Sex and gender aren’t the same. Sex refers to the sex a person was assigned at birth (e.g., male, female, intersex), while gender refers to their gender identity (e.g., man, woman, transgender, nonbinary, agender).
A person’s gender identity and gender expression may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth or the gender they were socialized as.
It’s also important to note that gender identity and expression are different from sexual and romantic orientations.
Everyone should have equitable access to healthcare and healthcare information, regardless of their identity and orientation. We aim for inclusivity in our language choices, content, and imagery to acknowledge and uplift LGBTQIA+ voices and experiences.
We’re a work in progress, as is our language guidance for this area. We’re listening to readers and communities with lived experiences and striving to make the most inclusive language choices in our sex and gender content (and beyond) based on those voices.
Making assumptions about a person’s gender, sexuality, pronouns, or other aspects of their identity can reinforce harmful stereotypes, and it has the potential to alienate them from accessing the care they need. Based on this, a lot of our content now aims to use gender-neutral terminology such as “you” or “people.”
Our content also aims to use sex and gender terminology in the most accurate ways available.
For example, our menstruation articles use “people who menstruate” instead of “women” because not all people who menstruate are women. Similarly, our prostate articles recognize that not all people with a prostate are men.
We prefer to use “sex assigned at birth” instead of “biological sex,” as this is a better representation of how society assigns a binary to babies based solely on external anatomy. And instead of “biologically male/female,” we prefer “assigned male/female at birth (AMAB or AFAB).”
The terms “biological” and “biologically,” when used to discuss a person’s sex, are associated with transphobic ideologies. Using them in our content perpetuates the assumption that there are only “male” and “female” sexes, when, in reality, there is much more variation than this.
Glossary of Important Terms
Assigned male at birth
Assigned female at birth
She’s biologically female → They were assigned female at birth
Disorders in sex development
Differences in sex development
People with disorders in sex development may be raised as a boy or a girl → People who are born with differences in sex development advocate for an end to genital mutilation practices during early childhood and adolescence
The area is known for being home to trannies → A lot of transgender people choose to live in the area
Sex change operation
Gender confirmation surgery
People undergoing a sex change operation can find support in many places → There are lots of support options available for people undergoing gender-affirming surgery
Born a woman
Born a man
If you were born a man, you’ll have male reproductive organs → If you’re a cisgender male, you may have a penis, testes, and/or a prostate.
Gender identity disorder
Disorders in sex development refer to a range of developments in gonads, reproductive anatomy, and chromosomes that are atypical → Differences in sex development refer to a range of developments in gonads, reproductive anatomy, and chromosomes that are atypical
Associating certain types of sexual activity with a person’s moral character has historically led to groups being excluded from society or being seen as “abnormal” or “amoral.”
Using neutral language in sexual health does not make suggestions as to who someone is as a person. Rather, it provides information in a way that does not shame, judge, or assign blame.
Providing accurate, empathetic, and non-judgmental sexual health information is the first step in preventing unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and HIV through the promotion of healthy sexual behaviors.
Sex and gender aren’t either/or categories. They exist on a spectrum. It’s important for all publications, especially medical ones, to recognize this and to use accurate terminology.
Using these terms accurately is crucial for allowing all people access to appropriate medical care, mental healthcare, and resources that can help them.
With so much stigma attached to diversity in gender and sexuality, advocating for people’s rights to use the gender terms they identify with is integral to mental and physical well-being and can even be life saving.
Our Sex vs. Gender Guiding Principles
While it would be much easier to list the definitive do’s and don’ts of language, that is not possible — context is critical. Language is always changing and evolving, and any list would soon be out of date. This is why we're always listening for changes. Additionally, there are no definitively "right" or "wrong" answers about what language to use. Context is important, and what works for us might not work for you. While specific word choices will change over time, our community approach first ensures that we are prioritizing those who are the most important to what we do: our readers. See full approach here.