What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is defined by the sexual and emotional attraction felt by one person towards another. Sexual orientation may or may not be the same as love orientation. Here are the definitions of the most common sexual orientations to help you find your way around.

  • Asexual: someone who feels little or no sexual attraction to others.
  • Bisexual: someone who is attracted to people who identify as men or women.
  • Pansexual: someone who is attracted to anyone, regardless of gender.
  • Heterosexual: someone who is attracted to people of the opposite gender.
  • Homosexual: someone who is attracted to people of the same gender.


The acronym LGBTQ appeared in the 90s to represent lesbian (L), gay (G), bisexual (B) and transgender (T) people. The + symbol was added to identify other sexual orientations and gender identities outside the binary schema (woman/man, homosexual/heterosexual). These terms often evolve. Today, it can sometimes be read as LGBTQIA+ or LGBTQIA2S+ to include queer (Q), intersex (I), asexual (A), “two spirit” or “two-spirited” (2S) people. The letter Q can also identify people with questions.

The term queer, meanwhile, can be used to represent gender identity, but also sexual orientation and gender expression. Queer people express themselves outside heteronormative labels, and don’t want to be pigeonholed.

What is gender identity and expression?

Gender identity represents the sense of being male, female, both, neither, nor somewhere else on the gender spectrum, despite one’s biological sex at birth. Gender binarity is based on social constructs and determines gender identities strictly by the individual’s physiology (male or female). For a long time, this concept was perceived as the norm.

Gender expression isthe way in which people express their gender according to their interests, whether through clothing, hairstyle, or body language. It also includes name changes and the use of pronouns to identify oneself. 

Today, there are many different ways of expressing gender identity.

  • Genderless or agender: someone who is not defined by a particular gender or by no gender at all.
  • Non-binary: someone who defines themselves beyond the binary gender of man or woman, has no gender, or their gender may fall between two categories or be fluid.
  • Androgynous: someone who expresses a gender that does not correspond to the binary gender, or is somewhere between male and female.
  • Two-spirited: someone who lives with both a feminine and a masculine spirit in their body. This is often used in some native cultures to describe themselves.
  • Cisgender: someone who has a gender identity and expression that corresponds to the sex at birth.
  • Fluid: the gender identity and expression vary over time according to personal choices.
  • Queer: someone who describes themselves as neither male nor female, both, or a mixture of the two
  • Transgender: aperson’s gender identity is different from their sex at birth.

All these elements are considered fluid because they can change over time. Like many things in life, your personality can evolve according to your age and experience, and so can your sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

Mental health, sexual orientation and gender identity

Although normal, asking yourself questions about your sexual orientation and identity can influence your mental health at times. There are many resources available to help you think through these issues, and it’s also important to surround yourself with people who support and accept you as you are. Here are a few guidelines to help you recognize them:

  • You feel they’re open-minded and you can confide in them in complete safety.
  • They learn about what you’re going through, so they know the facts about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
  • They’re compassionate and don’t pressure you to think it through.
  • They avoid judging, labelling, or jumping to conclusions.


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Tel-Jeunes. (2023) Orientations sexuelles et les identités de genre

Université Laval. La diversité sexuelle et de genre

Jeunesse j’écoute. (2023) 2SLGBTQ+ : Qu’est-ce que cela signifie?

Interligne.co – Votre espace pour LGBTQ+


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Illustration : Mario Fontaine

Contribution to the article : Isabelle Queval, psychologist

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