Sex, sexuality and gender explained

Confused about the words sexsexuality and gender? We don’t blame you. It's complicated and  it can take a while to wrap your head around them. Sex, sexuality and gender all mean something completely different – read on to get the lowdown. If you've still got questions, you can send them our way.

This can help if:

  • You want to know the difference between sex, sexuality and gender
  • You’re questioning your sex, sexuality or gender
  • You want to learn about all the different kinds of sexes, sexualities and genders
couples feet in bed

It’s complicated

Sex, sexuality and gender are all words that we use to think about ourselves and our identity. However, the fact of the matter is that these three terms are not as simple as you may have initially thought. If you think about the fact that there are billions of people in the world, each with their own unique identity, it soon becomes clear that these terms would need to be pretty flexible in order to account for the huge number of people they are trying to accommodate. 

Quick definitions

So, we’ve established that these terms can be a bit tricky sometimes. However, they are really important concepts to know about so we’ve done our best to break them down.

Sex

When people refer to someone’s sex (sometimes talked about as biological or physical sex) they’re talking about their physical characteristics (e.g. having a penis, vagina, beard, or breasts etc), genes and hormones. Many people think of male and female as the only sexes, but that’s actually not the whole story.  Some people have genetic, hormonal and physical features typical of both male and female at the same time, so their biological sex isn’t clearly male or female. They are called Intersex. 

Gender 

Society often expects people to look and behave a certain way depending on their biological sex. Males are usually expected to act and look ‘masculine’, and females ‘feminine’. However, we all express masculinity and femininity in different ways, and we might relate more to some parts of masculinity or femininity than others. Some people feel like society’s expectations about gender don’t fit or work for them at all.  

Gender is about your sense of who you are as a guy, girl or something else, as opposed to what your physical characteristics, genes and hormones indicate. We usually expect males to feel like guys, and females to feel like girls. But it’s not that simple – sometimes a male will feel like they are actually a girl, and vice versa. Some people don’t identify as a girl or a guy and that’s ok too. 

Sexuality

Somebody’s sexuality is about who they are attracted to sexually and romantically. For example, people who are opposite-sex attracted (also known as heterosexual or straight) are attracted to people of a different sex. There are also heaps of people who are attracted to people of the same sex as them –they are often referred to as same-sex attracted (also known as lesbian or gay). Sexuality is more complicated than just being gay or straight - some people are bisexual and like both men and women, while some people see sexual attraction and gender as fluid. These people find labels like straight, gay or bi as too rigid and fixed, and prefer to self-identify as queer.

Not the whole story

These definitions don’t cover all bases, but they’re a good start. Still confused? Swing us a question and we’ll do our mightiest to answer it. 

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Last reviewed: 04 March, 2016
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