Differences in gender, sex and sexuality

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By: Megan Graves, Columnist

Gender, sex and sexuallity are three terms used to help define a person’s identity, but what are they, specifically? Let’s start with sex. No, not that kind of sex. I mean the sex that determines if someone is male or female based on their genitalia.

This one’s relatively simple: if you have a penis, your sex is male and if you have a vagina, your sex is female. Now, there is such a thing as ambiguous genitalia. It’s pretty self-explanatory. This occurs when a person’s genitalia is indistinguishable or, in other words, it can’t be categorized as male or female.

Moving into slightly more complicated ground, let’s talk about sexuality. Sexuality is who you are attracted to. You could be a lesbian, meaning a woman who is attracted to other women. Or, you could be a straight woman who is attracted to men, a gay man who is attracted to men, or a straight man who is attracted to women. But wait, there’s more! You could be asexual, and not feel any form of sexual desire toward anyone, you could be pansexual and be attracted to anyone regardless of sex or gender, you could be bisexual and be attracted to men and women, or you could be a happy combination of anything. Sexuality is just which type of people you’re into, and it certainly doesn’t have to be rigidly defined.

Now for the big one: gender. Gender is who you identify as,  regardless of biological sex or sexuality. To be a cis woman or man means you identify with the societally assumed gender of your biological sex. For example, you’re biologically female (you have a vagina) and you identify as a woman. To be transgender means you do not identify with the assumed gender of your biological sex. For example, a transgender man is a person who was assigned the biological sex of female at birth, but identifies as a man. A transgender woman is a person who was assigned the biological sex of male at birth, but identifies as a woman. Basically, your external, physical body appears one way, but internally you feel another way. You may have male genitalia externally, but internally you identify as a woman. It is also highly possible to be genderqueer, in which case you don’t strongly identify with either gender, or you identify with both, or any range in between.

I know this may all be new and confusing, so let me try to break it down a little. Your sex is assigned to you by other people at birth, while only you can determine your sexuality and gender. Your sexuality is based on who you go to bed with, and your gender is based on who you go to bed as. Your sex is the only thing broken down into rigid categories.

You either have a vagina, a penis, or it’s ambiguous. The others, sexuality and gender, don’t have to be categorized. Some people find ease in being able to identify with a particular category, others don’t like the pressure that comes with it. Both are okay! As long as you’re happy with who you are and understand that your biological sex doesn’t have to fully define you, or anyone else, as a person.

College is a perfect time to try and figure out who you like and who you are. Gender and sexuality are complicated issues, and we all deserve a safe space to figure those issues out, no matter what beautiful combination we turn out to be.

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