Posts Tagged ‘spectrum’

Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation

Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation

Lately, I’ve been getting a number of questions about gender: What makes someone male? Female? Transgender?  How does sexual orientation fit in with gender?

A question of gender: “male” or “female” can be much more complicated than a simple binary answer.  Sex, gender, and sexual orientation are each part of a spectrum, with some people identifying on either end of the spectrum, and others identifying somewhere in the middle.


Biological Sex:

There are at least three components to biological sex: physical, genetic and hormonal.  These components do not always correspond to the same sex in an individual, which can result in intersex or other variations.

Biological sex is uncontrollable without surgery or hormone therapy.

From a physical perspective, sex is often defined by genitalia and reproductive organs with males having a penis, scrotum and testicles and females having a vulva, vagina, clitoris and ovaries. In some cases, babies can be born with ambiguous physical sex.

Sex-determining chromosomes, most commonly known as XX and XY define genetic females and genetic males.  There are variations in these combinations including XO, XXX, XXY, XXXY, and more rarely XYY which can result in different physical development in individuals.

Hormones do not determine sex but they do influence it.  The careful balance of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, androgen and other hormones influence physical development of humans.  A hormonal imbalance or insensitivity to certain hormones could influence a person’s physical appearance, including the genitals.


Gender Identity: 

Gender identity is one’s personal awareness of being male, female or other.  This sense of self is usually defined by the age of three years old and may or may not conform to the individual’s biological sex.  Many people feel that they are or should be male, female, ambiguous or other.  This is often taken for granted with cisgender people who identify as the gender commonly associated with his/her biological sex.  Transgender people identify as a gender different from what is associated with his/her biological sex.

Gender identity is independent of biological sex and sexual orientation.  It is an internal perception of self that is not chosen, but just is.


Sexual Orientation: 

Sexual orientation is independent of biological sex, gender identity and gender role.

Sexual orientation refers to the gender(s) that an individual is attracted to.  Dr. Alfred Kinsey developed a Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale based on people’s sexual experiences.  In broader terms, sexual orientation includes sexual, romantic and emotional involvement and fantasy.


Sexual orientation is a self-defined term about how a person identifies – not just their behaviour.  For example, a person may practice homosexual activities but identify as heterosexual.

Some common sexual orientations are:
Heterosexual – someone who is attracted to people of the opposite gender
Homosexual – someone who is attracted to people of the same gender
Bisexual – someone who is attracted to men and women
Pansexual – someone who is attracted to people of various genders (male, female, trans, queer, etc.)
Asexual – someone who is generally not sexually attracted to others



Biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are independent of each other and may not correspond with the same sex/gender match in some individuals.

Learning about and acknowledging these differences, and using the correct terminology are the first steps to acceptance and respect of others.