Definitions of words and phrases related to emotional health, sex, relationships and LGBTQ issues.
Emotional Health Terms
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a combination of ongoing problems such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior (doing things without thinking first).
anorexia: a serious eating disorder where fear of weight gain leads to poor eating habits and extreme weight loss.
anxiety: a mood disorder with feelings ranging from uneasiness to terror. Most people experience some anxiety at some point in their lives; however, if a person’s worries won’t go away or are interfering with everyday activities, they should seek help. Anxiety can be associated with depression.
bipolar disorder: a mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings. People with bipolar may experience periods of depression and mania (feeling “high” or “up”) in between periods of generally even-keeled behavior.
binge eating: a serious eating disorder where a person often eats unusually large amounts of food and feels unable to stop eating.
bulimia: a serious eating disorder in which a person secretly binge eats and then purges, or tries to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way (for example, by forcing themselves to vomit or over-exercise).
depression: a mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of sadness that last beyond a few weeks. Depressed people can find normal life extremely difficult, as their sleep, appetite, and concentration may be affected. Depression can be associated with anxiety.
eating disorder: consistent (and often dangerous) eating behaviors that have a negative impact on a person’s health and emotions. The most common eating disorders are anorexia>, bulimia and binge eating.
mental health: a person’s state of mind and their ability to handle everyday life. A person with good mental health usually feels capable of dealing with the things going on around and within them.
mood disorder: a condition in which a person experiences serious changes in their emotional state, or that state does not match up with their circumstances. Common mood disorders include anxiety and depression.
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): a pattern of unwanted thoughts, feelings, and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Serious OCD can interfere with daily life and cause distress.>
panic attack: a sudden feeling of intense fear that can cause physical reactions (like shaking, rapid breathing, or dizziness), when there is no actual danger or cause for fear. A panic attack often begins without warning and can feel very frightening.
phobia: an overwhelming and illogical fear of a thing or a situation that often doesn’t pose any real danger. Phobias can cause physical and emotional reactions and affect a person’s ability to function in everyday life.
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a condition that develops after a person has gone through a trauma—a scary, shocking, or dangerous event. A person with PTSD may have flashbacks to the event, nightmares, or frightening thoughts that won’t go away.
stress: an automatic physical, mental and emotional response to challenging situations. In small doses, stress can help a person develop motivation and good coping skills. However, too much stress can negatively affect a person’s emotional and physical health.
suicide: intentionally taking one’s own life. Suicide can often be caused by severe depression>. It can be prevented if the warning signs are recognized.
abstinent: a term describing a person who does not engage in certain sexual behaviors. Every individual decides which behaviors they include in their definition of abstinence.
birth control: a collection of methods that are used to prevent a woman from getting pregnant. Also known as contraception.
barrier methods: birth control methods that block sperm from passing through the cervix (the barrier between the vagina and uterus). These include the condom, female condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicide, and sponge.
blow job: a slang term for performing oral sex on a male. Also called a BJ, giving head, or dome.
cervix: the lower, narrower part of a woman’s uterus that connects to the vagina.
chlamydia: a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. Chlamydia is the most common STD in the United States and can cause scarring and damage to the female reproductive system if it is not treated early with antibiotics. Chlamydia often has no symptoms, but when they do occur, female symptoms can include burning during urination, discharge, and bleeding during intercourse. For men, symptoms include pain during urination or a watery discharge.
clitoris: A small, very sensitive organ located above the opening to a woman’s vagina whose only purpose is sexual pleasure. Directly stimulating the clitoris can cause the tissues to fill with blood, leading to orgasm in some women; others find it uncomfortable. Clit is short for clitoris.
consent: permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Before any kind of sexual activity happens between people—including online activity—all parties involved need to give consent.
Depo-Provera: a hormonal birth control method for women that a doctor injects into the arm or buttock every 12 weeks. It works by preventing ovulation and by thickening the mucus in the cervix to keep sperm from entering an egg. It is also known as Depo or the shot.
HIV: short for human immunodeficiency virus, HIV is a sexually-transmitted infection that interferes with your body's ability to fight disease-causing organisms and leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is potentially life-threatening. Most people with HIV develop a flu-like illness within one or two months of contracting the virus. While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are medications that dramatically slow its progression.
genitals: the external sex and reproductive organs of males and females, including the vulva, clitoris, penis, and scrotum.
gonorrhea: a sexually-transmitted infection caused by bacteria. Males with gonorrhea may experience yellowish discharge from the penis, itching, and burning. More than half of women with gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms; however, if they occur, they may include burning or frequent urination, vaginal discharge, redness and swelling of the genitals, and burning or itching in the vaginal area. Gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics; if left untreated, it can cause serious pelvic infections and inability to reproduce.
intercourse (or sexual intercourse): A term for sexual activity. In vaginal intercourse, the penis is inserted into the vagina. In anal intercourse, the penis is inserted into the anus—the opening from the rectum (butt).
NuvaRing®: a small, flexible piece of plastic inserted into the vagina once a month to provide birth control.
oral sex: using the mouth and tongue to stimulate a partner’s genitals.
orgasm: a strong feeling of pleasure that happens at the peak of sexual excitement, when all the muscles tightened during the excitement phase are relaxed.
ovulation: when an ovary (the organ that stores female eggs) releases an egg.
penis: the male reproductive and sex organ. Urine and semen pass through the penis. During sexual excitement, the spongy tissues of the penis fill with blood, leading to an erection (also called getting hard).
scrotum: The sac of skin that holds the male testicles, located underneath the shaft of the penis.
semen: the fluid containing sperm that comes out of the penis during orgasm.
sexually transmitted infection (STI): an infection that is spread through sexual behavior or contact. Some STIs can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. STIs generally infect the genitals, anus, or mouth, although they can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Also known as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).
syphilis: a sexually-transmitted infection caused by bacteria. It starts as a painless sore on the genitals, rectum or mouth, and sometimes leads to a rash and more sores. Syphilis bacteria can stay in the body for decades before becoming active again. Early syphilis can be cured with penicillin. Without treatment, syphilis can do serious damage your heart, brain or other organs.
testicles: The glands inside the male scrotum where sperm and the hormone testosterone are produced. Common slang for testicles is balls.
uterus: the fist-sized, pear-shaped reproductive organ from which a female menstruates and where a pregnancy develops.
vagina: The passage connecting a female vulva with the cervix and uterus. Menstrual blood and other vaginal fluids pass through the vagina, as does a baby during childbirth. It’s also where the penis is inserted during vaginal intercourse, a finger or object is inserted for sexual pleasure, or a tampon is inserted during menstruation.
vulva: the female external sex organs, including the clitoris, the opening of the vagina, and the labia (the lips around the opening of the vagina).
More Sex Terms
Sex, Etc.: Sex Terms
Written by teens for teens, the Sex, Etc. magazine and website provides accurate, honest sexual health information, including definitions of common sex terms.
Planned Parenthood: Glossary of Sexual Health Terms
Planned Parenthood provides up-to-date, clear, medically-accurate definitions that help you better understand your sexual health.
bae: a slang term for a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend.
catfishing: luring a person into an online relationship while pretending to be someone else. This term was coined in the documentary Catfish (2010).
cuffing season: a slang term for the times of year (specifically fall and winter) when single people find themselves wanting to be in a serious relationship.
DTR: short for “Define The Relationship,” or asking your partner to clarify the kind of relationship you’re having.
friends with benefits (FWB): friends who have a sexual relationship without any commitment or monogamy (a sexual or romantic relationship with only one person).
hanging out: spending time with someone you’re romantically interested in before either of you commit to anything serious.
hooking up: engaging in some kind of sexual activity with another person. “Hooking up” can mean different things to different people, from just kissing to actual sex.
ghosting: suddenly stopping communication with a romantic or sexual partner. While ghosting can seem like an easier option than telling someone you’re no longer interested in a relationship, it’s immature and can lead to hurt feelings and confusion.
LTR: short for “long-term relationship,” or a committed romantic relationship that lasts a long time.
Netflix and chill: made popular on the internet, this term means inviting a person over to watch movies and hoping that it leads to sex.
NSA: short for “no strings attached,” or a casual sexual relationship without commitment.
talking: when two people are romantically interested in each other but are not dating yet. Like hanging out, this period of time can feel confusing until you define the relationship.
agender: not identifying with any gender.
ally: a person who supports you and your identity. Often used to describe a person who takes a stand against discrimination or oppression of others, but is not a member of the oppressed group.
asexual: not sexually attracted to anyone.
bisexual: attracted to both males and females.
cisgender: identifying as the gender you were assigned at birth.
closeted: not able to share your LGBTQ identity with others (or yourself). A person’s decision to stay closeted (or “in the closet”) can be influenced by many things, including fear of being shamed or bullied.
gay: attracted to people of the same gender.
gender identity: how a person feels and shows their gender (through behavior and appearance).
gender fluid: a broad term for anyone who moves between two or more gender identities and/or expressions at different points in time.
genderqueer: a term for a person who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, or whose identity lies outside “male” or “female.” Some people choose to use the terms genderqueer, gender non-conforming, gender variant, and non-binary to mean the same thing.
heterosexual: attracted to people of the opposite sex. See straight.
homophobia: fear of LGBTQ people.
homosexual: attracted to people of the same gender. See gay.
lesbian: a female who is attracted to other females.
LGBTQ: an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (or questioning).
intersex: a broad term describing someone born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female.
“out”: short for “out of the closet,” a term that means being open about your sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
pansexual: attracted to people of all sexual orientations and/or gender identities.
queer: A word that refers to sexual orientations and/or gender identities that are anything other than straight or cisgender. “Queer” is still often considered an insult, but many LGBTQ people have proudly reclaimed the word to refer to themselves.
questioning: unsure about your sexual orientation or gender identity.
sexual orientation: the way in which a person is sexually and romantically attracted to others.
straight: attracted to people of the opposite sex. See heterosexual.
transgender: a broad term describing someone whose gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth.
transitioning: in the process of moving from one gender identity to another.