What is 'Sexual Orientation' vs. 'Gender Identity'
It's almost time for June's Pride Month! And more than ever, we as a society are discussing the breadth of diversity that makes life beautiful. These conversations are so important in pushing forward towards progress and a better, more accepting world. However, with all of the discussion, there is still a fair amount of confusion around terminology and exactly how people identify.
Take for example, ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ Most of us have seen these phrases used, maybe in recent news coverage or in a new workplace code of conduct. But what exactly do these phrases speak to and how should we really be using them? Also, being that these are typically self-identified, how should we all be interacting with others whose sexual orientations and identities are different than our own?
In this post, we’ll tackle the differences and similarities between sexual orientation and gender identity to hopefully set the record straight (or not straight, whatever works for you). *wink*
Defining ‘Sexual Orientation’ and ‘Gender Identity’ by the Book
Best place to start here is by exploring the technical definitions of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Sexual orientation is defined as a person's physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual).
- Gender identity is defined as a person’s internal, personal sense of being male or female or something outside of that traditional binary (for example: transgender, non-binary, gender nonconforming).
Ok, so there’s a lot of jargon there, so let’s break that down further. A simpler way to think about sexual orientation and gender identity is who someone is attracted to, versus how one defines one’s gender expression. There are more nuances than that, but that’s the key takeaway here. As you can see, these are distinct identities that don’t necessarily need to interact or overlap.
Psychologists and other experts have spent a lot of time studying sexual orientation and gender identity and have come up with some helpful insight into how these identities develop over one’s lifetime and how they might influence each other.
For example, gender identity is thought to develop as early as toddler age, as you start to understand the world around you and your place in it. This is around the age when children can start expressing gender through how they want to dress, what kind of play they prefer and how they talk to their friends, teachers and family.
Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is thought to develop in later elementary school or early middle school when children start experiencing attraction and the onset of puberty. Do you remember your first crush? It can be a powerful feeling of attraction!
Most people don’t start expressing their attraction until high school or young adulthood (or by the time you have sex), but many have a sense for who and what they prefer, including those who identify as bisexual, pansexual or asexual and are sexually attracted to people (or not) in unique ways.
Breaking Down Barriers and Binaries
Interestingly enough, a lot of the confusion about this terminology and these identities comes from the fact that we use the word “sex” for both attraction and biological gender. Sex and gender don’t need to line up exactly, and that’s where there is room for breaking down some of the traditional understandings around these concepts.
Depending on your experience growing up, you may have been instructed and encouraged to specifically behave in ways that were understood as traditionally masculine or feminine. That is to say, that based on your biological sex (determined by genes within your chromosomes at birth), there was a prescribed gender role you were supposed to play. However, life isn’t always this cut and dry.
For those who don’t feel comfortable within the sex they were assigned at birth categorically, these rigid lines can be the source of a lot of anguish and discomfort. The same is true of sexual orientation – many cultures and societies expect that heterosexual or straight is the only way to be attracted to others, but the reality is that there is a full range of sexual attraction that does not fit within this model.
And that is where sexual orientation and gender identity are most similar. Both can be as fluid or binary as you feel individually. It doesn’t necessarily need to be point A and point B, it can be a spectrum and we should all feel empowered to identify and explore who we are in our hearts and minds, and the people that we are drawn to.
Sexual Health Along the Spectra
Here at ONE®, we are committed to providing quality, premium sexual health products for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities (across the full spectrum). We as a company and sexual health providers around the country are moving away from terminology like “male condoms” and “female condoms” and focusing instead on being gender inclusive.
In fact, ONE® Condoms was just the first condom brand to be FDA approved for anal sex! And we’re really excited to bring even more pleasure (and peace of mind) to our customers, new and old.
Regardless of how you and your partner(s) identify, you can still rely on ONE® Condoms and our other sexual health products. Of course, you will still want to follow the standard tips and tricks for how best to use condoms correctly (for example, hold the condom in your hands and not your teeth when opening and only using silicone and water based lubricants to avoid damaging the latex).
We’ve also compiled some helpful tips and tricks for how you can be gender inclusive when discussing safer sex practices with your partner(s), as well as how to generally create safe spaces to talk about sexual health more broadly. This will ensure that your sexual experiences are full of passion and pleasure but also trust, communication and comfort with yourself and your partner(s).
Looking for more information and resources? Planned Parenthood has some great resources on sexual orientation and gender identity. And don’t forget to check out our collection of great sexual health products on our site, especially our new bundles!