What is sexual identity?

Sexual identity is a term prone to misinterpretation. Today we tell you what it is and what its characteristics are.

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz on December 03, 2021.

Last update: December 03, 2021

The spectrum that defines sexual behaviors and the way in which people perceive themselves is very varied. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are a source of confusion both among those who seek refuge in them and those who look from the outside. Today we explain what sexual identity is and how it differs from other labels.

The term sexual identity It often appears in the company of others as gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation or under the universal concepts of gender and sex. Although it is true that these are related to some extent, they actually refer to different terms. We show you why and what are its characteristics.

Characteristics of sexual identity

Sexual identity is built taking into account the physical and romantic attraction to a person, in addition to their sex or gender.

The tag is used sexual identity to refer to the how you perceive yourself in the context of physical, emotional, or romantic attraction to others. The researchers point out that it is a term that differs from gender identity.



Indeed, gender identity refers to the subjective perception that a person maintains about their gender, regardless of the sex assigned at birth. In this way, a person with male genetic, physical and hormonal characteristics can be identified as female.

On the contrary, sexual identity, as its name implies, is more aligned with sexual preferences than with one’s own perception of gender. It is a parallel idea to that of sexual orientation, only that implies greater reflection and consideration of variables (for example, the moral, ethnic or religious ideas that the person has).

Ultimately, sexual identity groups the deliberation of sexual tastes in relation to the spectrum of the individual. This process includes ties not related to sex, such as romantic or sentimental ones.



Types of sexual identities

When referring to types of sexual identity, an analogy is made with types of sexual attractions and sexual orientations. In this point there is no consensus between the tags that can be used, since those who use them do not do so in the same terms.

Saving these differences, the classic model of sexual identities is found in heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. As we have already pointed out, the process implies an identity reflection with respect to sexual tastes or inclinations, not just a passive or socially imposed assimilation.

In this sense, whoever sympathizes with heterosexual identity feels physically, emotionally and romantically attracted to people of the opposite sex (or gender), whoever does it with homosexuality will do so towards individuals of the same sex (or gender) and who understands with bisexuality will do so with two or more sexes (or genders).

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

  • Queer.
  • Transsexual
  • Gender fluid.

Of course, there are those who are not comfortable with the bisexual label and therefore do not use it when defining their sexual preferences. Apart from the controversies, we can also divide the types of sexual identity based on other criteria such as:

  • Monosexual: sexual attraction only to a specific sex or gender (for example, to heterosexuality or homosexuality).
  • Polysexual: sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender, although not necessarily all of them (bisexuality, pansexuality, and so on).

Part of the reflection also includes the terms of monogamy and polygamy, which are related to the previous labels. However, this time it is done from the point of view of stable or lasting relationships. Monogamy revolves around sexual and romantic exclusivity, while polygamy breaks the exclusivity barrier.

The process of sexual identity can also lead to the discovery of asexuality or, even, that preferences do not conform to established canons. As you can see, the complexity surrounding the term makes it easy for confusion to arise. Although there have been attempts to create identity categories, the truth is that sometimes they can be insufficient.

Tendencies to conceal sexual identity

The discriminatory behaviors of some people can lead to concealment of sexual identity. The latter is related to harmful effects on health.

As the evidence points out, Concealing sexual identity, consciously or unconsciously, is a relatively common act. It is done consciously when, knowingly, it is decided to hide it for fear of the social repercussions it may have (stigma, discrimination, acts of violence, rejection and others).

For its part, it is done unconsciously when reflection on it is completely avoided and the doors are closed to discussion with oneself without necessarily thinking about the possible repercussions. Ultimately, discriminatory acts by friends, family, colleagues and society in general is what leads to conceal sexual identity.

As is to be expected, the identity concealment process can generate various consequences for the person. Psychological distress, depression or anxiety are just some of them. In the same way, it can lead to behaviors that try to cover up identity more. For example, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and so on.

Disinformation and prejudice complement the social fear that can be felt when seeking a sexual identity. It is not uncommon for the mediation of a professional to be required to internalize the process. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a snap of the fingers. Sometimes it takes time, so patience can be a great ally in reflection.

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