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sexual orientation

n. One's tendencies of sexual attraction, considered as a whole.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination of these) to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality (the lack of sexual attraction to others) is sometimes identified as the fourth category.

These categories are aspects of the more nuanced nature of sexual identity and terminology. For example, people may use other labels, such as pansexual or polysexual, or none at all. According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation "also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions". Androphilia and gynephilia are terms used in behavioral science to describe sexual orientation as an alternative to a gender binary conceptualization. Androphilia describes sexual attraction to masculinity; gynephilia describes the sexual attraction to femininity. The term sexual preference largely overlaps with sexual orientation, but is generally distinguished in psychological research. A person who identifies as bisexual, for example, may sexually prefer one sex over the other. Sexual preference may also suggest a degree of voluntary choice, whereas the scientific consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice.

Scientists do not know the exact causes of sexual orientation, but they believe that it is caused by a complex interplay of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. They favor biologically-based theories, which point to genetic factors, the early uterine environment, both, or the inclusion of genetic and social factors. There is no substantive evidence which suggests parenting or early childhood experiences play a role when it comes to sexual orientation. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the opposite sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex.

Sexual orientation is reported primarily within biology and psychology (including sexology), but it is also a subject area in anthropology, history (including social constructionism), and law, and there are other explanations that relate to sexual orientation and culture.