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sex

Definition of Sex Characteristics

(noun) A biological categorization based on characteristics that distinguish between female and male based on primary sex characteristics present at birth.

Examples of Sex Characteristics

Sex Pronunciation

Usage Notes

Related Quotations

  • “For essentialists, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and social class identify significant, empirically verifiable differences among people. From the essentialist perspective, each of the these exist apart from any social processes; they are objective categories of real differences among people” (Rosenblum and Travis 2012:3).
  • “Most of us are used to dividing people up into two categories: female and male. If pressed, we might say the distinction is based on simple biology: male and female individuals look different, have different reproductive organs. Women have breasts. Men can grow beards. A woman can get pregnant and give birth. A man can inseminate a woman—even against her will. However, we also know that individual women and men vary a great deal in how close they are to society’s ideals of femininity and masculinity. Apparently, simply being biologically female does not ensure that a person is “womanly,” and being biologically male does not mean an individual is “manly.” Some people who are clearly men are described as not very masculine; some women are termed unfeminine. This suggests that there is something more complicated going on than placing people into well-defined biological categories. In fact, with respect to these issues, there seem to be two dimensions on which individuals might be categorized: biological and socio-cultural” (Lips 2014: 19).
  • “Over the last 20 years or so, however, newspapers and magazines have increasingly used gender to cover both biological differences and social behavior. For example, it is now common to see descriptions of male and female voting patterns as gender difference, when they are actually sex differences. In popular culture, generally, sex seems now to refer almost exclusively to sexual intercourse, whereas gender applies to the participants. Adding to the confusion, many scholars deliberately refer to biological sex as gender to underscore that it is socially constructed much as masculinity and femininity is” (Rosenblum and Travis 2012:30).
  • “‘Sex’ basically refers to our biology—what’s between our legs when we’re born. Gender refers to social class as men and women—when we don’t fit into either of these categories—as transgender or genderqueer. Gender is something that is fluid and learned: We might come into this world with a penis or vagina, but we’re not born wanting to fix things with a hammer or carry a purse. We learn gender-appropriate behavior as we go along—or we don’t, and we might suffer for it. Gender is taught and reinforced through institutional arrangements that tell us how men and women ‘should’ behave. In other words, gender is about the social construction of masculine, feminine, or genderqueer identity. Gender is not a binary selection but rather, a continuum of possibilities” (Tarrant 2009:6).
  • “‘Sex’ (in the boring form) refers to whatever might be the essential biology of males versus females” (Kaufman and Kimmel 2011:53).
  • “Violation of taboos is punishable by the group or even, according to certain belief system, by a supernatural force. The incest taboo which prohibits sexual or marital relations between certain categories of kin, is an example of a nearly universal taboo” (Kendall 2006:56).

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References

Kaufman, Michael, and Michael S. Kimmel. 2011. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Lips, Hilary M. 2014. Gender: The Basics.

Rosenblum, Karen Elaine, and Toni-Michelle Travis. 2012. The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Disability. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

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Cite the Definition of Sex

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “sex.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved October 15, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/sex/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

sex. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/sex/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “sex.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed October 15, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/sex/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“sex.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/sex/>.