What Is Sexual Identity? - Step To Health
 

What Is Sexual Identity?

Sexual identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation are terms that are often confused. Today, we'll tell you the differences between them.
What Is Sexual Identity?

Last update: 14 December, 2021

The spectrum that defines sexual behaviors and how people perceive themselves is very varied. It’s not surprising, then, that they’re a source of confusion both for those who seek refuge in them and for those who look at them from the outside. Today, we’ll explain what sexual identity is and how it differs from other labels.

The term “sexual identity” often appears in the company of other terms such as gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or under the universal concepts of gender and sex. While it’s true that these are related to some extent, they actually refer to different terms. Here’s why and what their characteristics are.

The characteristics of sexual identity

La identidad sexual es diversa
Sexual identity is constructed based on physical and romantic attraction to a person, in addition to that person’s sex or gender.

The label “sexual identity” refers to how you perceive yourself in the context of physical, emotional, or romantic attraction to others. Researchers point out that it’s a term that differs from gender identity.

In effect, gender identity refers to the subjective perception that a person holds about their gender, regardless of their sex at birth. Thus, a person with genetic, physical, and hormonal characteristics of the male sex can identify as a woman, or vice versa.

In contrast, sexual identity, as its name suggests, is more closely aligned with sexual preferences than one’s perception of gender. It’s similar to that of sexual orientation, only that it involves more reflection and consideration of variables (for example, the moral, ethnic, or religious ideas that the person has).

In short, sexual identity groups the deliberation of sexual tastes concerning the spectrum of the individual. This process includes elements not only related to sex, such as romantic or sentimental ones.

Types of sexual identities

When referring to types of sexual identity, an analogy is often made with types of sexual attractions and sexual orientations. There’s no consensus among the labels that can be used since those who use them often don’t use them in the same terms.

Apart from these differences, the classic model of sexual identities can be found in heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. However, as we’ve already pointed out, the process implies a complex indivual reflection concerning tastes or sexual inclinations, not just a passive or socially imposed assimilation.

In this sense, those who sympathize with heterosexual identity are physically, emotionally, and romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex (or gender). Those who sympathize with homosexuality are attracted to individuals of the same sex (or gender). Those who sympathize with bisexuality are attracted to two or more sexes (or genders).

It’s important to note that these three criteria are general. The label bisexuality is used to group together all attractions or orientations that cannot be categorized under the “hetero” or “homo” spectrum. That is, it also includes the following:

  • Queer
  • Transgender
  • Gender fluid

Of course, some are not comfortable with the label “bisexual” and therefore don’t use it when defining their sexual preferences. Controversy aside, we can also divide the types of sexual identity based on other criteria such as:

  • Monosexual: Sexual attraction to only one specific sex or gender (e.g., heterosexuality or homosexuality).
  • Polysexual: Sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender, though not necessarily all of them (bisexuality, pansexuality, and so on).

Also, part of the reflection also picks up the terms “monogamy” and “polygamy” related to the previous labels. However, this time, it’s done from the point of view of stable or lasting relationships. Monogamy revolves around sexual and romantic exclusivity, while polygamy breaks the barrier of exclusivity.

In addition, the process of sexual identity can also result in discovering asexuality or even preferences that don’t conform to established canons. As you can see, the term’s complexity makes it easy for confusion to arise. Although there have been attempts to create identity categories, the truth is that they can sometimes be insufficient.

We think you’d like to read: How Can I Know if My Child is Transgender?

Tendencies to hide sexual identity

La identidad sexual puede verse reprimida
The discriminatory behaviors of some people can lead to hiding sexual identity. The latter is associated with harmful health effects.

As the evidence points out, concealing one’s sexual identity, consciously or unconsciously, is a relatively common act. It’s done consciously when one knowingly decides to hide it out of fear of the social repercussions it may have (stigma, discrimination, acts of violence, rejection, and so on).

On the other hand, it’s also done unconsciously when one avoids reflecting on it altogether and closes the doors to discussion with oneself without necessarily thinking about the possible repercussions. Ultimately, it’s discriminatory acts by friends, family, colleagues, and society in general that lead to hiding one’s sexual identity.

As can be expected, the process of hiding one’s identity can have several consequences for an individual. Psychological distress, depression, and anxiety are just some of them. Similarly, it can lead to behaviors that further conceal the identity—for example, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and so on.

Misinformation and prejudice complement the social fear that can be felt when seeking one’s sexual identity. It’s not uncommon to require the mediation of a professional to internalize the process. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not something that’s done in the snap of a finger. Sometimes, it takes time, and patience can be a great ally in the reflection process.

It might interest you...
What is Intersex?
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
What is Intersex?

Have you heard of the term intersex, but don't know what it is? Read on and find out what researchers have to say about it.



  • Chrobot-Mason, D., Button, S. B., & DiClementi, J. D. Sexual identity management strategies: An exploration of antecedents and consequences. Sex roles. 2001; 45(5): 321-336.
  • Dillon, F. R., Worthington, R. L., & Moradi, B. Sexual identity as a universal process. In Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 649-670). Springer, New York, NY. 2011.
  • Diamond, M. Sex and gender are different: Sexual identity and gender identity are different. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry. 2002; 7(3): 320-334.