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Key terms

This list of terms is not intended for you to share directly with your students but rather to support you as you teach sexuality education. The aim is for you to feel confident in using some of these terms and be able to answer student questions using correct terminology. 

Key terms

PDF icon. Sexuality education key terms (PDF, 317 KB)

asexual: an absence of sexual attraction or desire

bisexual: a person who is sexually and emotionally attracted to men and women

coming out: refers to the process of acknowledging and accepting one’s sexual orientation. It also encompasses the process of disclosing one’s sexual orientation to others.

ejaculation: when a male ejaculates, the muscles in his urethra, penis, and prostate gland contract. Sperm and semen mix and are then pushed into the urethra and come out of the opening of the glans, or tip, of the penis. The semen is creamy white, and there is about a teaspoon of it.

erection: during an erection, the penis becomes stiff and hard as the blood vessels in the spongy tissue fill with blood. Erections take place when males are thinking about or involved in sexual activity, but they can also happen for many other reasons or for no reason at all. They can happen at any age but become more frequent during puberty. In females, the vulva and vagina become engorged when aroused and the clitoris can also become erect, but this is less noticeable because it is hidden by the vulva and labia.

fa’afafine: a Samoan term that literally means “in the manner of a woman”. “Fa’afafine” is often used to refer to people born biologically male who express feminine gender identities in a range of ways. It is sometimes used broadly across Pasifika people.

female: can be defined by physical appearance, chromosome constitution (XX), or gender identification

gay: can refer to homosexual/same-sex-attracted women and men, but is more often used in relation to males

gender: the attitudes, feelings, and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behaviour that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as “gender-normative”. Behaviours that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations are referred to as “gender non-conformative”.

gender identity: refers to a person’s identity as male, female, or transgender. When a person’s gender identity and biological sex are not congruent, the individual may identify as transsexual or as another transgender category.

heterosexual/straight: refers to people who are sexually attracted to the other sex only

homo/trans/bi-phobia: a fear of people who are homosexual, transgender, or bisexual that may manifest as discrimination or violence

intersex: this term covers a range of people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t conform with typical definitions of “male” and “female”.

lesbian: a term that describes same-sex-attracted women

LGBTQ: an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer

male: can be defined by physical appearance, chromosome constitution (XY), or gender identification

masturbation: deliberately stimulating the sexual parts of one’s own body to feel sexual excitement or pleasure

menstruation: a woman’s monthly bleeding or period. When a woman menstruates, her body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb). Menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix and passes out of the body through the vagina.

orgasm: an intense feeling of excitement or pleasure at the climax of a sexual experience. In males especially, it is associated with ejaculation.

ovulation: when a mature egg is released from a woman’s ovary, pushed down the fallopian tube and is available to be fertilised. It usually takes place once a month, but this can vary, especially when a girl has only just started menstruating, when it may happen only every few months.

placenta: an organ that forms inside a woman’s uterus during pregnancy to nourish and protect the baby. It is pushed out after the baby during childbirth.

puberty: the time when a person’s body begins to develop and change as they move from childhood to adulthood. Puberty encompasses physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual changes.

queer: a reclaimed word used in a positive sense to describe sexual orientation and/or gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to heteronormative expectations. Sometimes used as an umbrella term for same-sex attraction and gender diversity. It is more commonly used among youth and in academic contexts. It is sometimes used to express rejection of traditional gender categories and distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, trans, queer, bisexual, or takatāpui.

rainbow: a generic term that incorporates people who do not identify as heterosexual or asexual, and do not fit standard gender identity norms, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex, takatāpui, fa’afafine, queer, fakaleiti (Tongan), akava’ine (Cook Islands Māori), fiafifine (Niuean), vakasalewalewa (Fijian).

sex (1): a person’s biological status, typically categorised as male, female, or intersex. Indicators of biological sex include sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia.

sex (2): most often refers to sexual intercourse but includes a variety of other sexual activities

sexual health: a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality, requiring a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.

sexual identity: refers to a person’s sexual identity such as asexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian, or heterosexual

sexual intercourse: sexual activities that involve a penis entering a vagina or an anus. Sexual intercourse is sometimes referred to as “having sex” or “making love”, or often just called “sex”.

sexual orientation: refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted. Categories of sexual orientation typically include attraction to members of one’s own sex (gay men or lesbians), attraction to members of the other sex (heterosexuals), and attraction to members of both sexes (bisexuals). Research suggests that sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum. In addition, some research indicates that sexual orientation is fluid for some people.

sexual rights: the application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health. Sexual rights protect all people’s rights to fulfil and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with regard for the rights of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination.

sexuality: this encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Sexuality can be experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles, and relationships. Sexuality is influenced by biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, historical, religious, and spiritual factors.

takatāpui: the traditional meaning is “intimate companion of the same sex”. Many Māori people have adopted this term as a cultural identity for being non-heterosexual or for having non-traditional gender identities.

trans/transgender: an umbrella term that describes people who feel that the sex they were born with is a false or incomplete description of themselves. “Trans” is an increasingly preferred term. It includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, genderqueer, and consciously androgynous people. Trans/transgender people sometimes use medical intervention to align their physical sex with their gender identity.

wet dream: this takes place when a person who is asleep feels sexual excitement that leads to orgasm. The name refers to the ejaculation from the penis that a male experiences. Like masturbation, wet dreams are a natural occurrence. 

Te reo Māori terms

This list of English language terms gives you an equivalent in te reo Māori. You may find this helpful as you explore names for body parts, bodily functions, and other aspects of puberty in the learning opportunities. Please consult with your students’ whānau to ensure that these words are appropriate in your community. This could be a great opportunity for Māori students to take on the role of teacher.

adolescent: taitama (male) and taitamāhine (female)

birth (to give birth): whakawhānau

bisexual: taera rua

boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner: tau, whaiāipo, tahu, makau, ipo

breast: ū

contraception: ārai hapu

extended family: whānau

gay: takatāpui

gender: tangatatanga

heterosexual man: tāne mate wāhine

heterosexual woman: wāhine mate tāne

HIV: whakaruhi ārai mate

homosexual: tāne mate tāne

intercourse: onioni

labia: ngutu

lesbian: wāhine mate wāhine

masturbation: tītoi or pīkoikoi

menopause: koero

menstruation: paheke, hekenga toto, rerenga awa wahine

miscarriage: tahe or whakatahe

nipple: kōmata, matamata

ovary: wharekano

penis: ure

period: mate wāhine

placenta: whenua

pornography: karihika

pregnancy: hapūtanga

puberty: puke huruhuru, āhuatia

relationship: whanaungatanga

safer sex: ai haumaru, aitanga ārai mate

scrotum: pūkoro raho

sexual orientation: aronga hōkaka, aronga taera

sexuality: hōkakatanga, taeratanga

sexually transmissable infection: paipai

sperm: tātea

testicle: raho

transgender: whakawāhine (trans male to female) and whakatāne (trans female to male)

uterus: whare tangata

vagina: tara, puta

vulva: tenetene

wet dream: moemoeā mākū

young person: taiohi, rangatahi, mātātahi


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