Charles Moser, PhD, MD
San Francisco, CA

A Glossary of Terms Used by Sexual Minorities

This article was first published in San Francisco Medicine,
November/December 1998, Volume 71, No. 10

The present glossary is meant to help you understand your patient's sexual jargon. This is not a complete list and not everyone will agree with these definitions, but it is a start. An accepting attitude and honest curiosity will take you a long way. Nevertheless, heed the following warnings:

  • Do not use these terms yourself; it is very easy to be insulting!
  • Do not assume that someone's stated sexual orientation limits their sexual activities.

The definitions of these terms are seriously debated; these definitions are approximate and do change over time.

Sexual Minorities, the opposite of vanilla or straight (traditional heterosexual), call themselves or their activities perv, kink, fetish or queer. Squicked is behavior that upsets you. Someone who is coming out (exploring the activity or beginning to accept the identity) is called a novice or newbie.

Players eroticize physical and/or psychological pain and do S/M (aka BDSM, Sadomasochism, Dominance and Submission or D/S, leather, and Bondage and Discipline or B/D). Some people attempt to live this lifestyle 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or TPE (total power exchange). Others tend only to do S/M during sexual interactions; they do EPE (erotic power exchange) or keep it in the bedroom.

A Play Party is a social gathering where S/M activities take place; the party space (venue) usually has equipment (large devices to which a partner is tied). The players usually bring their own toys (handcuffs, whips, canes, etc.). S/M partners engage in negotiation, agree what will constitute the scene (interaction) and decide upon a safeword (a word that will stop the scene). They mutually define the limits (activities not to be included in the scene).

Dom, Top, Master, Mistress and Sadist are terms used to describe people who take the active role. Submissive, Sub, Bottom, Masochist, and Slave are terms used to describe people who take the passive role. Switches can take either role.

Women who are interested in sex (orgasm seeking behavior) with other women are lesbians or dykes. High femme or lipstick lesbians are women who appear stereotypically feminine (lipstick, make-up, high heels, frilly clothes, etc.). Femme women also have a decidedly feminine appearance, but not to the extreme. Soft butch women have a more androgynous appearance; there is no hard butch. Stone butch women dislike any penetration themselves and tend to be very masculine in appearance. In general, femme women take a stereotypical female role and butch women take a stereotypical male role during sex and in relationships, but it is said "Butch in the streets, femme between the sheets." Bisexuals or bi's acknowledge sexual attraction to both men and women.

Someone can be turned on by dressing in specific garments (drag), which include leather, latex, and PVC (poly vinyl chloride). For some people, their outfit defines the fantasy that they are playing out. Dressing up is integral to the TV, pony girl/boy (people who dress up as ponies and pull wagons), furrysex (people who role play they are animals having sex) and infantilist (people who dress up as infants).

People who are openly involved with more than one partner have open relationships. Many of these people have an SO (significant other); other relationships are called secondary or fuck buddies. Those who are open to multiple primary relationships are called poly or polyamory. Individuals who are open and honest about their activities are called ethical sluts. Fluid-bonded describes a relationship where safer sex precautions are not used, but they are used in other situations. Group sex involves orgasm-seeking behavior by three or more individuals at the same time.

Both men and women engage in fisting, placement of a hand in your partner's anus or vagina. Oral-anal contact is called rimming. A butt plug is a sex toy for insertion into the rectum. A strap-on is a dildo (artificial phallus), in a harness that allows one to engage in coitus with one's partner despite anatomy or physiology. An individual who enjoys butt fucking or pumping the poop shoot (anal coitus) is called a back door betty or an anal slut.

People who dress in the clothes of the other sex come in a variety of types:

Transsexuals (TS)—people who believe that they are the other sex trapped in the wrong body. They usually desire hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery. There are MTF (male to female) and FTM (female to male), and Pre-op and Post-op as appropriate.

Transgendered (TG)—people who desire to present themselves to the world as the opposite sex, but usually do not desire sex reassignment surgery or long-term hormones. They can also have a more androgynous style.

Transvestites (TV)—people who become sexually aroused by dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex.

Chick with a dick—A TG genetic male, usually implies that her/his penis works and s/he will use it during sex.

Cross-Dresser—generic term for all those who dress in the clothes of the opposite sex.

Gender-Fuck—A person who dresses with stereotypic aspects of both men and women at the same time (e.g., having a full beard while wearing a dress).

Female Impersonator or Gender Illusionist—Someone who dresses as a woman as part of theatrical performance.

Drag Queen—A gay man who dresses and acts in a stereotypic overly feminine style. Drag King is a similar concept for lesbians.

Dr. Moser is a Professor of Sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and maintains a full-time private practice in San Francisco.