Sex, Gender and Sexuality“Sex” and “Gender”: A Sociological Comparison of TermsSex and gender are not the same. Sociologists and most other social scientists view them as conceptually distinct.Sexrefers to physical or physiological differences between males and females,including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity. Genderrefers to behaviors, personal traits, and social positions thatsociety attributes to being female or male. A person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, doesnot always correspond with his or her gender. Therefore, the terms sex and genderare not interchangeable.A baby boy who is born with male genitalia will be identified as male. As he grows, however, he may identify with the feminine aspects of his culture. Since the term sexrefers to biological or physical distinctions, characteristics of sex will not vary significantly between different human societies. Generally, persons of the female sex, regardless of culture, will eventually menstruate and develop breasts that can lactate.Characteristics of gender, on the other hand, may vary greatly between different societies. For example, in U.S. culture, it is considered feminine (or a trait of the female gender) to wear a dress or skirt. However, in many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African cultures, dresses or skirts (often referred to as sarongs, robes, or gowns) are considered masculine. The kilt worn by a Scottish male does notmake him appear feminine in his culture.The dichotomous view of gender (the notion that someone is either male or female) is specific to certain cultures and is not universal. In some cultures gender is viewed as fluid. For example:Historically, some anthropologists have used the term berdacheto refer to individuals who occasionally or permanently dressed and lived as a different gender. This practice has also been noted among certain Native American tribes (Jacobs, Thomas, and Lang 1997).Samoan culture accepts what Samoans refer to as a “third gender. ”Fa’afafine," which translates as “the way of the woman,” is a term used to describe individuals who are born biologically male but embody both masculine and feminine traits. Fa’afafines are considered an important part of Samoan culture. Individuals from other cultures may mislabel them as homosexuals because fa’afafines have a varied sexual life that may include men and women(Poasa 1992).Sex and SexualityIn the area of sexuality, sociologists focus their attention on sexual attitudes and practices, not on physiology or anatomy. Sexualityis viewed as a person’s capacity for sexual feelings.Attitudes about premarital sex, the age of sexual consent, homosexuality, masturbation, and other behaviors vary from one culture to the next. At the same time, some sexual norms are “cultural universals”; i.e. shared among most societies. The incest taboo is present in every society, though which relative is deemed unacceptable for sex varies widely from culture to culture. For example, sometimes the relatives of the father are considered acceptable sexual partners for a woman while the relatives of the mother are not.