Sexuality includes our sex, our personality and our gender. The reason we have two sexes is for diversity. Some people like being different. They like the attention they get and they may take steps to differentiate themselves from others by dressing or behaving differently. Others have no choice in being different from others and they may resent being treated differently.
We need to be sensitive to remarking on people who are different. We should consider how we would feel if we were excluded for being different. Children should be encouraged to include others who do not fit naturally into their social group. Equally they should learn to respect individual privacy and the choice each of us has to opt out of group activities.
Sex determines a person’s biological status as male or female. Sex is defined by biological facts: chromosomes, balance of hormones, internal and external anatomy. No one can change their sex. They cannot acquire a reproductive function different to the one they were born with. Men produce sperm from their testes. Women produce eggs from their ovaries.
For most of us, there is a sexual differentiation process which ensures that we are born either male or female. A person is born with a penis or a vagina. Very rare exceptions are those who are born intersex. Intersex babies display physical characteristics of both sexes at birth. Intersex is defined as a congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. In the US around one in 2,000 children, or five children per day, are born visibly intersex. The current clinical recommendation for intersex children is to raise them as girls, with surgery to feminise the appearance of the phallus.
Gender is a person’s internal sense of being male or female. Gender, typically described in terms of masculinity and femininity, is a social concept that varies across different cultures and over time. Gender identity is concerned with a sense of belonging. From an early age we want to be identified according to our gender. We align our personal preferences with specific characteristics. Most girls align themselves with a personal presentation that enhances their attractiveness and an accommodating demeanour (smiling and docile). Boys align themselves with a practical personal presentation and an assertive demeanour (competent and serious).
Gender is a concept that is influenced by culture, social class and race. Gender refers to the behaviour and attributes that are considered male or female in one social group but may be viewed otherwise in another. Most people identify with the sex they were born even if they do not always behave in ways that are stereotypical for their sex. A few people have a strong emotional objection to being identified as their biological sex.
A woman cannot become a man because a woman lacks a phallus capable of penetration. But a person, who is born male, can have surgery and hormone treatment to transition to a female. Transsexuals are biological males who identify with feminine personality traits. They cannot change their genes nor can they acquire female reproductive capabilities.
With the availability of modern surgical techniques and more acceptance of gender variations, more men are opting to be treated as a woman. Some less responsive men may prefer the passive nature of a woman’s sexual role. It is also a reflection of the much greater freedom women have (compared with men) to dress and present themselves in sexually provocative ways.
Transgender is a term for people whose identity, expression, behaviour or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born. It is often said that sex is a matter of the body, while gender occurs in the mind. A transgender man does not change his sex but he wants to be treated as if he was a woman.
Some heterosexual men like to dress in women’s clothes, which is called cross-dressing. Some men are aroused by the feel of clothing or by dressing in women’s clothes. When a man has a clothing fetish it is called transvestitism. Men’s sexual behaviours are driven by their own arousal. Whereas women engage in behaviours aimed at providing turn-ons for men. Women wear masculine style clothing for social or political reasons.
Homosexuals who dress in women’s clothes may be called drag-queens. Drag is clothing and makeup worn on special occasions for entertaining. Some men like to dress as women to communicate their submissiveness (amenability to being penetrated by a lover) and a willingness to please a lover (by putting their lover’s arousal and orgasm before their own).
These individuals are relatively uncommon in the population but they are often highly motivated to obtain political recognition from society. Women may bully and abuse other people, especially those weaker than they are. But women are not capable of penetration. So women do not have the same motivation (that men have) to obtain sexual gratification from others. Men pose a potential threat to others because of their desire for penetrative sex. This is the main reason that it is important to know a person’s sex.
No one who knows how remarkably different individuals may be … would conceive of erotic capacities (of all things) that were basically uniform throughout a population. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)