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Modern Sexuality

Although there is resistance in some quarters, human sexuality is evolving. Most people are familiar with and understand the acronym LGBTQ, but the list of sexual identities is growing all the time. The words used and the definitions of those words are evolving and changing as we as a culture struggle to understand what sexuality means to different people. Here are some examples:

Queer -can be used to describe homosexuals, bisexuals, or transgendered people. In scholarly studies the word queer is also used to describe those who practice unconventional sex (e.g. bondage, etc.), therefore even heterosexuals can sometimes be defined as queer.

Questioning - to be unsure of or re-examining one's previously assumed sexual orientation or gender identity.

Demisexual – someone who experiences a lack of sexual attraction toward any person unless they become deeply emotionally or romantically connected with a specific person. In short, someone who only experiences sexual arousal with someone they are in love with.

Asexual – someone who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is the willful decision to not act on sexual feelings.

Pansexual - someone who can love someone else no matter that person’s sexual identity; like bisexuality, but even more fluid, a pansexual person can love not only the traditional male and female genders, but also transgendered, androgynous, and gender fluid people.

Trans - someone whose gender identity differs from her/his genetic sex...can be either male to female or female to male and s/he may have gone through gender/sex reassignment surgery (post-op) or not yet (pre-op) or never (non-op).

Cisgender - (often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. “Cisgender” may also be defined as those who have a gender identity or perform a gender role society considers appropriate for one's sex. It is the opposite of the term transgender.

Intersex – “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. (For more, see the Intersex Society of North America,

Lesbian - a woman whose emotional, romantic, and sexual energies are geared towards other women.

Gay – someone whose emotional, romantic and sexual energies are directed toward someone of the same sex. This word can be a little confusing because sometimes it refers to either men or women who are homosexual, and sometimes it is used to refer specifically to men who are homosexual.

Bi or Bisexual – someone whose emotional, romantic and sexual energies can be directed toward someone of the either sex. • Sapiosexual – someone who finds intelligence (whatever that may be to them) to be the most sexually attractive feature in a person. They become attracted to someone’s intelligence over other qualities, which may or may not override a preference for a specific gender.

In addition, modern sexuality encompasses different types of non-monogamous relationships such as polyamory, swinging, and open relationships.

Polyamory - the practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

Swinging - sometimes called “wife swapping” or “partner swapping,” is a non-monogamous behavior in which partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others outside the relationship. Swingers tend to refrain from romantic attachments with their outside partners, thus differentiating themselves from polyamorists.

Open Relationship - a relationship in which two people agree that they want to be together romantically and sexually, and also agree that they are each allowed to be with other people outside the relationship romantically and sexually.

Sexual Fluidity & Gender Fluidity
In another challenge to traditional views, many people now define sexuality as fluid. This reflects the idea that, rather than sexuality being static over the course of one’s life, that one’s sexuality change shift and change. For example, someone might identify as a “Mostly Straight Male” in order to indicate that he identifies as heterosexual but occasionally has sex with men. More women than men report being sexually fluid. Sexuality fluidity is becoming increasingly common among young people. A study released in August 2015 found that nearly one-third of American millennials identify as something other than straight, as compared to 14 percent of baby boomers. (For more, see One-third of millennials now say they're less than 100% straight.)

Gender Fluidity is used to describe people who do not necessarily identify as solely male or solely female. They identify as a mix of both or as neutral. (For more, see How science is helping us understand gender.)

What is Sexually Healthy Behavior?
In this changing world of sexuality, how does one know if their sexual behavior is healthy or not? Sexual health used to be evaluated only by looking at what sexual acts one did. However, this approach is riddled with biases and is not useful in today’s world. For instance, homosexuality used to be defined as a psychological disorder in the DSM (the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which is a comprehensive classification of officially recognized psychiatric disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). However, in 1987 it was removed from the DSM because the attitude toward the behavior had changed over time.

It is more useful and productive to evaluate sexual health by how you perform the actions, rather what the actions are. In their book, “Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior; Rethinking Sex Addiction,” authors Douglas Braun-Harvey and Michael Vigorito, offered a model for evaluating sexual health based on the following six principles:

1. Consent: was there a clear yes? Or no?

2. Non-exploitative: what, if any, are the power imbalances? Is information being withheld from one partner?

3. Protection: from HIV, STDs and unwanted pregnancy; have you had a safe sex talk beforehand?

4. Honesty: how transparent are you with your partner? Are your wants and desires expressed? Do you keep your agreements?

5. Shared Values: what does having sex mean to you?

6. Mutually Pleasurable: is the experience on balance satisfying for both? Or is it a one-way street?

For a different take on sexual health, the World Health Organization (WHO) has offered this definition:

“The state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction and infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive, respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

Conclusion: Labels Still Have Limits

Modern sexuality cannot be placed in one neat box. It is evolving and changing all the time, as are the terms people use to describe all the different ways of expressing one’s sexuality. But even with this process of creating new terms, some people are dissatisfied because they believe grouping sexual identities in narrow categories can restrict a person’s freedom to express themselves. From my point of view, people should use what works for them and refrain from judging someone else who may express in a different way. It’s about having respect for each individual and allowing them to choose how to express themselves as it suits them.


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Susannah Muller, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #49050
San Diego Counseling & Therapy
5230 Carroll Canyon Rd., Suite 314, San Diego, CA 92121
(619) 787-2743

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