to more than one gender would be A9, B9.

The Kinsey Scale, also called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, was first published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and was also featured in the 1953 sequel report Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.[5][6] The Kinsey Scale provides a classification of sexual orientation based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or desire in one's history at a given time rather than assuming that individuals are either exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual.

The stigmatization of those who would not be classified as heterosexual, including heterosexual trans individuals, in the early and mid 1900s led to political organizing in the US around individualized marginalized sexual orientations and sometimes gender identities, including organizations like Mattachine Society, whose members were primarily gay, and the Daughters of Bilitis, whose members were primarily lesbian.[7] After the Stonewall riots initially caused more co-organizing, however, some gay and lesbian individuals became less accepting of bisexual or transgender people in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.[8][9] From about 1988, activists began to use the initialism LGBT,[10] and it was not until the 1990s within the movement that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals had increased rights.[9]


Open identification of one's sexual orientation, especially if not straight, cisgender, or allosexual, may be hindered by homophobic and heterosexist environments. Social systems such as language and cultural traditions can have a powerful impact on the realization of sexual orientation.

Integration of sexual orientation with sociocultural identity may be a challenge for LGBT individuals. Individuals may or may not consider their sexual orientation to define their sexual identity, as they may experience various degrees of fluidity or may simply identify more strongly with another aspect of their identity, such as family role.[11][12]

An individual may presume knowledge of another individual's sexual orientation based upon perceived characteristics, such as appearance, clothing, voice (such as the "gay voice"), the company one keeps, and behavior with other individuals. The attempt to detect sexual orientation in social situations is sometimes colloquially known as "gaydar". Language can also be used to signal sexual orientation to others, but it can also force individuals to identify with a label that may or may not accurately reflect their sexual orientation.[13]

The internet, in particular social media, is a common origin of modern discourse on the subject of sexual orientation and shapes popular conceptions around sexual identities.[14][15] Tumblr in particular is a common origin of queer sexual discourse, although Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit are also frequently sites of discourse as well.[16][17]

Translation is a major obstacle when comparing different cultures. Many English terms lack equivalents in other languages, while concepts and words from other languages fail to be reflected in the English language.[18]

Some other cultures do not recognize a distinction between homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, instead categorizing a individual's sexuality according to their sexual role, such as "active" or "passive." In this distinction, the passive role is typically associated with femininity or inferiority, while the active role is typically associated with masculinity or superiority.[19] Some cultures may also have exclusive genders, particularly cultures and individuals impacted by the double bind of racism and heteronormativity.

Further Reading


  1. Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich. The Riddle of "man-manly Love": The Pioneering Work on Male Homosexuality. United States, Prometheus Books, 1994.
  2. von Krafft-Ebing, Richard. Psychopathia Sexualis. 1894.
  3. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Pantheon Books, 1978.
  4. Ramien, Theodor. Sappho and Socrates or how is the love of men and women for people of their own sex explained?. Leipzig, 1896.
  5. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual Behavior In The Human Male. Digital Library Of India, 1949.
  6. Kinsey, Alfred C. Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia, Saunders, 1953.
  7. Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. : a Documentary History. United Kingdom, Meridian, 1992.
  8. Leli, U. and Drescher, J. Transgender Subjectivities: A Clinician's Guide. Taylor & Francis, 2004.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Alexander, J. and Yescavage, K. Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others. Harrington Park Press, 2003.
  10. American Educational Research Association. Annual Meeting Program. 2008.
  11. Mock, S.E., Eibach, R.P. Stability and Change in Sexual Orientation Identity Over a 10-Year Period in Adulthood. Arch Sex Behav 41, 641–648 (2012).
  12. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253.
  13. Leap, William L. Word’s Out: Gay Men’s English. NED-New edition, University of Minnesota Press, 1996. JSTOR, Accessed 21 Feb. 2023.
  14. Sharpe, Leon, and Holtzman, Linda. Media Messages: What Film, Television, and Popular Music Teach Us About Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, 2014.
  15. O'Connor, C. (2017), ‘Appeals to nature’ in marriage equality debates: A content analysis of newspaper and social media discourse. Br. J. Soc. Psychol., 56: 493-514.
  16. Oakley, A. (2016). Disturbing Hegemonic Discourse: Nonbinary Gender and Sexual Orientation Labeling on Tumblr. Social Media + Society, 2(3).
  17. Networked Affect. United Kingdom, MIT Press, 2015.
  18. Sechrest, L., Fay, T. L., & Zaidi, S. M. H. (1972). Problems of Translation in Cross-Cultural Research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 3(1), 41–56.
  19. Gender and Sexual Identities in Transition: International Perspectives. United Kingdom, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.