Useful Terms to Understand


Sexuality is an important part of who we are as human beings from the time we are born to the time we die. It is made up of many things such as our biological sex; gender identity; gender roles; sexual orientation; and our abilities and choices around reproduction, intimacy, and sexual expression.

Sexuality can be experienced and expressed through our thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behavior/activities, roles, and relationships. Everyone is unique and therefore, there is a lot of diversity in the ways that people experience and express their sexuality.

Our sexuality does not exist in a bubble. It is influenced by many different factors such as our biology, our emotional well-being, our spiritual beliefs, and our social/economic /political /cultural environments. It is also influenced by religion, the legal system, and the values and attitudes of people around us. Sometimes it can be difficult to sort out how we really feel, or what we really want when there is so much outside pressure to be/think/act a certain way. If you are having issues with any parts of your sexuality, you can always call us at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre and we will do our best to help you. We have a sexuality counsellor, an educator, and several nurses and doctors who are here to support the healthy development of your sexual well-being.


Biological sex refers to the categories that we are commonly (and imperfectly) divided into, based primarily on the physical anatomy of our genitals. Typically, these categories are male and female, but it is possible for people to have a mixture of male and female biological sex characteristics.


Intersex refers to people who have ambiguous or indeterminate genitalia and/or biological sex characteristics. For example, a person may have genitals that do not fit the typical definition of male or female, or a person may be born with external genitals that are easy to identify as male or female, but have internal reproductive organs that are usually associated with the other sex.

Many parents and doctors of intersex children choose genital surgeries and hormone treatments to make their children’s bodies conform to the standard of either “male” or “female”. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to prevent these types of surgeries and treatments.

For more information and a list of resources, please visit The United States affiliate of the Organization Intersex International.


Gender refers to a collection of traits, behaviors, and roles that are culturally associated with maleness or femaleness. For example, the color pink is stereotypically associated with females and blue with males. Female children are stereotypically expected to play with dolls, while male children are often expected to play with toy cars.

Gender is a social and cultural construct, which means that it is something that is created and then supported by a society/culture through things like language, media, and policies. Concepts of gender may differ across cultures and throughout time.


A persistent discomfort or distress when there is a discrepancy of a person’s gender and assigned sex at birth.


Gender identity is an internal sense of where a person falls on the scale of masculinity and femininity (or both, or neither!). A person’s gender identity may or may not be the same as their biological sex. For example, a person could be born with a penis, but identify as a female. We are often taught that a person’s biological sex should be the same as their gender, but this is an outdated teaching. Human beings are diverse and this is something to be honored and celebrated!


Gender expression refers to the behaviors and characteristics that a person presents (intentionally or not) that demonstrate their gender identity. Examples of ways that people express their gender include clothing, hair styles, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc.


A transgender person is someone who does not identity with their assigned gender at birth. Their gender identity and/or gender expression may differ from conventional expectations of their biological sex. For example, a person may be born “female” (a label based on genitalia), but may not have an internal self-awareness of being female.

The word “transgender” or “trans” is often used as an umbrella term to describe a diverse range of identities and experiences. Examples include Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB), Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB), non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid, and many more.


Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB), Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) are other terms that trans people may use to describe themselves. FTM (female to male) and MTF (male to female) may also be used.


This is a term that refers to Indigenous traditions within some Native American and Indigenous groups. Two-Spirit often means that an individual has both a masculine and feminine spirit within their body, which is associated with a variety of unique roles and practices within Indigenous culture.


The term “gender queer” is typically used to describe individuals whose gender identity is neither masculine nor feminine. Someone may identify as between or beyond genders, or they may simply reject the traditional binary system of classifying people as male or female.


This term refers to persons whose gender is the same as their assigned biological sex. For example, someone who is born with female biological sex characteristics and identifies as a female.


Sexual orientation refers to the gender(s) that a person is sexually, emotionally, and/or romantically attracted to. Even though orientation is where a person’s attractions lie, that does not necessarily mean that it is connected to sexual behaviour. There are several types of sexual orientations:


This is an umbrella term that can be used to describe persons of all genders who are attracted to people of the same sex and/or gender or specifically for men who are attracted to men.


Women attracted to women


Attracted to one’s own and other gender(s)


A term used in academic, activist, and 2SLGBTQ+ circles that is meant to encompass all identities of sexualities and gender presentations rather than using 2SLGBTQ+. This term was a common slur in the past and has been reclaimed by the queer community. It should be used carefully, as some 2SLGBTQ+ persons and/or institutions (such as schools) may not be okay with it. It also serves as a sexual orientation.


Attracted to the opposite sex and/or gender. Often referred to as “straight”


Attraction regardless of gender


Someone who does not experience sexual and/or romantic attraction. This is not a disorder or abstinence. Asexuality and aromanticism often works on a scale.


These letters stand for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, and Asexual, among many more sexual and gender identities. There are several variations of this phrase, and sometimes people will use the term “rainbow community” in reference to people who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, queer, and/or questioning.