Healthy lives for young people
Gender

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Gender and sex are two very separate terms, despite people commonly thinking they mean the same thing. Learn about the difference between gender and sex. 

Gender and sex are two very separate terms, despite people commonly thinking they mean the same thing. There is also another related term, ‘sexuality’, which is about a person’s sexual preferences.

Sexuality

Sexuality is a holistic term for someone’s sexual behaviours, attractions, likes, dislikes, kinks and preferences. Sexual orientation makes up a part of someone’s sexuality, and sexuality is sometimes used interchangeably with sexual orientation. However, it covers more than just who a person is attracted to. 

Sexuality is what you enjoy and how you enjoy it, whether that is about partners or activities. Read more on our page What is Sexuality?

Sex

Sex refers to our biological traits, such as genitals, internal reproductive organs, chromosomes and hormones. It can also refer to the act of having sex, which you can read more about on our sex webpages.

Our sex is assigned to us at birth, based on our genitals. If someone is born with a penis and testicles, they are assigned male. If someone is born with a vulva and vagina, they are assigned female. Even though gender and sex are very different parts of us, the two terms are often seen as the same thing because our gender is assigned at birth based on our sex.

Read more about penises and testicles.

Read more about vaginas and vulvas.

Sex has historically been presented as two categories: male and female. However, sex is a spectrum. Some people are intersex, which means they have a variation of sex characteristics (genitals, chromosomes, internal reproductive organs, etc.) that don’t align with traditional ideas of male/female bodies.

Gender

Gender is a collection of socially constructed ideas about human behaviour, actions and roles in relation to ideas of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. 

Masculinity: A set of ideas and behaviours that are associated with men due to a society’s culture. 
Femininity: A set of ideas and behaviours that are associated with women due to a society’s culture.

The set of internal feelings and convictions that you have about your gender is called your gender identity. This may not align with the gender you are assigned at birth, based on your sex.  

Transgender

This is an umbrella term that describes anyone whose gender is not the same as the gender they were given when they were born based on their sex.

Thinking about our gender identity can feel complicated when there’s a common, automatic assumption that everyone is cisgender. Someone is cisgender (also known as ‘cis’) if they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s important not to assume everyone is cisgender; there are lots of different gender identities beyond cisgender.

A person’s gender expression is the outward behaviours and choices that they make in relation to their gender identity. This can include choices about their appearance, for example clothing and hairstyles, and their behaviour and mannerisms. Our society associates certain appearances with certain genders. However, someone’s expression doesn’t necessarily relate to traditional ideas of gender identity. 

You shouldn’t comment on someone’s appearance, expression or gender identity, unless they ask. Rather than assuming how people identify (based on stereotypes), it’s better to check with someone which terms/labels/pronouns they like to use, especially if you’re unsure. 

We should be respectful of everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression. We are all responsible for creating a supportive environment, where people can be themselves.  

Read more about gender here.

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