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Scientific and professional understanding is that "the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence".Sexual orientation differs from sexual identity in that it encompasses relationships with others, while sexual identity is a concept of self.The American Psychological Association states that "[s]exual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes" and that "[t]his range of behaviors and attractions has been described in various cultures and nations throughout the world.

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, 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.

Sexual orientation is traditionally defined as including heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality, while asexuality is considered the fourth category of sexual orientation by some researchers and has been defined as the absence of a traditional sexual orientation.

An asexual has little to no sexual attraction to people.Most definitions of sexual orientation include a psychological component, such as the direction of an individual's erotic desires, or a behavioral component, which focuses on the sex of the individual's sexual partner/s.Some people prefer simply to follow an individual's self-definition or identity.In the United States, the most frequent labels are lesbians (women attracted to women), gay men (men attracted to men), and bisexual people (men or women attracted to both sexes).However, some people may use different labels or none at all".They additionally state that sexual orientation "is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior)".

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