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Sexual orientation and romantic orientation are deeply intertwined for most people. A person may be physically attracted to and may be sexually intimate with someone that they are not romantically attracted to (or "in love with"). A person may also have a loving and romantic attraction to someone who they are not physically attracted to.

Sexual Orientation

For many people, gender or sex have the biggest impact on how sexually attractive they find someone, but this doesn't mean that people who are attracted to a particular gender are attracted to all people of that gender or always unattracted to people of other genders.

  • Differences in gender, sex, physique, dress, personality and many other traits can all play a role in how sexually attractive someone finds a person and also in what way they find them attractive.
  • People who identify as gay or same-gender-loving people are exclusively or primarily attracted to others of their own gender or sex. This is sometimes called being homosexual. Often, gay is used specifically for men who are attracted to other men, whereas women who are attracted to other women are often referred to as lesbians.
  • Straight people include men who are primarily or exclusively attracted to women, and women who are primarily or exclusively attracted to men. This is sometimes called being heterosexual.

Later in this web course, we'll find out what other kinds of orientations are possible.

Romantic Orientation

While sexual orientation is the tendency to feel sexual desire toward people of certain genders, a person may have the tendency to fall in love with certain people. We might call this romantic orientation—the desire for intimate and emotional relationships with people of particular genders or sexes. It's about who we feel affection for and may include who we seek out to build a life or family with.

What about you? Is your romantic orientation any different from your sexual orientation? Have you ever found someone to be physically attractive, but you didn't want a relationship with them? Have you ever been romantically interested in someone you just were not attracted to--or there was no "chemistry?"

Many people have had these experiences.

  • What someone looks for in a sexual partner is not always the same as what they look for in a romantic partner–including gender.
  • Just because someone is romantically attracted to another person, does not mean they must be sexually attracted to that person.
  • Just like sexual orientation, someone's romantic orientation may be based on sex or gender, but can also depend on a great number of other factors like those listed earlier.
  • What someone looks for in a sexual partner is not always the same as what they look for in a romantic partner–including gender.
  • Some people can only be sexually attracted to those they are already romantically or emotionally attracted to–a term called demisexual.
  • Some people are monogamous–they only fall in love with one person at a time.
  • Others are polyamorous–they can love and have honest, intimate relationships with multiple people simultaneously.

*See Quick Check Questions: Sexual Orientation vs. Romantic Orientation*

Next Module: Binary systems