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Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

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What are the Differences Between Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation?

I’m frequently asked to explain the differences between sex, gender, and sexual orientation.  So, what are the differences?  The short answer is this: sex is about your body, gender is about who you feel yourself to be, and sexual orientation is about to whom you’re attracted sexually.

Biological Sex

“Sex” is purely biological. It is determined by physical characteristics including sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive structures, and external genitalia. An individual is identified as male or female at birth. However, gender is more complex. It not only includes physical attributes but also the interaction between those traits and a person’s sense of self, identification as being male or female. 

Gender Identity

“Gender” is the term we use to refer to how a person feels about himself as a boy/man or feels about herself as a girl/woman. Gender identity is the term for how a person self-identifies in terms of being a boy/man or girl/woman. When you say, “I’m a man,” you are stating your gender identity.  For the majority of people, his or her gender identity will be the same as his or her biologically determined sex.  Through the socialization process, children are taught what is expected, and accepted, of them as a boy or girl virtually from birth.  By the age of three most children display behaviors and select activities typical of his or her sex, but that is not always the case.  Children are also aware by age three of what gender they identify with.  

Sexual Orientation

“Sexual orientation” is the term we use to refer to a person’s sexual (erotic) feelings. So when we talk about a person being homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, or gay, straight, or bi, we are talking about that person’s sexual orientation

If you are struggling with issues related to gender identity or sexual orientation, call The Counseling Center at (314) 754-0808 to schedule an appointment.

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