FAQs on Sexuality
What is the difference between biological sex and gender identity?
Biological sex refers to what we are assigned at birth, as determined by what we are born with. This includes the objectively measurable organs, hormones, and chromosomes we possess. Most of us are assigned our sex at birth. Someone who is born with a vagina, ovaries, two X chromosomes, predominant estrogen, and has a uterus may be assigned 'female' at birth. Someone who has testes, a penis, an XY chromosome configuration, predominant testosterone may be assigned 'male' at birth.
Gender identity refers to who we think we are, and how we see ourselves. This sense of self identity forms in early childhood, and usually difficult to change after that. Formation of identity is affected by biology (eg: hormones) as well as environment (eg: cultural and social norms and factors).
What is intersex?
Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies". In recent years, there has been greater awareness of the rights of intersex persons, as well as issues around children who are born intersex.
What is transgender? What is cisgender?
Someone whose biological sex assigned at birth is differently aligned from their gender identity is known as transgender. For example, someone who was assigned 'female' at birth and grows up identifying as a 'man' may describe himself as a 'transgender man'.
Someone whose sex assigned at birth is aligned with the gender identity may be known as 'cisgender'. For example, someone who was assigned 'female' at birth and grows up identifying as a 'woman' may choose to describe herself as 'cisgender'. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender.
What is gender expression?
Gender expression is all about how we demonstrate our gender through the ways we act, dress, behave, and interact. Our individual gender expression may vary, sometimes depending on the indidivual, outfit, event or setting. How others perceive our gender expression may be influenced by social and cultural norms regarding gender roles, which can be harder to change. Sometimes how we express our gender may not align with conventionally understood ways of gendered expression. For example, men wear suits and ties to look masculine, and women wear skirts and dresses, and look feminine. However, just like gender identity, we understand that there is a lot of room for flexibility in our gender expression.
And what is sexual orientation?
This is different from biological sex, gender identity and gender expression. Sexual orientation describes a person’s emotional, romantic, physical and sexual attraction. If you're only attracted to someone of a different gender, you're straight (or 'heterosexual'). If you're attracted to someone of the same gender, you're gay (or lesbian if you're female). Most people don't use the term 'homosexual' as it still has unnecessarily sexual, medical or pathological connations from the 20th century. Instead, people prefer terms like 'gay' or 'lesbian'.
Being bisexual means having romantic, emotional, physical and sexual attraction towards both women and men. Some people may also use the term pansexual to describe their attraction towards people of all genders, beyond the binary of male and female.
What is the Kinsey Scale?
The Kinsey Scale was first published by Alfred Kinsey in 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male by Alfred Kinsey' (1948) to define male sexuality. He followed up 5 years later with a second report on female sexuality. It uses a seven point scale (see below), with “0” for people who are exclusively heterosexual to “6” as exclusively homosexual. Responses between “1” to “5” include people who may be described as bisexual.
Where can I find support?
Talking about sexuality can sometimes be difficult and feel daunting. The key is to find someone you feel comforable with, and talk to them. Preferably this person should make you feel acknowledged and listened to, and someone with whom you can be open about your thoughts and feelings regarding your sexuality.
A supportive professional is one who may be able to help you to make sense of what you are going through, and not be quick to label you or dismiss your feelings. You can talk to one of our counsellors at Oogachaga.