Home Biological aspects of sexuality Human reproduction Diversity: our sex, our personality and our gender

Diversity: our sex, our personality and our gender

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.

Sex determines a person’s biological status as male or female. Sex is defined by biological facts: chromosomes, balance of hormones as well as internal and external anatomy. No one can change their sex. We cannot acquire a reproductive function different to the one we were born with. Men produce spermatozoa from their testes. Women produce eggs from their ovaries.

Sexual differentiation is a process that ensures most of us are born either male or female. We have either testes or ovaries. Rare exceptions are intersex babies, who display physical characteristics of both sexes at birth. They have a vagina, but no clitoris, because their phallus is a penis. Intersex is a congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual functionality. In the US, one in 100 births involves a baby that is neither male nor female. The clinical recommendation for intersex babies is to raise them as girls, with surgery to feminise the appearance of the phallus. In the US, one or two births in 1,000 result in surgery to normalise the appearance of the genitals.

Gender is a person’s feeling of identification with 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).

From a young age most children want to be identified as the sex they were born even if they do not always behave in ways that are stereotypical for their sex. Gender is a concept that is influenced by culture, social class and race. Gender refers to the behaviour and presentation that are considered male or female in one social group but may be viewed otherwise in another. In the workplace, women (but not men) can have long hair while men (but not women) must wear a necktie. This inequality between the sexes is rarely challenged. Men are much more constrained than women. Behaviour or dress that is acceptable in a woman is disapproved of in a man. Such attitudes are at the root of the gender issues in society today. But they are not directly linked to sexuality in terms of a person’s responsiveness or their motivation to engage in sexual activity. Both of these are defined by our sex, which is determined before birth. A few people have a strong emotional objection to being identified as their biological sex. Such people are statistically rare in the population but they are highly vocal in drawing attention to themselves.

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 appearance. Transsexuals are biological males who identify with feminine personality traits. With the availability of modern surgical techniques and more acceptance of gender variations, men can opt for surgery to feminise their genitals. They cannot change their genes nor can they acquire female reproductive capabilities.

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 said that transsexual is a matter of the body, while transgender relates to the mind. A transgender man does not change his sex but he wants to be treated as if he is 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. A man who has a clothing fetish is called a transvestite. Men’s sexual behaviours are driven by their own arousal. Women may wear masculine style clothing for social or political reasons (not erotic arousal).

Homosexuals who dress in women’s clothes are called drag-queens. Drag is clothing and makeup worn on special occasions for entertaining. Some men like to dress as women to communicate their femininity, which is defined by their submissiveness (amenability to being penetrated by a lover) and their willingness to please a lover (by putting his orgasm before their own arousal).

Gender stereotypes are generalisations. Each of us is a unique individual. There is a range of personality types in both sexes. We don’t have to change our sex to be ourselves. A man can wear make-up, put on a dress and even have his testicles removed. But he is still male. Most people like to be able to identify the sex of a person. 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. Women are not capable of penetration so they are not motivated (as men tend to be) to obtain sexual gratification from others. This means that women are trusted in intimate situations where men are not.

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)