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Gender and Sexuality

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Gender and Sexuality

Girls can play with dolls, but boys can play with toy guns. That's just how it is, right? Why is it like this, and does it have to be this way?

  • What is the difference between sex and gender?
  • What does it mean to be transgender? Nonbinary?
  • What is discrimination that members of the LGBT+ community face?
  • What are different psychological perspectives that affect sexual orientation and gender diversity?

The Difference Between Sex and Gender

Figuring out the difference between sex and gender can be confusing. To put it simply, sex is biological. Gender, on the other hand, is much more complicated.

Sex is the biological difference between male, female, and intersex.

Gender is how you identify and present yourself socially, regardless of your sex.

Biological Sex

Biological sex is based on the physiological differences between male, female, and intersex people. A person’s sex involves their primary and secondary sex characteristics. Primary sex characteristics are related to the reproductive system, such as genitalia. Secondary sex characteristics are not necessarily related to the reproductive system, such as breasts and facial hair.

Most people think that biological sex is binary - male and female. Sex is determined by many factors, such as chromosomes and gonads. Variations of these factors can mean that someone is intersex. One of the easiest ways to tell is through chromosomes. Usually, females have XX chromosomes, and males have XY. However, XO, XXX, XXY, and more variations are possible. At first glance, you might not be able to “tell” that someone is intersex. Other times, there might be physical indicators, such as having both male and female genitalia.

Gender Roles and Gender Typing

“Boys don’t cry.” “Only girls can play with dolls.” There's no doubt that you heard something like that growing up. What you heard was a part of the process called gender typing. Gender typing is what a child experiences and learns as they become aware of their gender.

Gender typing is learning and understanding expectations and "rules" as you become aware of your gender.

For instance, a boy may play with trucks, avoid “girly” toys, and want to grow up to be hyper-masculine. That boy adopts the behaviors and characteristics of people he believes have the same gender. If he sees the men around him go fishing, he may also want to go fishing. The boy is assimilating to fit in with the other males in his life.

When shopping with his parents, a young boy is told that he can't wear dresses because of his gender. He now learns that dresses are for girls.

Gender roles are taught and passed down from generation to generation through social learning theory. The boy saw all of the men in his life go fishing, and so did those men, and so on. Behaviors that fit into the expectation of being a man are encouraged, and ones that do not are punished.

  • Gender roles are the expected roles a person has to fill based on their gender or sex. People begin to learn these around the age of five.
  • Gender stereotypes are generalized views or perceptions about people of a specific gender.
  • Social Learning Theory is the theory that we adapt our behaviors based on observing other people.

Because of the reinforcement of gender roles, one theory says that children create cognitive categories for masculinity and femininity. This is called gender schema theory. From there, children recognize and do things that match their gender roles. For example, boys might be encouraged to play aggressive sports such as football, but girls would be discouraged from doing so.

Gender schema theory suggests that we learn associations and information based on how we perceive role models, such as parents. Conforming to gender roles is encouraged and praised.

Transgender and Nonbinary Identities

It’s one thing not to always conform to gender roles, but what if you don’t fit in with your gender or sex? That’s where transgender identities come in. People who are transgender identify and express their gender in a way that’s different from their biological sex. People who are comfortable with the sex they were born with are called cisgender.

Transgender people have a gender identity that varies from their biological sex.

Cisgender people have a gender identity that matches their biological sex.

Queer or questioning people identify or are considering identifying as someone who is not heterosexual or cisgender.

Transgender people may struggle with something called gender dysphoria. Their biological sex and sex characteristics cause distressing feelings, and they might want to change some of them.

Gender dysphoria is significant discontentment and distress with personal biological sex characteristics and how others perceive their gender.

Gender and Sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, StudySmarterTransgender and gender dysphoria, pixabay.com

A transgender woman is someone born a biological male but now identifies as a female. She might be uncomfortable with having facial hair, a deep voice, and masculine mannerisms.

How could she help her gender dysphoria? She might undergo hormone replacement therapy to naturally develop secondary sex characteristics that better align with her gender identity. She could also opt for gender affirmation surgeries, which are a variety of procedures that could help her body match her gender identity better. However, she might not undergo any medical procedures but only focus on her gender expression. She might grow out her hair, wear different clothes, try out makeup, or use a different name. The possibilities are endless.

  • Hormone replacement therapy is supplementing hormones to suppress secondary sex characteristics and develop characteristics of the other sex.
  • Gender affirmation surgery refers to various procedures transgender people can undergo to get sex characteristics.

But wait, what about nonbinary people? People do not always fit into the “male” or “female” binary and are often referred to as gender-diverse people. Some people might fluctuate between male and female; others may identify as both. They may choose to present more androgynous or gender-neutral. Gender identity exists on a spectrum, with many different identities and experiences.

Gender-diverse refers to transgender, nonbinary, and non-gender conforming people.

Androgynous means neither distinctly masculine nor feminine.

Defining Sexual Orientation or Sexuality

Your sexual orientation or sexuality is different from your gender identity. Gender is how you represent yourself socially, whereas sexuality is who you love or are attracted to sexually.

Sexual orientation or sexuality is who a person is sexually attracted to.

The majority of couples you will see in movies and TV are heterosexual. This means that they are attracted to the opposite sex, such as girls liking boys and boys liking girls. However, not everyone is heterosexual. Just like gender identity, sexuality is a spectrum. Homosexual people are attracted to people of the same sex.

Gender and Sexuality, two men holding hands, StudySmarterHomosexual or gay marriage, pixabay.com

Some people like multiple genders, not just one. The most common term for people attracted to multiple genders is bisexual, but various labels exist. Being bisexual doesn’t mean that attraction is even. Some might like females more than males, or vice versa. Others might be attracted to people, no matter gender identity or expression.

Bisexual people are attracted to multiple genders. Bisexuality is often defined as being attracted to "both" genders, but bisexuality is not exclusive to transgender and nonbinary identities.

Not everyone experiences sexual attraction. Asexual people experience very little or no sexual attraction. Being asexual is not a choice and doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have sex. Asexual people can still date, romantically love, and have sexual intercourse with a partner.

Asexual people have little to no sexual attraction to any gender.

LGBTQ+ Discrimination

Gender and Sexuality, blue restrooms with letters LGBTQIA+*?, StudySmarterLGBTQIA+*? restrooms, pixabay.com

Even though many countries have legalized same-sex marriage and support the open expression of gender identity, social and cultural ideas of gender and sexuality are far from perfect. LGBTQ+ people are often fired from their jobs, unable to rent apartments or even enter certain shops and restaurants solely because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Transgender people may have legal rights and protections to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, but this does not always stop harassment and violence, especially in schools. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, in 2019, 36 percent of teens (ages 13-17) who identify as transgender or nonbinary with restricted bathroom or locker room access reported being sexually assaulted.

HIV/AIDS and Lack of Healthcare

HIV disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ+ community. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 69 percent of the new HIV diagnoses in 2019 were among homosexual and bisexual men, even though they only make up around 2 percent of the country’s population. Treatment and healthcare for LGBTQ+, especially if they are living with HIV, can be incredibly difficult to find.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that targets the immune system. If left untreated, it can develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), making them much more susceptible to severe illnesses.

Hormone replacement therapy and gender affirmation surgeries are also heavily restricted in many countries. This means that transgender people can’t get the healthcare options they would like, increasing the amount of gender dysphoria and distress.

Intersex “Corrective” Surgery

When babies are born intersex and have ambiguous or atypical genitalia, they will often undergo surgery to make their sexual characteristics match the biological sex of the parents' choosing. These surgeries are controversial, with many intersex people deeming the procedure unnecessary, invasive, and potentially psychologically harmful. Those in favor of the surgeries say it is necessary to function in society as either a male or female.

The Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity

Sexuality and gender identity are not dictated by one specific thing but by various factors and perspectives.

  • The Biological Perspective. The Y chromosome contains the instructions for the growth of male sex organs and the synthesis of male sex hormones. Male sex hormones influence brain development. Typically, the female corpus callosum is larger than the male, which might influence lateralization in the brain. Hormonal differences at puberty influence not only boys’ greater height but also their added musculature and more aggressive tendencies.

  • The Evolutionary Perspective. According to the evolutionary perspective, our behavioral tendencies prepare us to survive and reproduce. Males are more likely than females to be risk-takers, show dominance, and achieve high status. Females are more likely to be concerned with their appearance to attract high-status, protective males.

  • The Psychoanalytic Perspective. Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective suggests that young girls learn to act feminine from their mothers, and young boys learn to act masculine from their fathers when they identify with their same-sex parent due to resolving either the Electra or Oedipal complex at around age five.

  • The Behavioral Perspective. According to social learning theory, children respond to rewards and punishments for their behavior. They observe and imitate significant role models, such as their parents, to acquire their gender identity.

  • The Cognitive Perspective. According to the cognitive perspective, children actively engage in making meaning out of the information they learn about gender. Rather than seeing masculinity and femininity as alternatives, many psychologists now recognize androgyny, the presence of desirable masculine and feminine characteristics in the same individual.

Researchers have spent years looking at the differences between genders. Differences in expressing emotions, mental illnesses, and relationship affection have been noted. However, it is difficult to tell what are biological differences and what are social norms and gender roles. Despite this, women and men are overwhelmingly similar. They are far more similar than they are different.

Gender and Sexuality - Key Takeaways

  • Sex is biological and determined by physiological factors such as chromosomes
  • Intersex people have biological variations in sex characteristics
  • Gender schema theory is when children learn and sort ideas into cognitive gendered categories
  • Transgender people are people that don’t identify with their biological sex
  • People that don’t identify as solely “male” or “female” are nonbinary
  • Transgender and nonbinary people may experience gender dysphoria
    • Gender affirming surgery and hormone replacement therapy can lessen gender dysphoria

Frequently Asked Questions about Gender and Sexuality

No. Gender is how you identify, whereas sexuality is who you are attracted to.

Sex and gender identity can impact one another but are separate. Sexuality and how you identify sexually can relate to your own gender identity.

Sexual orientation or sexuality exists on a spectrum, but heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual are the main identities.

Gender identities are vast. Cisgender people identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender-diverse identities include anything from transgender to nonbinary and more.

Gender and sexuality could be two key elements in explaining how we express emotions, relationship affection and are affected by mental illnesses. Researchers have spent years looking at the differences between genders. However, it is difficult to tell what are biological differences and what are social norms and gender roles. 

Final Gender and Sexuality Quiz

Question

A person's _____ is determined by chromosomes, gonads, genitalia, and more.

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Answer

Sex

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Question

A person's _____ is how they identity and present, regardless of sex characteristics.

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Answer

Gender

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Question

_____ are the behaviors and personality traits that are expected of you, because of your gender.

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Answer

Gender roles

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Question

Your _____ is who you are attracted to.

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Answer

Sexuality

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Question

Your _____ sex characteristics include genitalia and reproductive organs.

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Answer

Primary

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Your _____ sex characteristics aren't directly involved in reproduction, such as breasts or facial hair.

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Answer

Secondary

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Question

_____ people do not fit into the gender binary.

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Answer

Nonbinary

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Question

_____ is the theory that children learn what it means to be male and female from those around them.

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Answer

Gender-Schema Theory

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Question

Which sexuality is attracted to two or more sexes?

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Answer

Bisexual

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Which sexuality is attracted to the opposite sex?

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Heterosexual

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Which sexuality is attracted to the same sex?

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Homosexual

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Which sexuality has little to no sexual attraction, regardless of sex?

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Answer

Asexual

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Question

Discontentment with primary or secondary sex characteristics is called _____.

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Answer

Gender dysphoria

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Question

Transgender people may undergo _______, which is a treatment to gradually alter their secondary sex characteristics.

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Answer

Hormone replacement therapy

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Question

Children may actively create categories for masculinity and femininity based on what they learn and see. This theory is called _______

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Answer

Gender schema theory

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Question

Gender roles may be passed down from generation through generation. This theory is called _______.

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Answer

Social learning theory

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