Introduction to Sex and Gender

What you’ll learn to do: describe sexuality, sex, gender, and gender dysphoria

photograph of a couple standing face to face looking at each other from 2 feet apart. Photograph is just from the shoulders down.

Human sexuality refers to people’s sexual interest in and attraction to others; it is the capacity to have erotic or sexual feelings and experiences. Sexuality differs from sex assigned at birth, in that sexuality refers to the capacity for sexual feelings and attraction while sex assigned at birth refers to how one’s anatomy, physiology, hormones, and genetics are classified (typically as male, female, or intersex). Sexuality is also separate from gender identity, which is a person’s sense of their own gender, or sociocultural classification (i.e., man, woman, or another gender) based on, or in opposition to, sex assigned at birth (i.e., male or female). It is also distinct from—although it shapes—sexual orientation, or one’s emotional and sexual attraction to a particular sex or gender.

Sexuality may be experienced and expressed in a variety of ways, including thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships. These manifest themselves not only in biological, physical, and emotional ways, but also in sociocultural ways, which have to do with the effects of human society and culture on one’s sexuality. Some researchers believe that sexual behavior is determined by genetics; however, others assert that it is largely molded by the environment. Human sexuality impacts, and is impacted by, cultural, political, legal, and philosophical aspects of life, and can interact with issues of morality, ethics, theology, spirituality, or religion.

In this section, you will learn about the variations in sexual orientation and gender identity, symptoms and factors associated with gender dysphoria, and the basic biological mechanisms regulating sexual behavior and motivation.