Sexual orientation is the sexual attraction or preference that an individual feels for members of the opposite sex, his or her own sex or both. When an individual feels sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex then the individual's sexual orientation is said to be heterosexual. When an individual feels sexually attracted to members of his or her own sex then the individual's sexual orientation is said to be homosexual. When an individual feels sexually attracted to members of both sexes then the individual's sexual orientation is said to be bisexual. Heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are the three legally recognised sexual orientations in the United Kingdom, though some also argue that asexuality (no feelings of sexual attraction) should be so recognised as well.
Heterosexuality is the most common sexual orientation in both the United Kingdom and the world. In modern slang, heterosexuals are often referred to as "straight". Due to the sheer number of individuals who identify as heterosexual, attraction for members of the opposite sex has often been mistaken as the norm rather than simply as the most common sexual orientation. Unfortunately, some heterosexuals believe that their sexual orientation is the only "right" sexual orientation and practise homophobia. Homophobia is the fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality. Individuals who are homophobic fear or hate the fact that others are sexually attracted to members of their own sex. This means that bisexuals are often considered homosexuals for the purposes of this fear and hatred as well. This fear can lead to behaviour that discriminates against homosexuals and consequently advantages heterosexuals. For this reason homophobia is often related to heterosexism. Heterosexism is the belief that heterosexuality is "normal" and therefore that other sexual orientations are abnormal or deviant. Many homophobics and heterosexists believe that homosexuality is a choice, and therefore that individuals choose to be deviant in their sexual practices, and thus can be "cured" of this deviance.
Homosexuality is often recognised as the most common "minority sexuality" in both the United Kingdom and the world. The term "gay" often refers to homosexual individuals, particularly men, while the term "lesbian" describes homosexual women. The term "queer" was once an insulting term for homosexuals, but has since been reclaimed and is now an accepted term for homosexuals and homosexuality in gay communities. Queer Theory is also an established area of investigation in both gay and lesbian studies as well as feminist and women's studies. Homosexuals often use a rainbow symbol to denote their sexual orientation, often in a flag form that is sometimes called the "freedom flag".
Bisexuality is often recognised as the least common "minority sexuality" in both the United Kingdom and the world. The term "bi" is modern slang for a bisexual, though it is not necessarily insulting or derogatory and many bisexuals describe themselves as "bi". Though bisexuals feel sexual attraction to individuals of both their own and the opposite sex, this attraction may not be equal. The individual may feel stronger feelings for, or have feelings more often for, one sex instead of the other with no regard to his or her own sex.
Asexuality, or a sexual orientation characterised by no feelings of sexual attraction, is not always recognised as a sexual orientation. It has been reported that only about 1% of the world's population identifies as asexual.