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Sex vs. Gender: Understanding The Difference

Updated on June 29, 2017
social thoughts profile image

I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Baby Sex Reveal Cake
Baby Sex Reveal Cake | Source

Understanding Social Programming

Social constructs to explain our gender prevent us from recognizing what is real from what is taught to us from the time we're born. For example, it's reinforced that gendered color-coordinating is universal: blue is for boys and pink is for girls; however, these colors bear no genuine significance on our biological sex. At least, not beyond our continued efforts to encourage society to embrace them. In the same respect, the tradition that females are home-makers while males are breadwinners is entirely created by those in power, but are followed when society obeys.

Gender Associations

  • Blue for boys
  • Pink for girls

  • Breadwinner = male

  • Caregiver = female


  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Hormones


  • Male
  • Female
  • Intersex

Understanding Biology

Our biological sex is how doctors label us. Sex may seem like something that is free from the imagination, but it too is a construct. What is between one's legs is irrelevant to the rest of who they are; however, we like to believe it defines us. That is what we are told, right? We may like to think this isn't true, but thinking back, and even now, we could find multiple examples of our labeled sex having great impact on how others interact with us. Depending on our genitalia at birth, parents create an idea in their minds as to how we'll end up: what hobbies we'll have, what careers, who we'll date, and so on, and so does everyone we come into contact with. Just think of how often others assume everyone is a cisgender heterosexual.


  • Heterosexual

  • Homosexual

  • Bisexual

  • Pansexual

  • Asexual

Controlled Sexual Orientation

Sexuality didn't used to have labels. When someone wanted to know our sexual preferences they would ask just that: "What do you like?" We didn't have words such as "heterosexual," "homosexual," "bisexual" and so on. While these words seem helpful, they aren't for those who don't want to label themselves or for those who don't want the label to change the way they are seen by others, which happens even when we think it won't. After a homosexual comes out, they can tell others are looking at them differently.


  • Behavioral
  • Expression


  • Boy/Girl
  • Man/Woman
  • Masculine/Feminine

Using Gender for Freedom

Although gender can be used to oppress people by use of social constructs, it can also free those who do not fit into the expected binary. We are able to create our own gender(s) because we decide how we express ourselves. For example, society uses the term "girl" for presumed females of any age; however, considering the definition refers to a pre-pubescent female, this term can be offensive. Society just doesn't think about it. If we referred to males of any age as "boys" they may take offense because "boy" is known to refer to a pre-pubescent male.

How do you label your gender?

See results
Transgender Flag
Transgender Flag | Source

Trans 101

  • "Transgender" is the most acceptable term for a trans person: before or after surgery.
  • "Transsexual" usually refers to post-top-surgery, but can be used for pre-surgery if they prefer.

  • Many (complete) post-op trans people prefer to no longer be referred to as "trans" since they are no longer the sex they were born.

  • "Transvestite" refers to someone who dresses the opposite of their socially assigned gender, but may or may not desire surgery.

Sex ≠ Gender ≠ Sexuality

It is vital for society to understand the difference between sex and gender. Society encourages that genitalia defines one's gender, and implies that their sexuality is binary or heterosexual, but this is false. For example, male equals man equals straight. Some males identify as men, but are homosexual. None of those three categories are automatically linked. One of the most common ways this is assumed is after a baby is born. Parents typically expect that the baby's sex will dictate its gender, and that it will be heterosexual. In reality, the baby's gender identity and sexual orientation can only be confirmed by the baby once they are old enough to confirm it.

Their Sex is Not Your Business

Please, never ask someone to reveal their sex. It’s personal information. This is a time when gender is helpful. Their appearance is your best guess.

The best way to ask: "What are your preferred pronouns?"

If you don't know how someone labels their gender, ask. A biological male or female, not in drag, may be offended by this; however, if you are at an LGBT event, people are likely to appreciate that you ask rather draw a conclusion on your own.

Young Trans Kids

Many may not know that trans people are aware of their gender identity from a young age. Most are too afraid to come out because they are typically punished once they do; fortunately, Jazz Jennings is an example of a young transwoman who has a supportive family. They have fought for her rights, and willingly had her information changed on documents to reflect her gender identity, rather than her biological sex. She has become a spokesperson for trans kids.

Drag It Out: Queens and Kings

Drag is performance art. There are males who dress like women, and females who dress like men.

Drag Queen: A male impersonating a woman through clothing, as well as performance. For example: Adore Delano

Drag King: A female impersonating a man through clothing, as well as performance.


When masculine and feminine traits come together it is called androgyny. For example, some LGBT people prefer to take on an androgynous appearance that may have nothing to do with their sexual orientation. For some, androgyny is much more comfortable than having to choose between masculine or feminine.

Alternative Pronouns

Efforts have been made to change the s/he binary terms into something which can fit everyone, equally. One easy solution is to use "they/their/them" instead, but there are several other alternatives for gender-neutral terms. These can be used whether or not someone identifies under the trans* umbrella. Using gender-neutral pronouns can have a positive impact on cisgender people who do not enjoy the constant concern over their gender identity.

The more society educates itself on the many faces of gender, the better our world will be. Gender influences everyone, whether cis or trans, straight or lgbt.

© 2014 social thoughts


Submit a Comment

  • social thoughts profile image

    social thoughts 3 years ago from New Jersey

    jlpark: Thanks for your comment and thank you for the compliment. I tried very hard with this one. I hope it helps others!

  • jlpark profile image

    Jacqui 3 years ago from New Zealand

    Thanks for this well written hub. Easy to understand and thought provoking.

    I put 'non conforming' - cause I'm not androgynous, but not feminine either...but I may have got myself wrong! (See even those within the LGBT community get confused at times)

  • social thoughts profile image

    social thoughts 3 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you for your comment. :) I agree. There are so many social issues because of this blindly followed concept that sex, gender and sexual orientation are all linked.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    An important discussion for sure. I'm not sure why, but I am still surprised that this is even an issue in this country today. I would have thought, watching awareness grow during the 60s, that by now we, as a nation, would have moved on to other issues. To me, and this is just me, gender/sexuality et al are non-issues. Show me the heart of a person...that's all I'm concerned with.