The following is a list of some of the terms that come up in human sexuality discussions. You'll notice that we've kept the definitions as simple as possible – just as you should do when defining new words for your child.
A medical procedure used to terminate a pregnancy.
To not engage in a particular activity.
Intentional mistreatment of another person. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical. An abusive relationship is characterized by an ongoing pattern or cycle of abuse.
AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome – is a very serious and often deadly disease of the immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Sexual activity involving the anus. Many people think that anal sex only means inserting the penis into the anus, but it can also include stimulating the outside of the anus or inserting other body parts or objects into the anus.
An eating disorder characterized by extremely low body weight and an obsessive fear of gaining weight.
The opening at the end of the digestive tract where feces leave the body.
Sexually excited or “turned on.” Physiological changes occur during arousal (such as the penis getting harder or the vagina getting wetter) that make sex possible and more pleasurable.
Asking straightforwardly for things you want, without putting anyone down. Giving people an honest “no” to things you don’t want. Willing to take “no” for an answer. Not using other people and not letting yourself be used. When you are assertive, you may not get what you want, but you keep your self-respect.
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One or the other, without any overlap or gray area in between.
Different methods that people use to intentionally prevent pregnancy. These methods include male and female condoms, birth control pills, the shot, the vaginal ring, the patch, the implant, emergency contraception, cervical barriers (diaphragm, Lea's Shield, and cervical cap), spermicides, intrauterine devices, fertility awareness, and withdrawal. Birth control is also called contraception.
birth control pills
Birth control pills are a hormonal method of birth control that are taken orally on a regular basis.
Refers to a person who is physically and emotionally attracted to members of either sex.
Body image is how you feel and what you think when you look at yourself. It’s also how you imagine other people to see you.
Two soft, rounded organs on the chest of a woman. The breasts contain mammary glands, which produce milk.
An eating disorder characterized by binging (eating large amounts of food) and purging (getting rid of the food by vomiting or using laxatives).
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Choosing not to have a sexual partner.
The lower part of the uterus that protrudes into the vagina. A narrow channel through the cervix allows sperm to enter and menstrual flow to exit.
A sexual organ with both external and internal parts. The clitoris has thousands of nerve endings, and it is the most sensitive part of a female’s sexual anatomy. Its sole purpose is to provide sexual pleasure.
To announce to others that you are homosexual or bisexual.
A thin sheath, usually made of latex or plastic, that provides a barrier between partners during genital sex. Male condoms are worn over the penis and female condoms are inserted into the vagina. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also provide protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Different methods that people use to intentionally prevent pregnancy. These methods include male and female condoms, birth control pills, the shot, the vaginal ring, the patch, the implant, emergency contraception, cervical barriers (diaphragm, Lea's Shield, and cervical cap), spermicides, intrauterine devices, fertility awareness, and withdrawal. Contraception is also called birth control.
Sexual activity which involves sexually explicit texting, instant messaging, and/or visual exchanges via the Internet. One or more participants may masturbate during or after the encounter.
A thin sheet of material, made of latex or plastic, that provides a barrier between partners during cunnilingus (oral sex on a female) and rimming (oral-anal contact). Dental dams prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Fluids that come out of the urethral opening (for males) and the vagina (for females). Discharge does not include urine, pre-ejaculatory fluid, or semen in males – so any discharge may be a sign of an infection or injury that needs to be treated. Discharge does not include menstrual flow in females. Unless discharge is spotted with blood (other than blood from a period), if it causes itching, or if it is greenish in color, then it’s probably normal, healthy discharge.
Rinsing out the vagina with water or other fluids. Douching is unnecessary and unhealthy.
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The reproductive cell provided by a female.
In males, to pump semen through the urethra and out the urethral opening at the tip of the penis. In females, to pump liquid from two small glands just inside the urethral opening.
In males, the semen that comes out the urethral opening at the tip of the penis. In females, the clear liquid that comes out from two small glands just inside the urethral opening.
In males, a process in which semen is pumped through the urethra and out the urethral opening at the tip of the penis. Shortly before ejaculation, semen is formed when sperm mix with fluids from the seminal vesicles and prostate in the ejaculatory ducts. In females, a process in which liquid is pumped from two small glands just inside the urethral opening.
Early in a pregnancy, this is the term for the developing cells that resulted from the fertilization of an egg by a sperm. By the end of the tenth week of pregnancy, this organism will be called a fetus.
When the penis or clitoris fills with blood and becomes larger and more firm.
Refers to spongy tissue that can fill with blood to cause an erection.
A hormone secreted by the ovaries that is involved in developing and maintaining female sexual characteristics (for example, the breasts).
During pregnancy, the placenta takes over estrogen production. After menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen but it continues to be made by the adrenal glands, liver, and fatty tissue in the breasts.
Estrogen is also found in males, though in smaller amounts.
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Two tubes, each one connecting one of the ovaries to the uterus. The fallopian tubes are 3-4 inches long, and they are about as thick as a strand of spaghetti. Fertilization of an egg by a sperm typically takes place in one of the fallopian tubes.
Refers to qualities and behaviors judged by a particular culture to be associated with or especially appropriate for females.
The joining of an egg and a sperm.
Refers to an egg that has joined with a sperm.
Later in a pregnancy, this is the term for the organism growing inside the uterus. Prior to the end of the tenth week of pregnancy, this organism was called an embryo.
A loose tube of skin that grows out from the shaft of the penis just below the glans (the rounded head of the penis). The foreskin normally covers the glans when the penis is soft. All males are born with a foreskin, but some foreskins are surgically removed in a procedure called circumcision.
The frenum is located on the underside of the penis. It is a tiny patch of skin just below where the ridge around the head of the penis makes a little V shape. For some males, the frenum is the most sensitive part of the penis.
Sexual activity in which two people rub up against each other – usually with clothes on – for sexual pleasure.
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Spongy tissue on the top of the vaginal wall about one inch inside the vagina. Touching and/or rubbing the G-spot may provide sexual pleasure; it may also lead to an orgasm during which a female ejaculates a liquid from two small glands just inside the urethral opening.
Refers to a male who is physically and emotionally attracted to other males. Gay can also refer to a female who is physically and emotionally attracted to other females.
Refers to a human-made set of concepts and ideas about how females and males are supposed to look, act, and relate based on their sex.
Discomfort with your sex, your gender identity, gender norms, or gender roles expected of you.
An inner feeling that you are female, male, both, neither, or somewhere in between. Gender identity is not necessarily based on your sex.
gender nonconforming (adjective)
Refers to people who do not adhere to or who protest cultural rules or norms about dress, behaviors, or activities that are based on a person’s sex.
Refers to a set of behaviors that, within a particular culture, are widely considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a certain sex.
Vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex.
Body parts associated with sex, but not always associated with reproduction. The genitals generally include the external portions of the clitoris (the clitoral glans and the clitoral shaft), the vaginal opening, the vagina, the penis, and the scrotum.
For males, the glans is the rounded head of the penis. For females, the clitoral glans is the tip – and only the tip – of the clitoris. The clitoral glans is usually about the size of a pea or the eraser on the end of a pencil, though its size can vary considerably from one female to the next.
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An infectious liver disease that can be transmitted during genital sex. A vaccine is available to prevent the disease.
Refers to a belief that everyone in the world is, or should be, heterosexual. Heterosexism can lead, intentionally or unintentionally, to discrimination and violence against homosexual and bisexual people.
Refers to a person who is physically and emotionally attracted to members of the other sex.
HIV – human immunodeficiency virus – is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It attacks the body's immune system, and while there is no cure for HIV, it can be treated with medications that slow the replication of the virus in the body.
People who are physically and emotionally attracted to members of the same sex.
A thin tissue just inside the vaginal opening. Hymens come in all different shapes and sizes – some are just a rim of tissue ringing the vaginal opening, while others stretch all or part way across the opening. A hymen rarely covers the opening completely. All hymens must have holes or openings – otherwise blood could not leave the vagina when a female is having her period.
The implant is a hormonal method of birth control that is inserted under the skin in a female’s upper arm.
The inability to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to have genital sex – also called erectile dysfunction.
The intrauterine device is a small, "T-shaped" birth control device that a healthcare provider inserts into a female's uterus.
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Pressing one's lips against the lips or other body parts of another person. Kissing may also include use of the tongue. When done for sexual reasons, kissing can express sentiments of love, passion, or affection.
Four folds of tissue in the vulva – the two outer labia (labia majora) and the two inner labia (labia minora). The labia have sensory nerve endings which contribute to sexual pleasure and they keep germs away from the two openings found on the vulva – the urethral opening and the vaginal opening. Labia are also called lips.
Refers to a female who is physically and emotionally attracted to other females.
Four folds of tissue in the vulva – the two outer lips and the two inner lips. The lips have sensory nerve endings which contribute to sexual pleasure and they keep germs away from the two openings found on the vulva – the urethral opening and the vaginal opening. Lips are also called labia.
Thick, slippery liquid used to make masturbation, vaginal sex, anal sex, and manual sex more pleasant and comfortable. Lubricants also help prevent condoms from breaking by decreasing friction. Lubricants are usually water-based or silicone-based – any lubricant containing oil will damage latex condoms.
A process in which the walls of the vagina produce a slippery liquid during sexual arousal in order to facilitate vaginal sex.
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A slang term that can cover a multitude of sexual activities, including passionate kissing, body contact, and touching, stroking, or rubbing the genitals, buttocks, or breasts (over or under the clothing). Making out does not include vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
Sexual activity involving the use of fingers or hands to stimulate the genitals of another person. Manual sex includes fingering (touching or rubbing the clitoris or inserting fingers into the vagina) and handjobs (rubbing the penis).
Refers to qualities and behaviors judged by a particular culture to be associated with or especially appropriate for males.
To touch, stroke, or rub your own genitals or other sensitive body parts for sexual pleasure.
Sexual activity in which you touch, stroke, or rub yourself for sexual pleasure. Masturbation usually involves stimulating your genitals, though it may involve other sensitive body parts as well.
The first time that a girl or young woman menstruates (has her period).
The time in a woman's life when her menstrual cycle ends.
A regularly recurring cycle (beginning at menarche and ending at menopause) in which the lining of the uterus prepares for a potential pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the lining is shed in a process called menstruation. In adult females, the menstrual cycle is usually somewhere between 21 to 35 days. The average is about 28 days.
Uterine lining (tissue, blood, and other fluids) that leaves the body through the vagina when a female is menstruating (having her period).
The shedding of the uterine lining that occurs as part of the menstrual cycle. Menstruation is also called “having your period.”
Refers to having only one sexual partner at any one time.
Sexual activity in which partners masturbate together. Partners can either masturbate themselves or each other.
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Sexual activity in which the mouth and/or tongue are used to stimulate a partner’s genitals.
The climax or peak of sexual pleasure that occurs during sexual activity. Orgasm results in the release of tension through muscular contractions in and around the genitals. Males generally ejaculate during an orgasm. Though it is not as common, some females may also ejaculate during an orgasm.
Two small glands (each about the size and shape of an unshelled almond) that are located on either side of the uterus. The ovaries store and release eggs, and they also produce hormones.
To release an egg from an ovary. A female usually ovulates at the midpoint in the menstrual cycle (approximately two weeks after the start of a period).
The release of an egg from an ovary. Ovulation usually occurs at the midpoint in the menstrual cycle (approximately two weeks after the start of a period).
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pelvic inflammatory disease
An inflammatory disease that harms a female's reproductive organs. It develops when an infection spreads up from the vagina and cervix into the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries. It is usually caused by untreated Chlamydia or gonorrhea, but it may also be caused by other infections.
The male reproductive organ that is used to introduce sperm into the vagina. The penis has other purposes too – to provide sexual pleasure and to allow for the elimination of urine.
Sexual activity in which the penis is inserted into the vagina. Penis-in-vagina sex is another term for vaginal sex.
The shedding of the uterine lining that occurs as part of the menstrual cycle. Having your period is also called menstruation.
Sexual activity in which people talk over the telephone about sexually explicit things. One or both participants may masturbate during or after the conversation.
Written, visual, or other kinds of media that are primarily used to, or intended to, sexually arouse or excite sexual desire in people.
Pre-ejaculate (or pre-ejaculatory fluid) is a clear, slippery liquid that lubricates the male urethra and neutralizes any acid (which can damage sperm) that may be present due to residual drops of urine in the urethra. It is secreted by the Cowper’s glands (two pea-sized structures located on the sides of the urethra) prior to ejaculation.
Ejaculation during the early stages of sexual excitement or too soon after insertion of the penis into a partner.
A walnut-sized gland below the bladder that produces a fluid that mixes with sperm and fluid from the seminal vesicles to produce semen.
A stage of development marked by many rapid changes. Along with physical changes, the process of sexual maturation also occurs during puberty. When puberty starts, how long it lasts, and the order in which changes occur can vary greatly from one person to the next.
Forcing someone to have sex against their will.
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Practices that reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections. These practices include using condoms, getting tested regularly, and limiting yourself to sexual activities that have no risk – or a low risk – of spreading sexually transmitted infections.
Absorbent material that is placed outside the vagina to catch menstrual flow. Most sanitary pads have a sticky adhesive backing that attaches to underpants.
The sac that hangs below and behind the penis. It is divided in two by a wall of muscle, and each half contains a testicle and an epididymis.
The mixture of sperm and fluids that come out of the penis during ejaculation. Sperm make up only about two to five percent of the volume of the semen that is ejaculated. Most of the fluid comes from the seminal vesicles, which produce a sugar-rich fluid (fructose) that provides sperm with a source of energy to help them move. The prostate contributes additional fluid that helps to nourish sperm.
Any number of different things people freely choose to do to express their sexuality and their sexual feelings. Our definition is not limited to just vaginal sex or to just genital sex (vaginal, oral, and anal sex). We include a wide range of activities because there are too many people who don’t have genital sex but who still have active, fulfilling sex lives.
Either of two categories (male or female) into which people are divided.
Mental imagery that creates or enhances sexual feelings. A sexual fantasy may or may not be attainable in real life.
An inner feeling about who you are as a sexual person based on your sex, gender identity (female, male, both, neither, or somewhere in between), sexual orientation, and sexual politics.
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Your feelings of physical and emotional attraction toward other people based on their sex. Your sexual orientation may be homosexual (attraction to members of the same sex), bisexual (attraction to members of either sex), or heterosexual (attraction to members of the other sex).
How people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Sexuality is an integral part of who we are, what we believe, what we feel, and how we respond to others.
sexually active (adjective)
Refers to a person who is having genital sex (vaginal, oral, and/or anal sex) at this point in their life.
sexually transmitted infections
Infections that can be spread through genital sex (vaginal, oral, and anal sex). Sexually transmitted infections can also be spread in other ways (for example, from a pregnant female to the fetus).
For males, the shaft is the part of the penis between the glans (the rounded head of the penis) and where the penis is attached to the body. The shaft makes up most of the penis. For females, the clitoral shaft is the part of the clitoris that connects the clitoral glans (the tip of the clitoris) to the internal parts of the clitoris. It is located just under the skin, and it feels like a rubbery cord.
The shot is a hormonal method of birth control that is injected into a female's arm or buttocks once every twelve weeks.
The reproductive cell provided by a male.
Spermicide is a method of birth control that is inserted deep into the vagina shortly before sex. It contains chemicals that keep sperm from joining with an egg.
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A tube-shaped wad of absorbent material (usually cotton) that is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow.
Two small glands (each about the size and shape of a large olive) contained within the scrotum. The testicles produce sperm and the hormone testosterone.
A hormone produced by the testicles that controls many of the changes that occur during puberty. Testosterone is responsible for normal growth and development of the genitals and reproductive organs; it also affects bone mass, fat distribution, muscle, energy levels, sexual desire, erections, fertility, and mood. Female ovaries also produce testosterone, but in smaller amounts.
Refers to a male who still has his foreskin or a penis that still has its foreskin.
In males, the urethra is the long tube that runs the length of the penis and connects to several internal organs, including the bladder. Everything that comes out of the penis travels through the urethra – urine, pre-ejaculate, and semen. In females, the urethra is relatively shorter, it only connects to the bladder, and only urine travels through it.
The external opening of the urethra. In females, urine leaves the body through the urethral opening. It is located above the vaginal opening on the vulva. In males, urine, pre-ejaculate, and semen leave the body through the urethral opening. It is located at the tip of the penis.
The hollow reproductive organ in which a fertilized egg is implanted and a fetus develops. In a grown female, the uterus is about the size and shape of an upside-down pear, though it gets considerably larger as a pregnancy progresses.
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The vagina is a passageway between the vaginal opening and the cervix (the lower part of uterus). The walls of the vagina normally lay flat against each other, but they are elastic enough to spread apart to accommodate a penis during vaginal sex or a baby as it is being born. Menstrual flow leaves the body through the vagina.
The vaginal ring is a hormonal method of birth control that a female (or her partner) inserts into the vagina.
Sexual activity in which the penis is inserted into the vagina.
The external opening of the vagina. It is located below the urethral opening on the vulva.
A minor surgical procedure in which the two vas deferens are cut, and then tied, stitched, or sealed to prevent sperm from leaving the body during ejaculation. The testicles will continue to produce new sperm, but the sperm will die and be reabsorbed by the body.
A vibrating device used primarily by females for sexual pleasure. Vibrators are commonly used to stimulate the external parts of the clitoris (the clitoral glans and the clitoral shaft).
A person who has never had vaginal sex.
By this definition, a lot of lesbians and gay men will remain virgins their entire lives, no matter how sexual they are. A more inclusive definition might be that a virgin is someone who has never had genital sex (vaginal, oral, or anal sex).
The proper name for the sex organs on the outside of a female’s body. Many people mistakenly call the vulva the vagina, even though the vagina is inside the body. The vulva includes the clitoral glans, the clitoral shaft, the inner and outer lips, the urethral opening, and the vaginal opening.
Ejaculation that occurs involuntarily while a male is sleeping. A dream with sexual content may have been occurring at the time of the wet dream, but that is not always the case.
Withdrawal is a method of birth control. During vaginal sex, the male withdraws his penis from the vagina when he feels he is about to ejaculate, or before he reaches that point. He ejaculates outside the vagina, being careful that semen does not spill onto his partner's vulva.
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