The Basics of Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

What is the difference between sex, gender, and sexual orientation? Is there a difference?


Assigned Sex at Birth is the sex determined by doctors at birth based upon anatomical features. 

Biological Sex is our biological make up in terms of chromosomes, hormones, and our primary and secondary sex characteristics.

  • Biological sex is not determined by genitalia (even though many people assume that genitalia dictates sex)
  • Some words used to identify sex include male, female, and intersex.

Gender is the collection of attributes and characteristics that are associated with maleness/femaleness. Gender is socially constructed and the attributes/characteristics associated with different genders have changed over time and is also different between regions, countries, and cultures.

Gender Identity is the internal/psychological sense of self, regardless of what gender they are assigned at birth.

  • Some words used to identify gender identity include man, woman, and genderqueer.

Gender Expression is how we “show” or “demonstrate” our gender to the world AND it is how the world perceives us. It refers to all the characteristics or attributes that are socially defined as masculine and feminine including appearance, behavior, or mannerisms. Someone’s expression might not correspond to their gender identity.

  • Some words used to identify gender expression include masculine, feminine, and androgynous.

Sexual Orientation refers to a person’s emotional, physical, and sexual attraction to other people.

  • It includes thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and fantasies. Behavior does not dictate sexual orientation, even though many people assume that your sexual behavior does dictate identity.
  • Some words used to identify sexual orientation include gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, and pansexual.

Romantic Orientation refers to a person's emotional attraction to other people regardless of  physical and sexual attraction. 

  • Some people experience romantic attraction and not sexual attraction. For others their romantic attraction and sexual attraction do not align.
  • Some words used to idenitfy romantic orientation include aromantic, biromantic, panromantic.