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Sex and Gender in Society: Dierences, Preferences & Characteristics

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Lesson Transcript

You might think you know everything about the dierence between boys and girls, but this lesson covers less
commonly-understood topics. After dening sex vs. gender, it covers less common sexual identities, such as
intersexed and transsexual individuals. In addition, theories on sexual orientation are covered, including both a
categorical and continuum perspective of sexual interest.

Dening Sex vs. Gender


Have you ever gone shopping for toys and noticed that in most stores, toys are separated into
sections for girls or boys? The girl section is probably bright pink with sparkly ponies and
princesses everywhere. In contrast, the boy section is usually blue and brown with toys like plastic
guns, soldiers and cars. Our society teaches little girls and boys our stereotypical expectations from
very early on. This lesson focuses on the concepts of sex and gender, and then discusses non-
traditional forms of gender, such as transsexuals. Finally, we'll cover the idea of sexual orientation
and how dierent orientations might be viewed in society.

First, we should dene the dierence between the terms 'sex' and 'gender.' In most social sciences,
sex refers to biological dierences between males and females. Biological dierences are usually
split up into two categories. The rst category is called primary sex characteristics, which include
internal and external genitals.

Put simply, men have a penis and testes, while women have a clitoris and ovaries. The second
category that is used to dierentiate between men and women is called secondary sex
characteristics, which includes non-genital dierences. For example, there are hormonal
dierences; men produce more testosterone, while women produce more estrogen. Men are
usually taller and physically stronger than women, have more facial hair and they more often tend
to go bald!

In contrast to the biological concept of sex, gender is how masculine or feminine a person feels,
and how he or she expresses those traits to others. In other words, gender is where you t in using
stereotypes about what is traditionally male or female. For example, stereotypes of men are that
they are better at math, like to watch sports and are more stinky and messy than the average
woman. Stereotypes of women are that they like to bake, enjoy being around children and like to

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wear pink frilly dresses. When you think about your own preferences and behaviors, are you pretty
masculine or are you more feminine? This psychological experience of being male or female is
gender.

Non-Traditional Genders
Now that we've dened sex and gender, you might not have realized that so far, we've only talked
about the concepts in terms of male versus female. Many people do not consider the fact that
many people who study these topics acknowledge that there are, in fact, more than two categories
of sex or gender! There are two concepts that are important for you to know.

The rst concept is that of people who are called intersexed. Intersexed people have an unusual
biological makeup that doesn't match either a traditional male or female. For example, traditional
men have a chromosome pair we call 'XY,' and traditional women have a chromosome pair we call
'XX.' Did you know that there are lots of other possible combinations? There are people who have
three chromosomes, such as 'XYY' or 'XXX.' These people often have genitals that are some kind of
mixture, such as a small penis or an enlarged clitoris.

There are other types of intersexed people who have one of the traditional pairs of chromosomes,
but their hormones are unusual, such as getting extra doses of testosterone or estrogen when they
were fetuses. This results in other types of bodies, such as a body that might have both a penis and
breasts. Scientists now acknowledge that because of intersexed conditions, there are really more
sexes than just male and female. If you count all the dierent possible intersex conditions, you
might say that there could be 20 dierent possible sexes or more!

Another way that people might not match how we traditionally view sex and gender is if they are a
transsexual. Transsexual people feel that they are a dierent sex than the one based on their
physical body. So a transsexual person might be biologically male, but feel inside that they are
really a female. This person might prefer to wear women's clothes, go by a woman's name and
date men. It could be the other way around, as well; a biological female might feel inside that a
male assignment is more tting.

Transsexual people sometimes take hormones or have surgery to change their bodies to be more
in alignment with how they feel on the inside. A similar term you might have heard is transvestite,
which refers to people who are comfortable with their biological sex but prefer to wear opposite-
sex clothing. Being a transvestite does not necessarily mean that you are also a transsexual; they
are two dierent things.

Sexual Orientation
The last topic we'll cover in this lesson on sex and gender is the idea of sexual orientation. Sexual
orientation refers to whether you are sexually attracted to men, women or both. Most of the time,
sexual orientation is divided into three possible categories.

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First, most people identify as heterosexual, which means that you are sexually attracted to people
of the opposite sex. In other words, men would be attracted to women and vice versa. An
alternative is to identify yourself as homosexual, which means you are sexually attracted to people
of the same sex. So here, men are attracted to men, and women are attracted to women. The third
option is bisexual, which means you are sexually attracted to both men and women. Note that
there are actually more categories than just these three, but most people fall into one of these
three groups.

Now, like I said before, most people think of sexual orientation as one of these three categories.
However, many people who study sexual orientation actually believe that sexual orientation should
not be in categories like this, where you need to pick one of the three options. Another possibility is
that sexual orientation could be on a sliding scale.

This idea was popularized by a famous sex researcher named Alfred Kinsey, who conducted
thousands of interviews regarding people's personal sexual lives and preferences. Kinsey believed
that sexual interest could be viewed as exible. To explain, think about a continuum for another
variable, such as height. On one end of the scale, you have people who are very, very short, and on
the other end of the scale you have people who are very, very tall. People on either end are very
unusual, because most people are somewhere in the middle.

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Illustration of a sexual orientation scale

Kinsey said the same idea could be applied to sexual interest. You could have a scale where one
end was very heterosexual; people only have experiences and interest in the opposite sex -
exclusively. On the other end is very homosexual; people only have experiences and interest in the
same sex. However, Kinsey said that most people will actually be somewhere in the middle.
Throughout life, people can move around on the scale. You might be mostly heterosexual, but have
a single experience with someone of the same sex, or a fantasy about someone of the same sex.
This would move you up on the scale just a little bit.

So in summary, it's possible that sexual orientation is more like a scale that you could move up and
down over your life and not a simple category where you're stuck forever. Note that this theory
implies that most people are at least a little bisexual!

Lesson Summary
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1/9/2017 SexandGenderinSociety:Differences,Preferences&CharacteristicsVideo&LessonTranscript|Study.com

Sex refers to the biological dierences between men and women, while gender refers to
psychological dierences, including how masculine or feminine you are.

While most people think of sex as only being male or female, there are other possibilities.
Intersexed people have an unusual biology that doesn't match traditional male or female biology.
In contrast, transsexual people have typical biology but don't feel their identity matches their
biology.

Finally, sexual orientation refers to whether you are sexually interested in men, women or both.
While most people think of sexual orientation as being the categories of heterosexual, homosexual
or bisexual, many researchers believe that sexuality is actually more like a continuum or sliding
scale that can change through life, and that most people fall somewhere in the middle of the scale -
indicating at least a little bisexual interest.

What do you think of these alternative ways to think about sex and gender?

Learning Outcome
By the end of this video, you will have learned to:

Dierentiate between sex and gender

Understand that there are a variety of dierent sexes and genders

Dene sexual orientation and recognize that there are many dierent types

Ask a Question

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