Glossary on Sex

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Glossary on Sex

Dr Lisa Severine Nolland and John Richardson


This is a work-in-progress document which we hope will prove useful in defining and clarifying important terms and concepts from a traditional Western historical and religious perspective. We offer it as a tool in order to help comprehension, stimulate thinking, deepen understanding and promote communication.

Others may wish to produce their own glossary, with the definitions and the corresponding values which underpin them. Words and their definitions are key here. If we are to understand each other, we need to know the meaning of each other’s words. Any suggestions or comments are warmly welcomed. Please send them to

In this glossary we are coming at terms and concepts from a distinct ideological place; even the very inclusion or exclusion of certain words is value-laden. But all who communicate do so from a distinct ideological vantage, whether they realise it or not. The myth of an ‘objective’ neutrality is beginning to be seen for what it is…namely a myth. The issue is how transparent and self-consciously aware we are about what is going on. Anglican Mainstream stands squarely in the historic orthodox stream of Christianity and we perceive things accordingly. Others from different moral or philosophic starting points will call things differently. But at least let us have an honest reckoning of how we are using language and what we mean by what we say.

Finally, as philosopher Peter Kreeft noted, ‘Control the langue and you control thought; control thought and you control action; control action and you control the world.’ (‘Boston College Observer’, April 2004) There has been a covert emptying out and re-filling with other very different meanings of certain key words which then modifies how we perceive and use the original word.

The most obvious example is the PC term, ‘partner’, which is now the only acceptable term in the public realm for ‘wife’ or ‘husband’. But far more is at stake here. Though a person might be a ‘wife’ or a ‘husband’, referring to such as ‘partner’ in effect de-genders the words ‘wife’ or ‘husband’, stripping them of the whole range of traditional meanings, including those of permanence and sexual exclusivity. ‘Partner’ in PC speak simply means my present domestic (including sexual) VIP. However, it rides on the back of the traditional meanings associated with the words, ‘wife’ or ‘husband’, but in so doing, loosens the moorings of collective meaning and value which used to pertain to them. Many of us now refuse even to use ‘partner’ because of the ideological baggage implicit in it; it is anything but a neutral, ‘value-free’ term.

Dr Lisa Severine Nolland for Anglican Mainstream.

Biological family
A person’s biological mother and father and via them, their siblings, grandparents and wider kin. These links generally provide access to family heritage and culture. See traditional family.

Birth-assigned gender
See gender.

A person who is sexually, and sometimes emotionally, attracted to both genders, sometimes simultaneously. Many claim this is a sexual orientation or preference.

Abstinence from sexual activity.

Restraint from sexual activity outside the context of marriage. May refer specifically to the state of being a virgin.

Civil Partnership
A legally-recognized relationship between people of the same gender, involving most of the legal rights and privileges of marriage, now having legal status in the UK.

Closed Relationship, Closed Marriage
Expression frequently used by those who support open relationships to describe a relationship or marriage where there is no sexual activity other than that within the relationship.

Coming Out
The process by which a person begins to declare him or herself publicly as having and affirming same-sex attraction (see ‘outing’).

Common-law Marriage
English expression for a relationship between a woman and a man which had the long-term stability of marriage but which was not legally enacted. In reality, no such legal entity ever existed and no legal privileges attached in such circumstances. (See partnership)

Archaic expression for celibacy, found in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer.

Wearing the characteristic clothes of the opposite gender. May or may not be accompanied by same-sex attraction, and may or may not involve mimicking the mannerisms of the opposite gender. (See transvestite.)

Drag, dressing in drag
A man, or occasionally woman, mimicking the mannerisms and dress of the opposite biological gender. Stands for DRessed As a Girl.

Drag Act

A traditional stage-act performed by someone mimicking the mannerisms and dress of the opposite biological gender.


A person (of either gender) who formerly experienced same-sex attraction and who declares that they have now left a homosexual lifestyle. This may include those whom, in addition, experience an increased emotional and sexual attraction to the opposite biological gender and possibly a reduction in or loss of same-sex attraction.

Ex-Gay Movement

Individuals, groups of individuals, organizations and networks which promote the possibility of change in sexual orientation and facilitate the processes by which this change can occur. There are two primary approaches which, though different, are equally valid and important and can operate in overlapping, complementary ways. The first is the overtly Christian/psychological realm of ‘inner healing’ developed by Mario Bergner, Leanne Payne, Exodus and Living Waters et al. The second is the scientific, secular psychotherapeutic realm of ‘reparative therapy’ developed by Joseph Nicolosi, NARTH, et al.

F to M

A Female to Male transsexual is a person whose biological gender is female while their gender identity is male.

Fag, Faggot
Pejorative expression for male homosexual, generally confined to North America.

Faithfulness, Faithful
In the context of human sexuality, F. means abiding by one’s marriage vows to the exclusion of any other sexual relationship. Amongst those who act on same-sex attraction, and where same-sex marriage is not an option, F. generally means remaining in a committed relationship with a partner. For some in the LGBT community, however, a relationship can be considered F., even when sexual acts occur with others. (See monogamy, open relationship)

A man who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other men. Preferred term amongst many homosexual men.

Gay Community
Used to refer to those of either biological gender who experience, and accept the physical expression of, same-sex attraction and publicly affirm it on a communal level.

Gender/biological gender
Biologically, the condition of being male or female, sometimes referred to as ‘birth-assigned gender’. Males have a so-called Y chromosome, paired with a single X chromosome, whilst females have two X chromosomes, resulting in correspondingly different physical, mental and emotional characteristics. In sociology, human gender is regarded as a complex of culturally conditioned attitudes and behaviours overlaid on a given biological condition. The term ‘gender’ is frequently used as equivalent to ‘sex’.

Gender Expression
The way in which people communicate their personal sense of gender to others through their appearance and behaviour.

Gender Identity
The gender someone feels themselves to be, as distinct from their biological gender.

A preference for sexual relationships primarily or exclusively with an elderly partner. Some consider this a sexual orientation or preference.

A person who is attracted to the opposite sex emotionally and sexually.

Pejorative term which may be applied to people who exhibit an entire range of negative attitudes to same-sex attraction and those who experience and act upon it. The view that same-sex sexual behaviour is sinful is considered homophobic in certain realms.

A person who is attracted to those of the same biological gender emotionally and sexually. Originally a medical term, it is considered pejorative by some people.

The term inclusion refers to accepting, particularly into the Church, those who both experience and express same-sex attraction. This generally involves recognizing, and formally blessing, partnerships based on such attraction. A commonly used term to emphasize acceptance of same-sex practice is ‘full inclusion’. (See openness)

Intergenerational Love
Used to describe what some regard as consensual, legitimate and loving sexual relationships between adults and legal minors. The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), in the past, and other socially ‘progressive’ groups presently oppose the legal imposition of an ‘age of consent’ to sexual relations. Some regard this as a sexual preference or sexual orientation. (Also man/boy love, boy-lovers, girl-lovers.)

Intentional Family
A relationship, not based on traditional heterosexual marriage or biological parenthood, in which two or more partners choose to live together and operate as a family unit, and which may include children from past heterosexual relationships or those produced from artificial insemination etc. ‘Love makes a family’ is sometimes used in relation to such alternative families.

Biological condition of being born with ambiguous sexual characteristics, such as genitalia. Should be used rather than ‘hermaphrodite’, which refers to organisms which can function biologically as both male and female. Intersexed people may or may not identify themselves as transgender or transsexual.


Largely North American term for the ‘lesbian, bisexual and gay community’.

A woman who is emotionally and sexually attracted to other women. Preferred term amongst many homosexual women. (Also lesbian community.)

Abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay; Bisexual and Transgender, as in ‘LGBT people, community, inclusion, issues, etc’. Other variations include Intersexed (I), Queer (Q), Questioning (Q) and Straight but supportive of LGBT people (S).

M to F
A male-to-female transsexual is a person whose biological gender is male while their gender identity is female.

A legally-recognized relationship between two people, usually of the opposite biological gender, which in most cultures is formally expected to be lifelong, though it may be terminated by divorce. There has also been an implicit assumption of sexual exclusivity, though often the double standard of morality has meant that women were to be sexually faithful to their husbands but their husbands were not equally expected to be sexually faithful to their wives. In increasing numbers of Western countries today, marriages or civil partnerships or unions are legally available to individuals of the same biological gender.

Literally, the practice of being married to only one person, traditionally for life (see also marriage). With the advent of widespread divorce, the term ‘serial M.’ has been used to describe the practice of marriage to a succession of spouses. Amongst those who act on same-sex attraction, M. refers to only having one partner in a committed relationship. Some in the LGBT community regard relationships as monogamous even when sexual acts occur with others. (See faithfulness, open relationship)

The desire to engage in sexual acts with dead bodies. Many claim this is a sexual orientation or preference

Individuals and organizations who accept the physical expression of same-sex attraction often describe themselves as ‘open’. This term may also, however, refer simply to the acceptance of insights and practices from other Christian or religious traditions than one’s own.

Open Relationship
Relationship in which partners knowingly engage in sexual acts with other people outside the relationship. This is not therefore regarded as a lack of faithfulness.

The act of deliberately making public the fact that someone experiences same-sex attraction or engages in same-sex acts, despite their not wishing this to be made known.

A formal or informal relationship between two people, of the same or opposite gender. It is the politically correct, allegedly ‘value free’, de-gendered designation for the present domestic sexual friend/playmate/lover/wife/husband/’other’. The use of ‘partner’ terminology ensures the deliberate equalization of all ‘relationships’ to the lowest common denominator and empties them of most moral content or notions of genderedness, commitment or legal status without it being apparent that this is the case. Civil partnerships (see also marriage) contain elements of commitment and definite legal status for the ‘partners’.

Polyamoury (US Polyamory), abbr. Poly
Literally meaning ‘many loves’, a polyamorous relationship openly involves more than two people. Such relationships may be heterosexual , bisexual or gay. Some regard this as a sexual preference, others regard it as a sexual orientation.

Being married to more than one person. Where a man has more than one wife, this is technically polygyny. Having more than one husband is polyandry.

Historically considered pejorative, now often used by LGBT people as a preferred self-identifying expression and a term of reference for ideas, ideologies, cultural manifestations, etc which challenge the assumption of heterosexual ‘normality’ and ‘normativity’. (Also Queer theology)

Reparative Therapy (also Conversion Therapy, Re-orientation Therapy)
Therapies aimed at re-orientating those with same-sex attraction. Strongly opposed by those who believe that sexual orientation is unchangeable. See also ex-gay/post-gay.

Same-sex Attraction
Being sexually attracted to, and erotically aroused by, people of the same gender, often, but not always, with a corresponding emotional attachment.

Secondary Virginity
A positive embracing of sexual abstinence after being sexually active. ‘A commitment to secondary virginity is often made with the goal of remaining abstinent until commited to a life-long monogamous relationship, such as marriage’. (

Sexual Orientation
Shorthand expression for the condition of being attracted towards and sexual aroused by those of the opposite gender (heterosexual S. O.), the same gender (homosexual S. O.) or both genders, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequentially (bisexual S. O.) There are also those whose S. O. is regarded by themselves as indeterminate or uncertain. The question of whether and how S. O. is determined is a matter of dispute. See also gerontosexuality, intergenerational love, necrophilia, polyamoury.

Sexual Preference
The same concept as sexual orientation but with the implication that an individual’s S. P. may alter.

Sexually Transmitted Infections
Decades ago there were two main STIs one could acquire through sexual intercourse, syphilis and gonorrhea; today there are over two dozen. Some can be effectively treated with antibiotics, while others have no known cure. Using condoms gives protection from some of these STIs but not all. Moreover, the effectiveness of the condom depends upon the type of sex one is having; engaging in anal sex is far riskier than vaginal sex. Having oral sex is not without its risks, as well. STIs include: bacterial, ectoparasitic, fungal, protozoal, and viral types. (


Archaic expression for the act of anal intercourse, usually between males and supposedly engaged in by the inhabitants of the biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. In law it is sometimes used to cover all forms and expressions of homosexuality. The term is now generally regarded as pejorative, as is buggery.

Slang or colloquial expression for heterosexual.

Traditional family
A household based around a pair of married biological parents and their offspring. Other close relatives may also be included in a traditional family. (Also nuclear family.)

An umbrella term including transsexuals, cross-dressers, and people who identify as neither male nor female (see gender). For transgender people, their biological gender and their gender identity do not match, and they may seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity. Can also be the preferred term for those who feel their gender identity differs from their biological gender, but who do not wish to pursue any form of transition.

The process by which a person who identifies themselves as transgender or who is biologically transsexual changes their gender expression. In some cases, this may involve hormone therapy, living as the opposite gender for an extended period of time, or Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS). In some countries a person can also legally change their name and registered biological gender.

A person who does not feel that their biological gender matches their gender identity. Transsexuals may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally or surgically. Some transsexuals may also regard themselves as transgender.

Someone who is a cross-dresser. Widely considered a pejorative term.