Difference between Sex, Gender and Sexuality

Published on May 14, 2016

It’s been said that the first human beings on this planet were a man and a woman. And over the centuries, not much has changed between distinguishing human beings based on what they are biologically capable of. It was simply a matter of classifying someone as either of the male or female group. But fast forward to the 21st century and the world has quickly realized that there’s so much more to just what sexual organs we were born with.

With terms such as transgender, transsexual and pansexual all becoming more popularly used these days, it is important to distinguish what makes sex, gender and sexuality different from each other. This has now become a heated issue in society as more and more people are finding themselves fighting for their “identities.” The mere classification of male or female is simply not enough anymore for this era. Thus lies the significance of learning how to differentiate the three.

Sex vs Gender vs Sexuality
Different types of sexuality

Sex

Society has become accustomed to using the words “sex” and “gender” almost interchangeably when in fact they are very different from each other. A person’s sex – or biological sex – only has three categories: male, female or intersex. Sex is a person’s physiological make-up, which means, in order to identify a person’s sex, the genitalia, gonads, sex hormones and reproductive system should be the point of reference. It is assigned at birth and a person’s sex also tells of what his/her purpose would be in the act of reproducing. Even if all the other physical attributes are not there, you can tell a person’s sex by knowing his/her sex chromosome. XX humans are understood to be female, while XY are male. Meanwhile, intersex refers to people who are born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t quite match that of either a male or female.

Gender

The first thing one should understand about gender is that a person’s sex, as determined by their biological make-up, does not always correspond with their gender. That is why the two terms must not be used interchangeably. It has been argued that the term “gender” is a socially constructed concept which refers to the characteristics used to differentiate “masculinity” and “femininity.” This also covers how a person identifies with their assigned sex (gender identity) and how society expects each gender to behave (gender roles).

Even if a doctor has proclaimed you to be biologically male, it does not mean that you necessarily look at yourself as a man. This is where gender identity comes in. Although most are comfortable with their gender matching their sex, some individuals are conscious of not “belonging to the right body.” They may have a different perception of who they are and what they should be called. These people might later on try to change their sex in order to match their gender.

If you tend to gravitate to playing dolls, wearing frilly clothes and doing house chores, society will undoubtedly tell you that you are feminine. Gender roles are often based on an individual’s behavior, occupation, lifestyle and other elements which would dictate whether he/she is masculine, feminine, either or neither – although most people only recognize masculine and feminine roles. These roles fall into societal norms and are now often considered as stereotypical. For example, little girls are expected to look pretty and are considered “weaker” than their male counterparts. Even as young as the age of three, boys are taught to show their “masculinity” by not crying and trying to be tough all the time. It should be noted, however, that these gender roles vary vastly depending on the culture.

Still confused? Let’s simplify this.

A baby with the sexual organs of a male (sex) will be referred to as a boy (gender) and if he grows up into a man (gender) he is considered to be cisgender – his gender matches with his sex. But if a female (sex) was born and grew up wanting to be a man (gender) then that person is often classified as transgender.

Sexuality

Now take all what you’ve learned about sex and gender and put them away because sexuality is a whole new different category.

Simply put, sexuality refers to who a person is sexually attracted to. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with a person’s sex or gender because what we’re talking about here is the attraction. All of us have our own sexual orientation and this is where gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and all the rest falls in.

Remember that these three things are not similar at all but they are related to one another. Learn them, so that next time, you can confidently identify someone’s sex, gender and sexuality.