Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)

  • I have heard people use the terms sex, sexuality and sexual orientation, but I don’t know what they mean

    Sex refers to the biological, anatomical, physiological and chromosomal difference between females and males present at birth such as the presence of a vagina or penis, menstruation or sperm production, difference in genetic make-up etc. Sex is also used to describe physical sexual acts that include, but are not limited to,  vaginal, anal, oral intercourse, masturbation and kissing among other acts.

    Sexuality is the erotic aspect of the human experience throughout life, experienced in fantasies, desires, beliefs and behaviors. Aside from its reproductive aspects, sexuality encompasses gender identity, gender norms and roles and sexual orientations and identities. Also, sexuality is influenced by the interaction of social, biological, economic and political dimensions, particularly as constructed under patriarchal and heteronormative systems of power that run society.

    Sexual orientation, on the other hand, describes and categorizes sexual attraction towards the other, mainly as whether attraction is towards people of the same sex/gender, a different sex/gender, or to more than one gender. Sexual orientation can be seen as categories (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual) or as a fluid description of sexual desire and attraction.

  • So then, what is gender and how is it different from sex?

    Gender is how societies view men and women, how they are distinguished, and the roles assigned to them. People are generally expected to identify with a particular gender, that has been assigned (gender assignment) to them, and act in ways deemed appropriate for this gender. While gender roles are based on expectations that a culture has of behavior appropriate for male or female, gender identity is an individual’s sense of belonging to the category of men or women or neither of the two. We attribute a gender (gender attribution) to someone.

    Sex (male and female) describes a (usually) either/or categorization of humans based on their biology, whereas gender (men and women) describes the social dimension of these two categories. Gender is how societies view, and distinguish between, men and women not through their biology but through assigning gender norms (assigned masculine and feminine roles to thoughts, behaviors, dress codes, politics etc…). While gender roles are based on expectations that a culture has of behavior appropriate for men or women, gender identity is an individual’s sense of belonging to the category of men or women or neither of the two (gender queer, transgender, genderless…). People are generally expected to identify with a particular gender (either man or woman), which has been assigned (gender assignment) to them at birth based on a complex set of cues, which vary from culture to culture. These cues can range from the way a person looks dresses and behaves to the context in which they do so and also on their relationship with and use of power.

  • What does homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual mean?

    These are categories of sexual orientation that can either describe a behavior or an identity. As an identity, some people who are attracted to the opposite sex self-identify as heterosexual, some attracted to the same sex self-identify as homosexual and some attracted to both sexes self-identify as bisexual. Some women who are attracted to other women might label themselves lesbians and some men attracted to other men may label themselves as gay. These categories also refer to behaviors and not identities; you can read more about this in the next question.

  • A couple of nights ago I fooled around with my same-sex best friend. Does that mean I’m a lesbian, gay or bisexual?

    Not necessarily. Sexual orientation — homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual — is not based solely on the sex of the people we may have sexual contact with. It is based on the sex to which we are predominantly attracted. Someone who is gay or lesbian, for example, has a primary erotic, psychological, emotional, and social interest in people of the same sex. Likewise straight people have a primary erotic, psychological, emotional, and social interest in people of the opposite sex.

    Often people have sex with partners outside of their sexual orientation. For example, there are people with predominately same-sex fantasies and erotic attractions who have opposite-sex partners. There are people who just enjoy playing with partners outside their sexual orientations every once in a while, and they do not care to be labeled and may very well be comfortable with their sexuality as such without any labels. The terms lesbian gay bisexual (LGB) are labels that some people wish to identify with and many others don’t. Just because someone is attracted-to and/or has sex with a member of the same sex does not mean they should self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

    It is possible that our understanding of our sexual orientation will change as we grow up through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. And we may have partners of the opposite or the same sex or both. But because there is such a cultural stigma against non-hetero orientations, it may take a while for some to feel comfortable playing out their desires and feelings.

  • What is an asexual person?

    A person identifying as asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which is a matter of choice, asexuality is an intrinsic part of the person. Asexual bodies are perceived to be the same but there is significant diversity among people who are asexual; each asexual person experiences relationships, attraction, and arousal in a manner unique to them. This does not mean that asexual persons, like anyone else, dont have emotional needs. Some prefer being on their own, others are happier when with close friends. Some asexual persons desire more intimate romantic relationships, and are likely to date or seek long-term partnerships. Asexual persons may find themselves attracted to people who identify as sexual persons. Like any other identity – at its core, asexuality is a word that people use to most accurately describe their reality for as long as it makes sense to them.

  • What causes homosexuality?

    That question is as difficult to answer as ‘what causes heterosexuality?’ No one knows for sure. Some foolishly suggest that maybe a person turned lesbian because she had a bad experience with a man, or a man became gay because a woman mistreated him. If this were truly the case, then there should be many more lesbian and gay people, shouldn’t there?

  • Can lesbians or gays be cured?

    Attempts to clinically or therapeutically ‘treat’ homosexuality, although may cause temporary changes, is a violent practice. Although we believe sexuality is fluid, and attraction changes, this has to happen organically and forceful attempts to change sexual desire and behavior are emotionally harmful.

  • What is the difference between transsexual, transgender, and intersex persons?

    Transgender persons: Individuals who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth and want to change through changing their behavior and/or appearance to suit their preferred gender expression. The term transsexual may be used when someone undergoes surgery, hormonal medication or other procedures to make these changes. They may or may not identify as homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual; do not mistake gender identity and sexual orientation to be the same or necesaarily linked to one another.

    Intersex person: An individual born with the physical characteristics of both males and female,  have external sex organs that are not easily distinguishable as female or male, or have sex chromosomes that are different from the usual xx — female — or xy — male. These differences in chromosomes may not appear on the body and so they may live their whole lives and never know. These individuals may or may not identify as men or women.