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Sex, Gender and Sexuality

Currently, it is believed that sex, gender, and sexuality are interrelated but independent terms[1]. However, medical and scientific definitions of male and female are still incomplete. Interestingly, sex is still defined by the gonads. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (2001) defines female as "denoting the sex that bears the young or the ovum" and male as "denoting the sex to which those belong that produce spermatozoa." Women who have had oophorectomies are still considered female. Similarly, men with azoospermia are considered male because, according to the definition, they belong to the sex that normally does produce sperm. So, there are still other features that define women without ovaries as female and men who don’t produce sperm as male that are not described in this definition.

North American society, as well as many others, recognizes only two sexes. It is made obvious by the English language in which there exists the pronouns he/she, her/him, his/hers that there are only two extremes. By being extremes, these two sexes are often referred to as opposites. The only other pronoun available is "it" which is not an appropriate alternative in referring to intersexed people. Our society further puts emphasis on there being only two sexes by having male and female bathrooms, having female and male designations on all official forms, having male only and female only sport divisions, and by having the first words at a child’s birth be the declaration of sex. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of the time the first question asked about a newborn is what sex they are. Clearly, identifying someone by their sex plays a large role in our social interactions[1].

Over the years many people have come to accept that sexual preference is a continuum with heterosexuality and homosexuality at both ends. Bisexuality is the term for someone who is attracted to both sexes. However, one can imagine that there exists an infinite range between being only attracted to people of the opposite or same sex[1].

The same has recently been accepted with the term gender. People are more comfortable in agreeing that there exist people that are very feminine, very masculine, or somewhere in between. In fact, several terms have appeared in the English language describing more than two gender options. For example, the term androgynous describes someone who has both feminine and masculine traits. The term undifferentiated has even been cited for a person that has very little of either feminine or masculine traits[1]. There are cultures that acknowledge a larger variety of sexes and genders.


1. Nelson A, Robinson BW. Gender in Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto: Prentice Hall; 2002.

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