Sex is the division of species on a male/female line, differentiated by physical, genetic characteristics, especially reproductive functions.
In most mammals, there are two sexes-male and female-that are determined by anatomy and physiology of bodies (Foss et. al. 6). Physical traits that are specific to females include XX chromosomes, breasts, ovaries, the vagina, and estrogen (7). Physical traits specific to the male sex include the penis, testicles, and testosterone (7).
Sex can be seen as either synonymous with, or separate from gender (Foss et. al. 7-8). When seen as synonymous with gender, it is assumed that because there are two sexes-male and female-there are also two genders-in modern western cultures usually man and woman (7). This view considers the biological expressions of sex to drive what is commonly seen as “masculine” or “feminine” traits (8). For example, a woman is often seen as nurturing and desiring children because of her physical sexual traits (8).
In comparison, sex can be seen as separate from sex. This view asserts that your sex is your body and its physiological state while gender is the attitudes and behaviors that are social constructions (Foss et. al. 8). This view provides explanations for males who do not fulfill a typically “masculine” role and females who do not engage in behaviors typically seen as “feminine” (8). It also accounts for expressions of sexuality as well as providing a method of describing and explaining the existence of transgender people (8).
On example in which sex is seen as separate from gender is in the novel Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The people of Herland are female in the biological sense (sex): they carry and bear children, but their gender is more unclear. The narrator frequently refers to them as “women” and with feminine pronouns, but the people themselves self-identify simply as “mothers”. This raises the question of whether or not the idea of one gender can exist without the idea of the other gender. Some might say that the idea of gender is a relational one: without the idea of “man”, the idea of “woman” ceases to exist, just as without the idea of “woman”, the idea of “man” ceases to exist.
In addition to the main two sexes, Anne Fausto-Sterling estimates that for every thousand children born, seventeen fall in the category of “intersexual”. (Fausto-Sterling 122). This can be caused by a variety of factors, and lead to a variety of outcomes. For example, the gene for congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), when inherited from both parents, causes a baby to be born with two X chromosomes and male external genitalia but with internal female reproductive organs (122).
-Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “The Five Sexes, Revisited.” Learning Gender. Print.
-Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Mary E. Domenico. Gender Stories: Negotiating Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2013. Print.
-Gilmore, Charlotte. Herland. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1998. Print.