What’s Wrong with The Term “Same-Sex Couples”?

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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. 

whats wrong with the term same sex couples

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. 

It’s Inaccurate

The term is technically incorrect. Someone’s sex refers to the traits and characteristics that they’re born with like their hormone levels and reproductive organs. We usually divide sex into male or 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 is not always the same gender. People who are transgender or non-binary, or live somewhere else than the gender binary will be affected. 

Even with biological sex, it’s not always as clear-cut as male and female. Like gender, biological sex can exist in binary form, as with the case of those who are. intersex.

A more accurate term could be “same-gender couples”, but this leaves many people and dynamics in the dust.

It lacks inclusiveness

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. Trans people, non-binary persons, gender nonconforming or gender expansive, a gender, or any other gender identity that can be combined to create relationships, may all be possible. 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.

It’s Presumptuous

The term “same-sex” couples not only assumes gender, but also someone’s relationship dynamic. 

Relationship dynamics do not have a binary or white-and-blue scale. There are many options for heterosexual and gay relationships. If people are not cis-gendered, most likely they wouldn’t describe their relationship as “same-sex”. For personal or societal reasons, some people may avoid the term “same sex” even though they are cisgender. 

The concept of same-sex couples implies that heterosexuality is the base for all relationships. This is called a microaggression. It’s a subtle, unintentional act of harming marginalized people. 

People tend to look at heterosexual models when it comes to relationships and sexual education. This is largely due to homophobia, transphobia, and blatant or indirect heterophobia. We can shift the emphasis from heterosexuality being the norm to allow people to live and love without restriction by using inclusive language.

What should I instead say?

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. Humans can always improve. That’s the beauty of being human. 

A simple language change can make it easier to allow for new types of relationships and dynamics. To make people feel more included and help society become more inclusive, you can use a different language. 

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 used often as a broad-stroke term to refer to non-heterosexual relationships. 

If you use “same-sex couple” to describe your own relationship, that’s totally ok! You and your partner can choose how you describe your relationship. 

It is problematic to use the term to refer to a group of people, and assume their identities. This type of thinking can be both harmful and triggering.

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 allows people to have the freedom and language to express themselves, to find new aspects of themselves and to love others, and to feel different aspects of what it means being human.

Language evolves with society and people. Language can be used in a way that makes the world more inclusive and allows people to feel loved no matter what they do. Language is one of most powerful tools for changing society’s consciousness and how people interact. 

This is a great opportunity to review other words and phrases you use. Ask your friends to help you share your knowledge. Watch your friends and family change their language. 

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