A glossary of sexual terms
About definitions of sexual terms:
Almost all glossaries of sexual terms have a single definition for each term -- the one preferred by the compiler.
This list is different. It describes the various meanings assigned to sexual
terms by various religious, therapeutic and other groups.
In most cases, secularists, religious
liberals, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, the medical profession,
biologists, therapists, etc. have reached a joint consensus on the meaning of most sexual terms.
However, many religious conservatives assign unique and different meanings to some of these
terms. This difference in definitions can greatly complicate attempts at
dialogue. Perhaps that is why the differences exist. The person who defines the terms has already gone a long way towards winning the debate.
Consider two examples:
When discussing homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual feelings of attraction:
Evangelical Christians sometime still use the term "sexual preference." This fits well into the common conservative Christian concept that homosexuals merely prefer to have sex with a person of the same gender. This implies that a homosexual can enter therapy and easily develop feelings of attraction to members of the opposite sex instead, and thus can thus feel and behave as a heterosexual.
The Roman Catholic Church uses the term "homosexual tendencies" in place of "homosexual orientation." This is seen in its Catechism, in its 2014 human sexuality poll, and other documents. Some members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual (LGBT) community find the term "tendencies" offensive.
All or essentially all other groups use "orientation" as in "homosexual orientation" or "sexual orientation." This implies that one's feeling of attraction to:
- members of the opposite sex (heterosexual), or to
- members of both sexes (bisexual), or to
- members of the same sex (homosexual)
is always or almost always fixed.
- Some religious conservatives still use the term "homosexual lifestyle" or "gay lifestyle." Other lifestyles, like whether to live in the country or city or suburb, whether to be self employed or work for a company; whether to rent an apartment or buy a house, marry or remain single, etc. are all choices that people make for themselves. This again fits well into the common conservative Christian concept that homosexuals choose to adopt the homosexual lifestyle and can change at any time.
- All or essentially all other groups use "orientation" in place of "lifestyle." Again, this implies that homosexuals are attracted only to members of the same sex, and are stuck with these feelings; a heterosexual is stuck with attraction to the other sex. Bisexuals have no option but to be attracted to both men and women. As Woody Allen said: "Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night." "Orientation" also implies that a person's sexuality is discovered, not chosen.
Some of the definitions that follow are somewhat simplified and are intended for a
general audience. Full medical definitions are often more complex, specific, and
less useful to the general public.
It is important to remember that many sexual terms have fluid definitions. Their meanings differ from region to region, country to country, and over time.
A special case: terms related to adults or older youths sexually attracted to young persons:
Most adults are sexually attracted only to other adults and find the thoughts of persons being sexually attracted to children as particularly creepy and disgusting. But the latter do exist and are covered by the term "chronophilia" -- often defined as a person's preference or exclusive interest in sexual partners who appear to be in a specific age range.
Scattered throughout the following three lists are terms that refer to adults or older adolescents having a sexual attraction towards young persons. The terms cover different age ranges for the young person:
Infantophilia: infants and toddlers ages birth to 3 years-of-age.
Pedophilia: child who has not reached puberty; typically under 13 years-of-age.
Hebephilia: child who is in the early years of puberty. Since children reach puberty at different ages, this may extend from 11 to 14 years-of-age.
Ephebophilia: post-pubertal teens who are minors, typically in the age range of 14 to 17 years.
Unfortunately, a complete and precise definition of all chronophilias would require different sets of terms for adults who are:
- Exclusively attracted to children of a specific age, or
- Primarily attracted to such children, or
- Mildly attracted to such children in addition to being attracted to other adults.
Also, different sets of terms are needed for adults or older adolescents who:
- Sexually abuse children by acting on their chronophilia, or
- Do not act on their chronophilia.
Consider one term -- "pedophile." This has been given a range of meanings in the media. It can refer to:
Adults who are sexually attracted to children:
- under the age of 18, or
- children who have not reached puberty, or
- children 13 years or younger.
Adults who have an:
- exclusive or primary sexual interest in such children, or
- sexual interest in such children as well as towards other adults.
Adults with this version of chronophilia who:
- criminally act on their feelings of attraction by sexually abusing children, or to
- adults who never abuse children.
- Sometimes older teens are included within the definition of "pedophile" in addition to adults.
Thus, the term "pedophile" covers an extremely broad range of actions and sexual attraction. It is almost meaningless unless carefully defined in advance.
Links to lists of terms beginning with the letters:
Other related glossaries in this web site:
Copyright © 2003 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-DEC-11
Latest update: 2019-MAR-03
Author: B.A. Robinson