Is Gender the Same as Sex?

Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2021
is gender the same as sex
Gender is not the same as sex. Learn about the differences between sex, gender, and gender identity

Gender is not the same as sex. It’s common to confuse sex, gender, and gender identity:

  • Sex is a label that you are given at the time of your birth based on male or female genitals. Therefore, it is simply based on physical characteristics.
  • Gender is a legal status based on societal expectations about behaviors, characteristics, actions, and thoughts based on gender, which differs from culture to culture and is generally male or female.
  • Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you express your gender through personal appearance, clothing, and behavior. It’s a feeling that begins very early in life.

What is assigned sex?

Assigned sex is a label that is put on your birth certificate based on medical or biological factors such as your genitals, hormones, and chromosomes.

Sometimes, assigned sex is used interchangeably with the term “biological sex.” However, this term does not take into consideration the many variations that can occur inside a person’s body. This is why some people prefer to use the term “assigned sex at birth” because it acknowledges it’s something that has been decided by someone else and not based on what the person feels about their own body.

What factors determine your assigned sex?

Your assigned sex is based on what happens at the time of fertilization.

Fertilization occurs between a male sperm and female ovum. A male sperm contains an XY set of chromosomes, whereas a female ovum contains XX chromosomes:

  • When the X chromosome of the male sperm combines with the X chromosome of the female, the child is born with XX chromosomes and female reproductive organs, and they are labeled as female.
  • When the Y chromosome of the male sperm combines with the X chromosome of the female, the child is born with XY chromosomes and male reproductive organs, and they are labeled as male.

What is intersex?

Intersex is used for people whose reproductive anatomy differs from what forms a defined male or female sex.

Intersex can be based on external genitals or internal sex organs that does not fall into male/female categories, such as a person with both ovarian and testicular tissues. Other intersex people have abnormal combinations of chromosomes such as XXY.

What is gender identity?

Your gender identity is based on how you see yourself and feel about yourself. You may or may not want to dress, appear, or behave in ways that align with your assigned sex.

Some people may not dress completely female or male. They may want to appear as feminine male or masculine female. Feelings about gender identity may start as early as 2-3 years of age.

Some people may feel that their gender identity matches their assigned sex (cisgender). Other people feel that their assigned sex does not align with their gender identity—i.e., someone assigned male at birth may identify as a female and vice versa (transgender).


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Medically Reviewed on 10/12/2021
Sex and Gender Identity.