Let’s start with some simple definitions:
Sexual orientation is the genders that a person is sexually attracted to.
Romantic orientation is the genders that a person is romantically attracted to.
So sexual orientation describes a who a person wants to have sexual relationships with, and romantic orientation describes who a person wants to date or have romantic relationships with.
Here are some examples of sexual orientations:
Heterosexual — sexually attracted to people of a different gender
Homosexual — sexually attracted to people of the same gender
Bisexual — sexually attracted to two or more genders
Pansexual — sexaully attracted to people of all genders
Asexual — not sexually attracted to people of any gender
And here are some examples of romantic orientations:
Heteroromantic — romantically attracted to people of a different gender
Homoromantic — romantically attracted to people of the same gender
Biromantic — romantically attracted to two or more genders
Panromantic — romantically attracted to people of all genders
Aromantic — not romantically attracted to people of any gender
Sexual orientation and romantic orientation often align. For example, a person may be homosexual and homoromantic. They want to have sex and they want to date people of the same gender as themself.
But sometimes sexual orientation and romantic orientation do not align. For example, a person might be bisexual but heteroromantic. They may enjoy having sex with multiple genders, but they only want to have romantic relationship with one gender.
Many asexual people, who are not sexually attracted to people of any gender, do still want romantic relationships. They want to date and have long-term intimate relationships, and they may want to do this with people of specific genders. So it can be particularly helpful for this community to be able to talk about romantic orientations.
Sometimes people use words like gay, straight, or bi to describe both sexual orientation and romantic orientation.
People also sometimes use the concept of sexual orientation to describe both sexual and romantic interests (the two things we’re making a distinction between here). There are a few reasons why this happens:
- The idea of romantic orientations is newer, so lots of people don’t have the words to describe the difference (and if your sexual and romantic orientations align, you may not have a driving need to).
- In many social contexts, it’s relevant for other people to know who you’re interested in romantically, but it’s not actually important for them to know about your sexual desires or activities. Who you date is often public, who you have sex with is often private.
- When we talk about discrimination, it’s important to use a broad definition of sexual orientation. People shouldn’t be harmed based on the genders of who they are sexually or romantically attracted to.