Sex is based on a person’s physical and biological attributes. Sex can be described as female or male, though when people have disorders of sex development, sex is not assigned at birth. Sex is different from gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation and should not be interchanged with these concepts. People who have gender-affirming surgery and other medical interventions align their physical self with their gender identity.

Sex can prescribe how a person physically completes some activities, such as using a toilet or competing in athletic events. In some cultures, a person’s sex can affect their social standing and can prescribe their role and expected behaviors. Gender inequality divides people based on their sex, and in most cases, females have historically made less money doing the same work as men and have had less access to advancement in the workplace. A person’s sex often influences the pronouns used to refer to them (she/her, he/him), though some people prefer a combination of “they/them” for various reasons, such as a person who is nonbinary or who rejects the attitudes pronouns can reinforce.

Designers have an opportunity to create products, services, and systems that promote equality and reduce the impact of people’s sex on the choices they can make for themselves.

Examples of Sex

  • Male
  • Female
  • Not assigned at birth (people who have disorders of sex development)

Researching Sex

Interviews, surveys, and other methods can be used to learn a person’s sex. In some cultures and locations, sex is an important factor that overrides other characteristics, barring people from making choices for themselves and setting up hard-line social roles. Learning a person’s sex can help designers understand how they use objects specific to their biology. It can also indicate ways a person may be treated in different contexts based on sex.

Knowing a person’s sex is not always essential for all design outcomes. Avoid making assumptions about a person’s sex and how important they regard their sex when researching this factor.

Questions to Ask

  • What is this person’s sex?
  • In what ways is this person’s sex different from the way they identify their gender?
  • In what ways does a person’s sex override their identity in a context?

Look For

  • A person sharing their biological sex.
  • The pronouns a person prefers to use when they refer to themself.



Updated: June 22, 2024 12:23 pm
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