Most folks go through their day never really giving it a second thought — the difference between sex and gender, that is. After all, for years, sex and gender were essentially synonymous. But over the past few decades, we’ve learned that while most people’s gender matches their sex, that’s not the case for all. And in fact, sex and gender are very much separate entities.

Sex

In short, sex is biological. It’s the genitalia you’re born with, your chromosomes, genes, hormones, and physical characteristics (like facial hair, breasts, and a deep or high pitched voice).  

Gender

Based on your sex, society expects you to behave and look a certain way. Males are expected to be masculine, independent, the breadwinner in a relationship, and wear shirts and pants. While females are expected to be emotional, “girly,” and quiet, and wear traditionally feminine clothes like dresses, skirts, and heels. This expectation of how you’re supposed to look and act (based on your sex) is referred to as gender.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is a person’s perception of the gender they have. Today, more than 95-percent of people in the U.S feel that their gender matches their assigned sex (these people are referred to as being cisgender). But what happens when your sex and gender identity doesn't match? When you have a female body but feel like a boy, or have a male body and feel like a girl? Or if you don’t identify with either gender, then what?

When Gender Identity and Sex Don’t Match

When someone feels like their body doesn’t match how they feel, it’s referred to as being transgender. Many transgender individuals will explain it as feeling like you have the body of a female but the mind of a boy, and vice versa. Many transgender people will alter their physical appearance and behavior so that it matches their gender identity, rather than their sex.

Sexuality

Sexuality has nothing to do with who you are as a person, but rather who you’re romantically and sexually attracted to. Most people today identify as one of these sexualities:

  • Straight/ Heterosexual: People who are attracted to the opposite sex.
  • Gay/ Lesbian/ Homosexual: People who are attracted to the same sex.
  • Bisexual: People who are attracted to both the same and opposite sex.
  • People who are attracted to all genders and sexes. The main difference between someone who is bisexual and pansexual is that pansexual people can feel attraction to people who are intersexual, gender-queer, transgender, and gender fluid, in addition to males and females.
  • Asexual: Asexual people feel little to no sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of their gender or sex. They can, however, be romantically and emotionally attracted to someone.

 

Still curious? Head on over to our “Transgender Terminology 101” blog for more information on transgender terms, as well as our Glossary of Medical Terms.