Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people: definitions

Bisexual: Describes a person whose sexual orientation is to individuals of more than one gender.

Gay: 1) Describes a person whose sexual orientation is primarily to individuals of the same gender. While used almost exclusively for men, some women also use this term. 2) Is an umbrella term for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Heterosexual: 1) Describes a person whose sexual orientation is primarily to individuals of the opposite gender. The term 'straight' is sometimes acceptable, though it may cause offence to some people. 2) Describes sexual behaviour of a person with an individual of a different gender.

Homosexual: 1) Describes a person whose sexual orientation is to individuals of the same gender. This term is understood to be a medical definition and is not widely used amongst people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. 2) Describes sexual behaviour of a person with an individual of the same gender.

Lesbian: A woman whose sexual orientation is primarily to other women.

LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. Note that some people object to the grouping together of transgender people with lesbian, gay and bisexual people, as transgender status is viewed as relating to sexual identity rather than to sexual orientation. While the term is frequently used and acceptable to many, it is important to be aware that it may be controversial for some and care should be taken to avoid causing offence.

MSM: Men who have Sex with Men. MSM is often used in sexual health research where there is a focus on sexual behaviour rather than self-defined sexual orientation. However, use of this term can cause offence to some people who prefer to describe themselves in terms of orientation rather than behaviour.

Sexual Orientation: This refers to each person's capacity for emotional, affectionate and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.

WSW: Women who have Sex with Women. WSW is often used in sexual health research where there is a focus on sexual behaviour rather than self-defined sexual orientation. However, using this term can cause offence to some people who prefer to describe themselves in terms of orientation rather than behaviour.

Further gender related definitions are available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission's publication Collecting information on gender identity(324kb).