Difference between Sex and Gender Identity

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Sex is the biological differences between men and women from before birth. There are three major classifications to determine sex: male, female, and intersex. Genital development is a fundamental way to determine if a person is biologically male or female. Gender is a person’s psychological identification as male or female and the characteristics they associate with it. Masculine, feminine, and androgynous are three main categories associated with gender.

Societal beliefs have had an enormous influence on determining which acts and behaviors are considered masculine or feminine. There are several misconceptions about sex and gender with the belief that they are supposed to match in every person. A person’s biological sex does not always determine the gender they identify with. An example would be an individual is biologically born a male but internally they feel female. That person may even self-identify as female and express themselves in ways that are associated with femininity.

There are a lot of factors that can determine the way an individual classifies sex and gender. Culture, education, religion, and politics have an influence on how people comprehend human sexuality. It is important to understand that the misconceptions about sex and gender have the ability to harm others. It can affect the way a person views themselves and cause pressure for them to comply to societal expectations. It also has the potential to affect friend, family, and romantic relationships. Human sexuality is made up of various attributes and each person’s experience is unique.

There is not just one factor that determines a person’s sexuality. Sex and gender are two entirely independent terms that affect human sexuality. Each term is composed of multiple qualities which make up its definition. Sex is a person’s biological makeup of male or female (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 117). A person’s sexuality is influenced by sex in ways like chromosome and hormone differences as well as developments of internal and external body parts. Gender influences human sexuality in completely different way.

The book, Our Sexuality, stated, “Gender refers to the psychological and sociocultural characteristics associated with our sex” (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 117). The gender characteristics associated with each sex have been separated into what society determines masculine and feminine behavior. Society struggles to understand that a person’s gender can incorporate a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. Additionally, there are other external aspects that influence gender and sexuality.

The environment a person was raised in and what they learned from family members has a great effect on which masculine or feminine characteristics form a person’s gender identity. Religious beliefs also have the ability to influence a person’s sexuality. Likewise, education is another aspect that shapes gender and sexuality. Human sexuality is a complex system and it is important to recognize and understand the distinctions between sex and gender.

Chromosomes determine the sex of a baby in the womb. An XY combination reveals that the baby will become a boy while an XX combination reveals the baby will become a girl (Intersex Society of America [ISNA], 2006, p. 4). The ISNA (2006) states that a disorder of sex development (DSD) “can happen is if a child is missing a common gene (part of the DNA), or has an uncommon combination of genes that make his or her body develop differently from most boys or girls” (pg. 5).

One disorder of sexual differentiation is Klinefelter’s Syndrome. This is when a male has an XXY chromosomal makeup. Saud McLeod (2014) stated, “Physically they appear male, though the effect of the additional X chromosome causes less body hair and under-developed genitals.” Another disorder is Turner’s Syndrome which is when females develop with only one X chromosome (McLeod, 2014). The DSD Handbook for Parents additionally stated an example of sexual differentiation is, ‘Complete androgen insensitivity syndrome’ (ISNA, 2006, p.69).

Crooks and Baur (2017) stated, “Wherein the body cells of a chromosomally normal male fetus are insensitive to androgens. The result is feminization of prenatal development, so that the baby is born with normal-looking female genitals and a shallow vagina” (p. 128). Disorders of sexual development are more common than people think but are not widely talked about, which can lead to the misperceptions on gender.

In the book, Our Sexuality, it defines gender as “a term or concept that encompasses the behaviors, socially constructed roles, and psychological attributes commonly associated with being male or female” (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 117). Acts and behaviors are determined masculine or feminine to differentiate males and females. When expected to act like a particular sex it creates gender roles. In today’s society males are supposed to have only masculine characteristics while females are supposed to only have feminine characteristics. It separates people into boxes and doesn’t allow room for both sexes to have masculine and feminine characteristics. There are many biological and psychological aspects that can influence a person’s gender.

A biological influence on gender is hormones. In women, estrogen and progestational compounds are produced in the ovaries which controls the menstrual cycle and development of physical characteristics (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 121). In men, testes produce androgen hormones which effect sexual motivation and male sex features (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 121). Another biological influence on gender is brain function and development. Crooks and Baur (2017) stated, “Women tend to use both brain hemispheres when performing verbal and spatial tasks, whereas men are more likely to exhibit patterns of hemispherical asymmetry by using only one hemisphere for each of these functions” (p. 125).

Psychological influences on gender start from the minute someone is born. Social cognitive theory states that gender development is influenced by modeling, enactive experience, and direct tuition (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Modeling can be learning gender roles from parents and friends. For example, if a girl sees only her mom doing household chores she will be more likely to believe it is the girls responsibility to clean the house. Enactive experience is learning through one’s own actions and behaviors. An example of this would be choosing how to dress and deciding which friend group to associate with.

Direct tuition is the believed standards for how each gender should act. Culture affects this greatly because different cultures have their own set of beliefs. Another psychological influence on gender identity is gender identity reinforcement. This is when children act like the characteristics they are taught to match their sex (Crooks & Baur, 2017, p. 130). An example of this is when girls start to play with baby dolls and boys play with trucks. Children actively reinforce these characteristics to acknowledge what they were taught to be socially acceptable.

Individuals with a developmental sex disorder can have a harder time trying to define their gender. Being taught to conform to societal expectations can be very harmful to a person psychologically. A study found, ‘Adults with DSDs do remember feeling hurt when their parents rejected them or felt ashamed of them because they were different from the average in terms of their gender identities or sexual orientations’ (ISNA,2006, p. 16). These misconceptions also have the potential to determine what choices a person makes. ‘We’ve heard from adults with DSDs that they sometimes made poor choices sexually, because they didn’t feel they could ask about their bodies or wanted to prove their desirability’ (ISNA, 2006, p. 30).

Along with making choices sexually, it can affect the choices a person makes cosmetically. There are expensive surgeries and hormone treatments available in order for people to match their gender and sex. Parents that are not properly informed about those treatments can cause a lot of damage to a child with a DSD. ‘Many hormone treatments come with effects that are not reversible’ (ISNA, 2006, p. 50). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports waiting to perform procedures until the child is able to actively participate in the decision-making process (ISNA, 2006 p. 49-50). It eliminates the child feeling ashamed of who they are by letting them decide the type of person they want to be.

In conclusion, it is essential to remember that sex and gender do not have the same meaning. Sex is biological while gender is self-interpreted. Masculine and feminine characteristics have been socially constructed to easily identify other people’s gender and sexuality. Crooks and Baur (2017, p. 130) reinforced that children are influenced on how to act by what they are taught through gender identity reinforcement. There are multiple factors that make up human sexuality and many misconceptions need to be clarified in order to educate others. Individuals with developmental sexual disorders can be influenced by these misconceptions and negatively impact their emotions and decisions. Individuality is not something to be afraid of, rather something to embrace and accept.


  1. Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106(4), 676-713. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.106.4.676
  2. Crooks, R. L., & Baur, K. (2017). Our sexuality (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
  3. Intersex Society of North America. (2006). Handbook for parents. Retrieved from http://www.accordalliance.org/dsdguidelines/parents.pdf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
  4. McLeod, S. A. (2014). Biological theories of gender. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/gender-biology.html

Cite this paper

Difference between Sex and Gender Identity. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/difference-between-sex-and-gender-identity/



Is there a difference between sex and gender?
Yes, there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to biological differences, while gender refers to social and cultural differences.
What is meant by gender identity?
Gender identity is the gender which a person sees themselves as. This can be different from the gender a person is assigned at birth.
What is the difference between gender identity and gender role?
Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl). Gender role is the set of socially defined behaviors and attitudes that are considered appropriate for boys and girls.
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