The differences between sex and gender: why is it important to distinguish between them?

Today part of Western culture is experiencing a change of perspective around the concept of sexuality . What it is to be a woman or what it is to be a man is no longer as determined as it would have been just a few years ago.

Much of this change is due to the great visibility work on the part of the LGTB collective . Workshops, talks, demonstrations … their activities go beyond the already massive pride day. They have been accompanied by, for example in Spain, the legalization of homosexual marriage or the possibility of carrying out a sex change operation in public health.

Although the denominations and differentiations go much further, a basic distinction to begin to understand the different ways of being and feeling of the population is the one that establishes this sex and gender.

What are sex and gender?

All civilizations and cultures throughout history have recorded their differential expectations regarding men and women. These expectations are social rules that determine from what is the appropriate dress or work to how they should be organized in society.

All this expression of what is a man and what is a woman is what is known as gender roles (female and male) . These are the manifest part of what constitutes gender itself, also called sexual identity, which in our culture until now has had a binary structure: male and female (as well as sex and gender roles).

However, although it has relied on the biological distinction of sex (which we will talk about below) it is not something given or natural in itself. Not always a man identifies as such or a woman as a woman. Not one person has to have the same experience of gender identity throughout their life.

The gender as a social construct mediated by language, is dynamic . It is built and learned in interaction with the environment and is expressed through behavior. It means that it cannot be measured objectively.

It may seem clear in this way that it is a cultural distinction , however, as we mentioned, it has always been supported by the biological distinction of sex.

The biological or anatomical sex refers directly to the reproductive capacity and genitals of both male and female. This is basically determined, in humans, by the pair of chromosomes 23 (X and / or Y).

The genetic endowment of the individual determines the subsequent development of the reproductive system. Broadly speaking, there would be three possibilities: female, male or intersex (although the latter does not usually refer since the most common is that doctors carry out a reassignment shortly after birth).

The common thing is that those born with a penis and testicles are referred to as men and those with a vagina and vulva as women.

However, biology has already shown us that sex is not so simple. There are numerous genetic combinations beyond XX or XY (not all assuming a genetic disorder) or differences during the baby’s development that lead to varying degrees of intersex. It shows that sexuality is not exact .

In conclusion, neither gender nor sex are something fixed but they are not the same. Female genitalia are not equivalent to being part of the group women, nor male genitalia to being part of the group men.

Differences between sex and gender

1. Gender is a cultural concept or construct , sex is not (referring strictly to objective biological evidence).

2. Gender is exclusive to human beings because it depends on the possibility of abstract thought and communication.

3. Gender must be understood as a continuum , while in sex the possibilities of classification are more limited. Men and women have a different anatomical expression regardless of where they are on the gender continuum.

4. Sex carries a reproductive role independent of individual gender experience.

Types of gender identity

It is not possible to point out all of them but, below, we indicate the most common denominations of the different gender identities:

– Transgender : the person feels identified with the opposite gender (taking the male-female binomial) to the one assigned based on their biological sex.

– Cisgender : the person feels identified with the assigned gender based on their biological sex.

– Gender : that person who does not identify with any gender.

– Gender fluid : it is a person who identifies with a combination of the genders man and woman.

– Neutral gender : it would be a third gender apart from men and women.

– Intergender : exclusively intersex person, whose identity is situated at a midpoint between two genders, usually the man-woman binomial.

– Non-binary or genderqueer : refers to gender identities that are not assimilated in the spectra of binary genders and that are not part of cisnormativity. It can be manifested as a range of genres far from binary ones. 

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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