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Sexual Orientation

Oksana loves women. Manuel also loves women. Denize does not care about gender when falling in love. So, is there still a need to talk about it?

People use many labels to describe their sexual orientation – lesbian, heterosexual, pan, queer, bi, homosexual, gay. Often such labels do not only express whom people are sexually attracted to but also whom they fall in love with or whom they (want to) have a relationship with. People who are not at all interested in sexuality (asexual) can also be, for example, gay or hetero.

Hence, the term ‘sexual orientation’ is less clear than it may appear at first. Is it about sexual practice—who we choose to have sex with? Or is it about how we see ourselves and which group or culture we identify with? This can indeed differ. Some men have sex (also) with men, however, they identify as heterosexual. Some of those who identify with lesbian culture and movement can also be attracted to men or non-binary men.

‘Sexual identity’ is a term used to highlight this aspect in particular, and is also used in the anti-discrimination law context.

Where does sexual orientation come from?

It is still not clear what factors determine which gender or which genders a person feels sexually attracted to. There have been many attempts to pin down sexual orientation to one single factor (e.g. genetic or hormonal influence, education or early experiences) but so far none have scientifically prevailed.

Many people, in retrospect, have said their orientation started to develop when they were young. In puberty, for example, they knew: ‘I am attracted to women’. But life is full of surprises and you never know who might steal your heart. However, it is not possible to reverse the sexual orientation from outside or by sheer will power.

Is this not a private matter?

Some people hardly question their sexual orientation. Others on the other hand are very concerned, for example, because they realize that their way of falling in love and/or desiring another person is not considered ‘normal’. Or because they have to find fitting labels for their feelings.

Just like everything that has to do with feelings and intimacy, the sexual orientation of a person is something very personal. However, it has also a societal dimension: For example, when it comes to deciding who is allowed to bring his/her partner to a company party. Who is allowed to marry? Or who is allowed to see people reflected in texts books that feel and live similar to them.