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A person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, does not always correspond with their gender; therefore, the terms “sex” and “gender” are not interchangeable. “Gender” is a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions associated with being male, female, or intersex. Typically, babies born with male sex characteristics (sex) are assigned as boys (gender); babies born with female sex characteristics (sex) are assigned as girls (gender). Because our society operates in a binary system when it comes to gender (in other words, seeing gender as only having two options), many children who are born intersex are forcibly assigned as either a boy or a girl and even surgically “corrected” to fit a particular gender. Scholars generally regard gender as a social construct meaning that it does not exist naturally, but is instead a concept that is created by cultural and societal norms.
“Human sexuality” refers to people’s sexual interest in and attraction to others, as well as their capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. People’s sexual orientation is their emotional and sexual attraction to particular sexes or genders, which often shapes their sexuality. Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways, including thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships. These may manifest themselves in biological, physical, emotional, social, or spiritual aspects. The biological and physical aspects of sexuality largely concern the human reproductive functions, including the human sexual-response cycle and the basic biological drive that exists in all species. Emotional aspects of sexuality include bonds between individuals that are expressed through profound feelings or physical manifestations of love, trust, and care. Social aspects deal with the effects of human society on one’s sexuality, while spirituality concerns an individual’s spiritual connection with others through sexuality. Sexuality also impacts and is impacted by cultural, political, legal, philosophical, moral, ethical, and religious aspects of life.
The standard model of the difference between sex and gender says that one’s sex is biologically determined (meaning that when a child is born, doctors classify the child as a particular sex depending on anatomy), while one’s gender is socially or culturally determined (meaning that the way in which that child is raised, socialized, and taught determines whether they take on masculine or feminine traits). The standard model has been criticized for saying that humans are sexually dimorphic: this means each and every human being is either male or female, thus leaving out those who are born intersex. The standard model explains that gender is categorized into two separates, opposing sides, being either masculine or feminine, again completely excluding those who are intersex, transgender, androgynous, and so on. Modern scholars such as Anne Fausto-Sterling and Bonnie Spanier criticize the standard binaries of sex and gender, arguing that sex and gender are both fluid concepts that exist along a spectrum, rather than as binaries.