What’s Wrong with The Term “Same-Sex Couples”?
As we as a society start to have a broadened understanding of gender identity and inclusivity, we’re noticing the ways our language can exclude or even harm certain people.
Up until recently, the term “same-sex couple” was considered the default to refer to any romantic and/or sexual dynamic that isn’t heterosexual. Same-sex is taken from the term “homosexual”, as homo means same.
Just because something has been the default for so long, doesn’t mean it’s correct. For the most part, ‘same-sex couple or couples’ is limiting and can exclude a whole number of people and their partners.
Let’s take a look at why that is, and how you can choose more inclusive language around sex and romance.
First off, the term is not technically correct. Someone’s sex refers to the traits and characteristics that they’re born with like their hormone levels and reproductive organs. Typically, we divide sex into male and female.
The idea of same-sex assumes that people who have the same genitals are of the same gender, but this isn’t always the case. This is also a weird way of looking at relationships because really it isn’t anyone’s business what’s in their pants unless someone chooses to divulge that information.
Biological sex does not always equal gender. This is the case for people who are transgender, non-binary or exist somewhere else outside of the gender binary.
Even with biological sex, it’s not always as clear-cut as male and female. Much like gender, biological sex can also exist on a binary, like in the case of people who are intersex.
A more accurate term could be “same-gender couples”, but this leaves many people and dynamics in the dust.
It Lacks Inclusivity
While “same-sex couples” may have been a good segway for normalizing conversations about non-heterosexual couples, it doesn’t leave much space for people who aren’t cis-gendered, or the gender they were assigned at birth.
“Same-sex couples” is not inclusive of the many iterations of gender that can come together in partnership or relationship. You may have trans people, non-binary people, gender non-conforming or gender-expansive, a-gender, or any other gender identity outside of the binary that can create relationships together. To call these relationship dynamics “same-sex” would be incorrect, and potentially harmful and/or triggering.
When you assume someone’s gender by the language you use to describe their relationship, you are in essence misgendering them. This is the act of using the wrong language to describe someone’s gender, like using she/her pronouns instead of they/them.
For people who exist outside of the gender binary, there is no such thing as “same-sex” because they might not identify with one specific sex or gender.
The term “same-sex” couples not only assumes gender, but also someone’s relationship dynamic.
Relationship dynamics are not on a binary or black and white scale. There is a whole spectrum in between and outside of heterosexual and homosexual. If people are not cis-gendered, most likely they wouldn’t describe their relationship as “same-sex”. Even if they are cis-gendered, they may choose to stay away from this term for societal and personal reasons.
The term same-sex couples assumes that heterosexuality is the baseline for all relationships. This is a microaggression or a subtle unintentional act that inadvertently harms people of a marginalized group.
Most models that people have for relationships and sexual education are heterosexual. Much of this is due to blatant or indirect homophobia or transphobia. By using more inclusive language, we take the focus away from heterosexuality as the norm and give people more of a chance to exist and love freely.
What Should I Say Instead?
If this is new to you, that’s ok! What’s important is that you’re showing up, educating yourself, and are here to learn. The cool thing about being human is that we can always change.
Just a simple change of language can help make space for other types of relationships and dynamics. You can choose to use different language to help people in your life feel more included, and to help society become more inclusive overall.
If you’re wondering what to say instead of “same-sex couples”, you may try “queer couples, lesbian, or gay.” If you’re unsure what language people are comfortable with, just ask them. You can do the same when you’re curious about someone’s pronouns.
It’s important to note that queer was once a derogatory term and may still be triggering to certain people and communities, but more and more people are reclaiming it and using it to describe themselves and their relationships. It is often used as the default broad-stroke term to describe non-heterosexual relationships.
If you use “same-sex couple” to describe your own relationship, that’s totally ok! How you describe your relationship is up to you and your partner, or partners.
The issue is using the term to describe a whole group of people and assume their identities. This kind of thinking can be triggering and harmful.
Expanding Gender Dynamics
This may seem esoteric or difficult to grasp, but that’s the beauty of creating more expansiveness around gender and relationships. It gives people the space and language to explore, to discover new parts about themselves and how they love, to feel different parts of what it means to be human.
As people and society evolve, so does our language. Language can be used to create a more inclusive world where people feel celebrated in how they choose to love. Language is one of the most powerful tools in changing the consciousness of a society and how people interact with each other.
You can use this as an opportunity to examine other words or phrases that you use that may be replaced with ones that are more inclusive or up to date. Tell your friends and try opening up discussions for opportunities to share knowledge. As you change your language, watch how the people around you start to do the same.
Natasha (she/her) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.