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Dr. Robert Weiss and Dr. David Fawcett

At Sex and Relationship Healing, we sometimes use terms that are either unknown to or misunderstood by those we treat. To this end, we feel it is important to clarify what we mean when we use certain words and phrases. We have divided our brief glossary into four parts:

  • Gender
  • Sexual Expression
  • When Sex Goes Haywire (Addiction, Abuse, Offending)
  • Other Important Terms

We offer this information in the hope that it will help you to better navigate our websites, along with our in-person and online programming. Please note that these are our definitions for these terms. Others may define them differently.


Gender Identity: The degree to which a person self-identifies as male or female (or something in-between). Gender identity can differ from a person’s biological gender at birth, though typically it does not. Gender identity shows up relatively early in life and is fundamentally fixed over the lifespan. Children as young as five will talk about gender identity issues, saying things like, “Everyone thinks I’m a boy, but I don’t feel like a boy.”

  • Psychological gender is fixed and immutable.
  • Physical gender can be altered with surgery.

Cisgender: When your biological gender at birth and your psychological gender match.

  • If you were born with male genitalia and feel comfortable as a male, you are cisgender.
  • If you were born with female genitalia and feel comfortable as a female, you are cisgender.

Transgender: When your biological gender at birth and your psychological gender do not match.

  • If you were born with male genitalia but identify psychologically as female, you are transgender.
  • If you were born with female genitalia but identify psychologically as male, you are transgender.

Intersex: individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies.

Gender and the Use of Pronouns: It is increasingly considered a matter of respect to honor the pronouns by which an individual chooses to be recognized:

  • He, him, his
  • She, her, hers
  • They, them, theirs

Gender Expression: The degree to which society might identify a person as masculine or feminine (regardless of that person’s biological gender and gender identity). In many ways, gender expression is related to stereotypes about gender identity and gender roles and is thus rooted in culture.

Androgynous/Gender Fluid/Undifferentiated: When individuals express themselves through a mix of masculine and feminine traits, they are referred to as androgynous, gender fluid, or undifferentiated. Often, it is assumed that feminine and androgynous men are gay and that tomboyish or androgynous women are lesbian. In actuality, gender expression and sexual orientation are unrelated.

Gender Dysphoria: A psychological condition evidenced by a significant, longstanding level of discontent with one’s biological birth sex and/or the gender roles associated with that sex. A person can experience gender dysphoria without wanting to change their physical gender. If so, they are struggling with gender expression rather than gender identity.

Queer: A term for individuals who identify as neither heterosexual nor cisgender. This can encompass a wide variety of expressions. Once a term of disparagement, many LGBTQ persons have reclaimed the word as a term of empowerment.


Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation is defined by the gender (or genders) to which a person is sexually and romantically attracted. The American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations both say that sexual orientation exists on a continuum from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual, and most people fall somewhere in the gray area.

Heterosexual: Attracted to the opposite gender. Also referred to as “straight.”

Homosexual: Attracted to the same gender. Also referred to as “gay for men and “lesbian” for women.

Bisexual: Attracted to both males and females.

Conversion Therapy: The ill-advised attempt to therapeutically alter a person’s sexual orientation. Conversion therapy does not work and does more harm than good. You cannot change a person’s sexual orientation.

Solo Sex: Masturbation is generally our first and most consistent form of sex.

Partner Sex: This typically begins with adolescent experimentation, though sex abuse, porn, and similar technologies can run this off the rails.

Group Sex: This is sex with multiple partners at the same time.

Kink: A non-conformist sexual taste, something a person might occasionally use to spice up their sex life.

Fetish: A deep and abiding (and maybe primary) sexual desire focusing on a non-sexual object (leather), a ritualized behavior (BDSM), or an objectified body part (feet). Kinks and fetishes are similar, but a kink is something a person can take or leave, while a fetish is a significant (and maybe primary) part of their arousal template.

Paraphilia: An intense, perhaps dangerous sexual desire taken to an extreme, resulting in negative consequences. Paraphilias are not considered psychologically problematic unless they cause distress for the individual, in which case that distress can be treated by a mental health practitioner.


Infidelity: The keeping of important sexual/romantic secrets from one’s primary romantic partner.

Sex Addiction: A dysfunctional preoccupation with sex that continues for a period of at least six months, despite negative consequences and attempts to either quit or curtail the problem-causing behaviors.

Porn Addiction: A dysfunctional preoccupation with pornography that continues for a period of at least six months, despite negative consequences and attempts to either quit or curtail porn use.

Chemsex: The paired use of drugs, particularly stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, with sexual behavior.

Substance/Sex Addiction: The consistent pairing of addictive substances with sexual behavior to the point where the two behaviors become a single, fused addiction. If the addict is engaging in one of the behaviors, they are also engaging in the other.

Sexual Sobriety: Generally, recovering sex addicts create a “circle plan” to define sobriety and guide their behavior. Most often, these plans are a three-tiered system that lists problem behaviors (the inner/red circle), slippery behaviors (the middle/yellow circle), and healthy behaviors (the outer/green circle). Every addict’s definition of sexual sobriety is unique, based on the addict’s life history and goals for recovery.

Sexual Abuse: This occurs when one person uses another person for sexual gratification without the other person’s permission and without regard for the effects on that other person.

Overt Sexual Abuse: This is hands-on sexual abuse or verbal sexual abuse that is obvious and blatant.

Covert Sexual Abuse: The surreptitious, indirect, sexualized emotional use/abuse of a child by a parent, step-parent, or any other long-term caregiver. Often, there is a sexualized element to the abuse, even though it is hands-off. Generally, covert sexual abuse is best identified by the “icky” feeling it generates.

Sexual Offending: Sexualized behavior that is either illegal or non-consensual.


Edging: Edging, unfortunately, has two very disparate definitions. The first refers to controlling or delaying orgasm to prolong and enhance sexual pleasure. The second refers to dancing on the edge of sexual acting out without crossing the line. Both definitions are in common use, so context is important.

Intimacy: Intimacy is the ability to be close, open, and vulnerable with another person. With intimacy, there is a craving to know and be known, to be honest, to develop mutual trust, to self-disclose, to be both independent and interdependent, to have respect and mutual appreciation, and to enjoy togetherness. Sex can be an expression of intimacy, but it is not synonymous with intimacy. Intimacy encompasses emotional behaviors and requires trust, vulnerability, empathy, respect, tenderness, and an emotional connection.

Sex: Sex is what happens between the legs (and with other sexual body parts). Sex can occur in the absence of intimacy. Non-intimate sex is a common feature of sex, porn, and substance/sex addiction.

Sexuality: An expression of who a person is as a human being. Sexuality includes a person’s values, attitudes, physical appearance, gender identity, beliefs, emotions, attractions, likes/dislikes, and spiritual self.

Sensuality: A focus on experiencing pleasure through all the senses. Sensuality increases feelings of closeness, intimacy, and touch, which are lifelong needs that do not get old, even when we do. As humans age, the desire for sex may diminish, but the need for caring, comforting, and intimate touch remains as strong as ever.