Anatomical sex refers to the parts of your body which at birth determine whether you are male, female or intersex/undefined (in some countries); this includes your reproductive organs, hormone levels and/or chromosomal composition (XX for most females and XY for most males).
Intersex is a general term used for a number of conditions, where a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or they may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types – for example, a girl with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so it has formed more like a labia. Alternatively, it also refers to people with mosaic genetics, where some of their cells have XX and some XY chromosomes. It is possible for people to live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.
Intersex is mainly used to refer to someone’s physicality. A small number of people choose to identify as intersex; most people with the condition have a stable gender identity.
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Unlike anatomical sex, gender identity only depends on how someone feels in their body in relation to their gender – it is something that only the individual themselves can determine as it is based on personal feeling. For example, a person can be born with a functioning male anatomy, but still feel like they are a woman, or vice versa.
Some people feel like they belong to both genders, some like they belong to neither or that they fall somewhere in between. Someone doesn’t need to undergo a sex change to identify as the opposite gender, it is solely based on how they feel.
Cisgender refers to people who identify with the sex they have been assigned at birth (according to their reproductive organs, hormone levels and/or chromosomal composition). Men/boys feel male and women/girls feel female.
Transgender is often the term used when people feel like they belong to the opposite gender to the one they were assigned at birth (according to their reproductive organs, hormone levels and/or chromosomal composition). For example an anatomical female may feel like they are really male and vice versa. People can feel this way in varying degrees so the term ‘trans’ is often used as an umbrella term for a wide range of identities within this.
Some people will choose to identify and live as the gender they feel with little or no hormone treatment, while others may wish to go ahead and have gender reassignment surgery.
Some people do not feel like they belong to either the male or female gender, that they are somewhere in-between, that they belong to both at the same time or the way they feel simply changes according to the situation. This is completely individual. They may be known as gendervariant or genderfluid.
Gender expression is the full range of clothing, mannerisms, behaviours and chosen names that everyone uses to express themselves. It often has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation and is sometimes not related to their gender identity either – an anatomical boy/man can be straight, identify as male but still enjoy wearing make-up or act in a traditionally feminine way.
Similarly, an anatomical girl/woman might wear her hair short and dress in clothes tailored for men, but that does not necessarily mean she is gay or trans.
Sexual orientation is about what gender you are sexually attracted to. This might change numerous times throughout your life or remain constant. It’s common for people who are generally attracted to the opposite gender (heterosexual) to sometimes experience attraction towards someone of their own and vice versa.
It is possible for someone to engage in sexual activity with someone from the same/opposite gender without this changing who they are normally attracted to. This is referred to as sexual behaviour and it does not always align with someone’s sexual orientation. Read on for more information. If you need support or are experiencing issues around sexuality, gender, equality, diversity or identity click here.
Heterosexual means that you are primarily attracted to people of the opposite gender. For example people who identify as female are attracted to males and people who identify as male are attracted to females.
Homosexual means that you are primarily attracted to people of the same gender. For example people who identify as female are attracted to females and people who identify as male are attracted to males.
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Asexual means that you experience no sexual attraction towards anyone.
Demisexual means that you are only attracted to people you have formed a romantic/spiritual connection with.
Gray-A means that you only experience sexual attraction occasionally.
Hetero-romantic means that you are primarily romantically attracted to people of the opposite gender. For example, people who identify as female and are romantically attracted to males and people who identify as male and are romantically attracted to females.
Homo-romantic means that you are primarily romantically attracted to people of the same gender. For example, people who identify as female and are romantically attracted to females and people who identify as male and are romantically attracted to males.
Bi-romantic means that you are romantically attracted to both the male and female gender.
Aromantic means that you experience no romantic feelings towards anyone.