What Is Sexual Orientation?
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Sexual Orientation - Different From Gender Identity

Published on Jan 06, 2023 and last reviewed on Mar 08, 2023   -  5 min read


Read to understand how sexual orientation is determined and the factors influencing a person's sexual orientation.


Sexual orientation describes whether a person is straight, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or asexual. Some researchers define sexual orientation as the experience of having an attraction to a same-sex or opposite-sex. While on the other hand, some describe sexual orientation as a conscious choice that affects how people experience intimate relationships.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation is the sexual behavioral pattern - romantic or emotional attraction towards people of different genders and one's sense of identity based on those attractions. Although sexual identity and gender identity may sound confusing to some, these are different terms.

Sexual orientation is the choice a person makes on a specific sexuality. However, it does not mean one must act on their attraction; it simply describes how people relate to others based on their attraction. Some people believe that sexual orientation is fluid and can change over time; however, research suggests that sexuality develops early in a person's life and remains relatively consistent throughout their lives.

What Are the Types of Sexual Orientation?

These three types are generally referred to as straight, gay, and bisexual. However, recent surveys suggest it may not be as simple to categorize people as it was in the early days. Modern generations have more complex sexual orientations depending on their interests and sexual attitudes. The following are the different types of sexual orientations -

When Does Sexual Orientation Develop?

Sexual orientation begins to develop prenatally (inside the mother’s womb, that is, before birth) and continues after birth through early childhood and adolescence. Certain hereditary and neuroendocrine factors influence gender role behavior in childhood and sexual orientation in puberty to some extent. Sexual orientation begins to develop prenatally and comes into the picture only at puberty. Till then, the child’s primary and secondary sexual characteristics may still not be that noticeable. Social, environmental, cultural, and psychological factors also influence sexual development as they grow older and enter different stages of their lives. It is not certain whether a gay or lesbian sexual orientation is present before puberty, but it can be detected at an early stage of development. For this reason, the term "prehomosexual" may be considered or preferred.

How Is Sexual Orientation Different From Gender Identity?

While sexual orientation refers to one's preferences about romantic and sexual partners, gender orientation refers to how a person identifies themselves; as male, female, or bisexual.

  • Sexual Orientation: It is the personal choice and interest of the person as to how they are attracted and to whom they are attracted. Their interests could be sexual, non-sexual, or emotional attraction. In simple terms, it refers to whom a person wants to be with.

  • Gender Identity: It is the self-understanding of whether a person recognizes themselves as a particular gender, male, female, or bisexual. In simple terms, it refers to identifying their own gender.

There are several other categories for gender identity, including queer, intersex, and non-conforming. However, scholars disagree on the exact number of categories for gender identity, and the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity is still a matter of intense debate.

Are There Any Factors That Determine Sexual Orientation?

Researchers find no specific reason why people develop heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual sexual orientations. Likewise, there is no particular cause for these interests. However, there might be certain factors that help develop these interests.

  • Genetic and Developmental Factors - Development of sexual orientation begins prenatally. Researchers believe sexual orientation is partly heritable in men. Studies concluded genetic variations in a region on the X chromosome in males were linked to whether they were heterosexual or homosexual.

  • Hormonal Factors - Studies show prenatal testosterone exposure played a role in developing sex-typed interests in childhood and sexual orientation. Testosterone, however, could cause genetic variations prenatally that could alter the sexual orientation of the person in later stages of life. In addition, hormonal fluctuations during the different stages of life could also alter the sexual orientation of people. For example, heterosexual women approaching menopause experience a drop in their estrogen and progesterone levels. This naturally could cause a change in their sexual orientation to being asexual.

  • Social and Cultural Factors - Different cultural and social factors influence views on gender and sexuality, for example, specific laws, religion, and social norms. Social and cultural influences change a person's perception of sexual orientation and attitude toward sexuality.

  • Emotional Factors - Studies show emotionally vulnerable people, people with depression, anxiety, and people with a history of child abuse, sexual assaults, and rape victims may develop a change in their sexual orientation in their adulthood or later stages of life.

  • Combination Factors - A combination of the factors mentioned above may determine the sexual orientation of a person.

How Does Different Sexual Orientation Affect Mental Health?

Sexual orientation refers to one’s sense of being different and assigned at birth as a heterosexual or homosexual. LGBTQ+ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and queer (when sexuality still remains a question). People belonging to the LGBTQ+ community involve people from different socio-ethnic backgrounds and face extreme prejudice, stigma, and discrimination in societies. This group includes people who are intersex and those whose sexual orientation or gender identity is not primarily heterosexual or cisgender (a person whose gender identity is the same as their biological sex).

It is a community with a different sexual orientation which is a majority not accepted in society because of its influence on social impact and mental health. Some people face resistance from parents, teachers, relatives, and other community members, which can severely impact their well-being. Being different can naturally be a source of stress and anxiety that sexual minorities experience. Research shows that people from the LGBTQ+ suffer from mental health issues like:

  • Anxiety.

  • Depression.

  • Substance abuse.

  • Suicidal tendencies.

Studies also show people belonging to these communities may experience or are at a high risk of sexually transmitted diseases and genital cancers. One can overcome these mental health issues by talking to a therapist, seeking professional help, or joining various LGBTQ communities to be with like-minded people where they are accepted.


Though sexual orientation develops prenatally, it is important to understand that in most cases, sexual orientation remains stable. Still, some factors influence it, such as culture, friendships, and associations, and a few people may experience a change in their sexual orientation in later stages of life. However, one must understand that different sexual orientation of a person is simply the way people are, and acceptance is the key.

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Last reviewed at:
08 Mar 2023  -  5 min read




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