Notes on Sex, Sexuality and Gender

 

Gender and sexuality are more multidimensional than people generally realize. Gender and sexual orientation each exist along a continuum with many shades of gray. Therapy that addresses issues of gender and sexuality needs to acknowledge the wide spectrum of possible life paths, and combinations of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.

Sex refers to one’s biological status into one of the two main divisions of male or female. It is typically “assigned” at birth, appears on our birth certificate, and is based on physical attributes such as sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive structures, and external genitalia. Sexuality refers to erotic desires, practices and identities or aspects of personal and social life which have erotic significance, which includes sexual orientation – the nature of one’s physical and emotional attraction to another. Gender is a term for the social, cultural and historical construction of sexual difference. Gender identity is the deeply felt sense of oneself as male or female, neither or other. Gender expression is the set of external behaviors and characteristics (i.e. dress, mannerisms, social interactions, speech patterns, etc.) that one displays that are “generally” considered to be masculine or feminine.

In society at large, sexuality and gender are commonly assumed to “line up” with each other in particular ways. People who express their gender in a certain way are assumed to have a particular identity, a particular sex, and usually are assumed to be sexually attracted to a person gendered in a particular way.

For many people, the sex they were assigned at birth, their gender identity, and their gender expression are “congruent” (from a society that sees this as the “norm”), e.g., the person is “male,” they experience themselves as male, and they express as masculine.

For some people, sex, gender Identity, and gender expression do not correspond with each other. Those who cannot or choose not to conform to societal gender norms associated with their physical sex are gender variant, or gender non-conforming.

Someone may identify and prefer to express in ways that do not – from a societal perspective – fit that person’s assumed sex. When people cannot express in ways that fit their sense of self or their preferred mode of living, it leads to stress, unhappiness, repression of one’s self and reduction of one’s resources and adaptability; it leads to dysphoria.

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Many transgender people live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender. Broadly speaking, anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms can be described as transgender. However, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-atypical will identify as a transgender person.

To learn more about how I approach issues of gender in therapy, please visit the Gender page here.