Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: July 2020

4 - Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

from Section 1 - The Underpinnings of Sex and Gender and How to Study Them

Summary

This chapter examines and defines a number of terms fundamental to understanding women including sex, gender, gender identity, gender roles, sexual orientation, sexual identity, sexual and gender fluidity, and gender/sex. Although these aspects of being a woman are connected, they are nonetheless distinct. To understand what it means to be a woman, it is important to understand the complexities of each of these concepts both within and across cultures as well as to take an intersectional approach that considers all of a woman’s identities. We propose that the answer to the question of who is a woman is that women are those individuals who identify as being a woman, regardless of their sex assigned at birth, gender roles, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. We also concluded that although there are certainly some biological differences between men and women, women’s sexuality and sexual well-being can be best understood from a social constructionist perspective that takes sociocultural influences into account.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Brotto, L. A. (2018). Better sex through mindfulness: How women can cultivate desire. Vancouver: Greystone Books.
Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hyde, J. S., Bigler, R. S., Joel, D., Tate, C. C., & van Anders, S. M. (2018). The future of sex and gender in psychology: Five challenges to the gender binary. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/amp0000307
Kaschak, E., & Tiefer, L. (Eds.). (2001). A new view of women’s sexual problems. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.
van Anders, S. M. (2015). Beyond sexual orientation: Integrating gender/sex and diverse sexualities via sexual configurations theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 11771213. doi:10.1007/s10508–015-0490-8
World Health Organization. (2010). Defining sexual health. Report. www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/

E. Sandra Byers is Professor and Chair in the Department of Psychology at University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She is the author or co-author of more than 180 journal articles and book chapters, mostly on aspects of human sexuality, as well as of a popular textbook on human sexuality. Byers is a past president of the International Academy of Sex Research and the Canadian Sex Research Forum, a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality and the Canadian Psychological Association, and is on the editorial boards of a number of scholarly journals. She has won numerous awards including the Donald O. Hebb Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology as a Profession from the Canadian Psychological Association in 2010, the Kinsey Award for outstanding contributions to the field of sex research, sex therapy, or sexology from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in 2013, and the Outstanding Contribution Award from the Canadian Sex Research Forum. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist with a part-time private practice primarily focused on the treatment of sexual concerns and problems.

Karen L. Blair is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and has affiliations with St. Francis Xavier, Acadia and Trent Universities in Nova Scotia and Ontario, Canada, is founder of KLB Research and president of LGBTQ Psychology Canada. Blair studies the role that social support for relationships plays in the development, maintenance, and dissolution of relationships, sexuality in same-sex relationships, LGBTQ psychology, Holocaust education, and the connections between relationships, social prejudices, and health. More information about her work can be found on her website: www.drkarenblair.com. Blair grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and has lived in Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Utah (United States). She attended University of Guelph, Acadia, and Queen’s University in Canada with a postdoc at the University of Utah. Blair taught English in Thailand, and has spent significant amounts of time in Prague, Czech Republic. She has international collaborations in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Turkey, and New Zealand. Blair currently lives in Peterborough, ON with her wife, who is also an academic, and their three dogs.

Aksakal, G. S. (2013). Sexual pleasure as a woman’s human right: Experiences from a human rights training programme for women in Turkey. In S. Jolly, A. Cornwall, & Hawkins, K. (Eds.), Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure (pp. 4257). London: Zen Books.
Alipour, M. (2017). Islamic shari’a law, neotraditionalist Muslim scholars and transgender sex-reassignment surgery: A case study of Ayatollah Khomeini’s and Sheikh al-Tantawi’s fatwas. International Journal of Transgenderism, 18(1), 91103. doi:10.1080/15532739.2016.1250239
American Psychological Association & National Association of School Psychologists. (2015). Resolution on gender and sexual orientation diversity in children and adolescents in schools. www.apa.org/about/policy/orientation-diversity.aspx
Atallah, S., Johnson-Agbakwu, C., Rosenbaum, T., Abdo, C., Byers, E. S., Graham, C. . . . Brotto, L. A. (2016). Ethical and socio-cultural aspects of sexual function and dysfunction in both sexes. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13, 591606. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.01.021
Aubrey, J. S. (2004). Sex and punishment: An examination of sexual consequences and the sexual double standard in teen programming. Sex Roles, 50, 501514. doi:10.1023/B:SERS.0000023070.87195.07
Bakare-Yusuf, B. (2013). Thinking with pleasure: Danger, sexuality and agency. In S. Jolly, A. Cornwall, & Hawkins, K. (Eds.), Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure (pp. 2841). London: Zen Books.
Bem, S. L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bennett, L. R. (2005). Women, Islam and modernity: Single women, sexuality and reproductive health in contemporary Indonesia. New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203391389
Berenbaum, S. A. (2006). Psychological outcome in children with disorders of sex development: Implications for understanding typical development. Annual Review of Sex Research, 17, 138.
Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto-Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K., & Lee, E. (2000). How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology, 12, 151166. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(200003/04)12:2<151::AID-AJHB1>3.0.CO;2-F
Blackridge, P., & Gilhooly, S. (1986). Still sane. Vancouver: Press Gang.
Blair, K. L., Cappell, J., & Pukall, C. F. (2018). Not all orgasms were created equal: Differences in frequency and satisfaction of orgasm experiences by sexual activity in same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 55(6), 719733. doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1303437
Blair, K. L., & Pukall, C. F. (2014). Can less be more? Comparing duration vs. frequency of sexual encounters in same-sex and mixed-sex relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 23(2), 123136. doi:10.3138/cjhs.2393
Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism, western culture and the body. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Byers, E. S. (1996). How well does the traditional sexual script explain sexual coercion? Review of a program of research. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 8, 725. doi:10.1300/J056v08n01_02
Byers, E. S., Demmons, S., & Lawrance, K. A. (1998). Sexual satisfaction within dating relationships: A test of the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 257267. doi:10.1177/0265407598152008
Byers, E. S., & MacNeil, S. (2006). Further validation of the interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 32, 5369. doi:10.1080/00926230500232917
Byers, E. S., & Rehman, U. (2014). Sexual well-being. In Tolman, D. & Diamond, L. (Eds.), APA handbook of sexuality and psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 317337). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/14193-011
Carbado, D. W., Williams Crenshaw, K., Mays, V. M., & Tomlinson, B. (2013). Intersectionality: Mapping the movements of a theory. Du Bois Review, 10(2), 303312. doi:10.1017/S1742058X13000349
Christopher, F. S., & Sprecher, S. (2000). Sexuality in marriage, dating, and other relationships: A decade review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 9991017. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.00999.x
Cohen, J. N., & Byers, E. S. (2014). Beyond lesbian bed death: Enhancing our understanding of the sexuality of sexual-minority women in relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 51(8), 893903. doi:10.1080/00224499.2013.795924
Combahee River Collective. (1983). The Combahee River Collective statement. In Smith, B. (Ed.), Home girls: A Black feminist anthology (p. 264). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Conner, R. (1993). Blossom of bone: Reclaiming the connections between homoeroticism and the sacred. New York: HarperCollins.
Conron, K. J., Scott, G., Stowell, G. S., & Landers, S. J. (2012). Transgender health in Massachusetts: Results from a household probability sample of adults. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 118122. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300315
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), 139168.
Diamond, L. M. (2007). A dynamical systems approach to the development and expression of female same-sex sexuality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(2), 142161. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00034.x
Diamond, L. M., Dickenson, J. A., & Blair, K. L. (2017). Stability of sexual attractions across different timescales: The roles of bisexuality and gender. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 193204. doi:10.1007/s10508–016-0860-x
Diamond, M. (1996). Prenatal predisposition and the clinical management of some pediatric conditions. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22, 139147. doi:10.1080/00926239608414652
Diamond, M. (1999). Pediatric management of ambiguous and traumatized genitalia. Journal of Urology, 162, 10211028. doi:10.1016/S0022–5347(01)68054-6
Diamond, M. (2008a). Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10 year longitudinal studyDevelopmental Psychology44, 514. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.44.1.5.
Diamond, M. (2008b). Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, H. K. (1997). Sex reassignment at birth: Long-term review and clinical implications. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 298304. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170400084015
Flores, A. R., Herman, J. L., Gates, G. J., & Brown, T. N. T. (2016). How many adults identify as transgender in the United States? Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute.
Frederick, D. A., John, H. K. S., Garcia, J. R., & Lloyd, E. A. (2018). Differences in orgasm frequency among gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual men and women in a US national sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(1), 273288. doi:10.1007/s10508–017-0939-z
Freeman, R., Gwada, M., Silverman, E., Kurnick, A., Leonard, N., Ritchie, A., . . . Martinez, B. (2017). Critical Race Theory as a tool for understanding poor engagement along the HIV care continuum among African American/Black and Hispanic persons living with HIV in the United States: A qualitative exploration. International Journal for Equity in Health, 16(54), 114. doi:10.1186/s12939–017-0549-3
Freud, S. (1953). Three essays on the theory of sexuality (1905). In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 7: (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Other Works (pp. 123246). London: Hogarth Press.
Gagnon, J. H. (1990). The explicit and implicit use of the scripting perspective in sex research. Annual Review of Sex Research, 1, 144.
Gagnon, J. H., & Simon, W. (1973). Sexual conduct: The social origins of human sexuality. Chicago: Aldine.
Garcia, J. R., Lloyd, E. A., Wallen, K., & Fisher, H. E. (2014). Variation in orgasm occurrence by sexual orientation in a sample of US singles. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11(11), 26452652. doi:10.1111/jsm.12669
Gerhard, J. (2000). Revisiting “the myth of the vaginal orgasm”: The female orgasm in American sexual thought and second wave feminism. Feminist Studies, 26(2), 449476. doi:10.2307/3178545
Geter, A., Sutton, M., & McCree, D. (2018). Social and structural determinants of HIV treatment and care among Black women living with HIV infection: A systematic review: 2005–2016. AIDS Care: Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV, 30(4), 409416. doi:10.1080/09540121.2018.1426827
Golden, C. (2008). The intersexed and the transgendered: Rethinking sex/gender. In Chrisler, J. C., Golden, C., & Rozee, P. D. (Eds.), Lectures of the psychology of women (4th ed., p. 2015). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Hamedani, A. (2014). The gay people pushed to change their gender. BBC Magazine. www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29832690
Holmberg, D., & Blair, K.L. (2009). Sexual desire, communication, satisfaction and preferences of men and women in same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 46(1), 5766. doi:10.1080/00224490802645294
Holmberg, D., Blair, K. L., & Phillips, M. (2010). Women’s sexual satisfaction as a predictor of well-being in same-sex versus mixed-sex relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 47(1), 111. doi:10.1080/00224490902898710
Hoskin, R. A. (2017). Femme theory: Refocusing the intersectional lens. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice, 38(1), 95109.
Hoskin, R. A., Blair, K. L., & Jenson, K. (2016). Dignity versus diagnosis: Sexual orientation and gender identity differences in reports of one’s greatest concern about receiving a sexual health exam. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(4), 279293. doi:10.1080/19419899.2016.1236745
Hughes, I. A., Houk, C., Ahmed, S. F., & Lee, P. A., with LWPES Consensus Group. (2006). Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 91(7), 554562. doi:10.1136/adc.2006.098319
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581592. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.6.581
Hyde, J. S., Bigler, R. S., Joel, D., Tate, C. C., & van Anders, S. M. (2018). The future of sex and gender in psychology: Five challenges to the gender binary. American Psychologist. Online ahead of print. doi:10.1037/amp0000307
Jacobs, S. E., Thomas, W., & Lang, S. (1997). Two spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality and spirituality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Joel, D., Tarrasch, R., Berman, Z., Mukamel, M., & Ziv, E. (2014). Queering gender: Studying gender identity in “normative” individuals. Psychology & Sexuality, 5, 291321. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.830640
Jolly, S., Cornwall, A., & Hawkins, K. (2013). Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure. London: Zen Books.
Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 334. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.3
Kauanui, J. K. (2017). Indigenous Hawai‘ian sexuality and the politics of nationalist decolonization. In Barker, J. (Ed.), Critically sovereign: Indigenous gender, sexuality, and feminist studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Laqueur, T. (1990). Making sex: Body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lawrance, K., & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: The interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2, 267285. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.1995.tb00092.x
Lee, P. A., Nordenstrom, A., Houk, C. P., Ahmed, S. F., Aucheus, R., Baratz, A., … Global DSD Updates Consortium. (2016). Global disorders of sexual development update since 2006: Perceptions, approach and care. Hormone Research in Paediatrics, 85, 158180. doi:10.1159/000442975
Lips, H. M. (2006). A new psychology of women: Gender, culture, and ethnicity (3rd ed.). Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Lorber, J. (2005). Gender inequality: Feminist theories and politics (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.
Marrow, J. (1997) Changing positions: Women speak out on sex and desire. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston, MA: Little Brown.
Maticka-Tyndale, E., & Smylie, L. (2008). Sexual rights: Striking a balance. International Journal of Sexual Health, 20, 724. doi:10.1080/19317610802156996
McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3), 17711800. doi:10.1086/426800
McCormick, N. B. (1994). Sexual salvation: Affirming women’s sexual rights and pleasures. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Mulhall, J., King, R., Glina, S., & Hvidsten, K. (2008). Importance of and satisfaction with sex among men and women worldwide: Results of the global better sex surveyJournal of Sexual Medicine5, 788795.
Murray, S. (2019). Not always in the modoe: The new science of men, sex and relationships. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Mydans, S. (2002). In Pakistan, rape victims are the “criminals.” New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2002/05/17/world/in-pakistan-rape-victims-are-the-criminals.html
O’Connell, H.E., Hutson, J. M., Anderson, C. R., & Plenter, R. J. (1998). Anatomical relationship between urethra and clitoris. Journal of Urology, 159(6), 18921897. doi:10.1016/S0022–5347(01)63188-4
Oliver, M. B., & Hyde, J. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 2951. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.114.1.29
O’Sullivan, L. F., Byers, E. S., & Mitra, K. (2018). An internet-based survey of sexual and reproductive health education attitudes and experience in India: How much support is there for much-needed comprehensive sex education? Sex Education. Online ahead of print. doi:10.1080/14681811.2018.1506915
O’Sullivan, L. F., & Thompson, A. E. (2013).  Sexuality in adolescence. In Tolman, D. & Diamond, L. (Eds.), APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology (pp. 433486). Washington, DCAPA Books.
Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993 to 2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 2138. doi:10.1037/a0017504
Poasa, K. H., Blanchard, R., & Zucker, K. J. (2004). Birth order in transgendered males from Polynesia: A quantitative study of Samoan fa’afafine. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 30, 1323. doi:10.1080/00926230490247110
Randall, H. E., & Byers, E. S. (2003). What is sex? Students’ definitions of having sex, sexual partner, and unfaithful sexual behaviour. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 12, 8796.
Rehman, U., Fallis, E., & Byers, E. S. (2013). Sexual satisfaction in heterosexual women. In Cataneda, D. (Ed.), An essential handbook of women’s sexuality (Vol. 1, pp. 2545). Westport, CT: Praeger
Reis, E. (2007). Divergence of disorder? The politics of naming intersex. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 50, 535543. doi:10.1353/pbm.2007.0054
Ruan, F. F., & Bullough, V. L. (1992). Lesbianism in China. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(3), 217226. doi:10.1007/BF01542993
Sánchez-Fuentes, M. M., Santos-Iglesias, P., Byers, E. S., & Sierra, J. C. (2015). Validation of the Interpersonal Exchange Model of Sexual Satisfaction Questionnaire in a Spanish sample. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 10281041. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.989307
Sharma, J. (2013). Challenging the pleasure versus danger binary: Reflections on sexuality workshops with rural women’s rights activists in North India. In S. Jolly, Cornwall, A., & Hawkins, K. (Eds.), Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure (pp. 4257). London: Zen Books.
Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2011). Sexuality and access project: Survey summary. http://sexuality-and-access.com
Sinnot, M. (2004). Toms and dees: Transgender identity and female same-sex relationships in Thailand. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Striepe, M. I., & Tolman, D. I. (2003). Mom, Dad, I’m straight: The coming out of gender ideologies in adolescent sexual-identity development. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32, 523530. doi:10.1207/S15374424JCCP3204_4
Tate, C. C., Youssef, C. P., & Bettergarcia, J. N. (2014). Integrating the study of trangender spectrum and cisgender experiences of self-categorization from a personality perspective. Review of General Psychology, 18, 302312. doi:10.1037/gpr0000019
Tell, S. (2015). Intersex management in the United States and non-Western cultures. Einstein Journal of Biological Medicine, 30, 515.
Tiefer, L. (1995) Sex is not a natural act and other essays. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Tiefer, L. (2001). Arriving at a “new view” of women’s sexual problems: Background, theory, and activism. In Kachak, E. & Tiefer, L. (Eds.), A new view of women’s sexual problems (pp. 6398). New York: Haworth Press.
Tolman, D. (2002). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tolman, D. (2012). Female adolescents, sexual empowerment and desire: A missing discourse of gender inequity. Sex Roles, 66(11–12), 746757. doi:10.1007/s11199–012-0122-x
Wekker, G. (1997). Mat-ism and Black lesbianism: Two idealtypical expressions of female homosexuality in Black communities of the diaspora. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 1(1), 1124; reprinted from Journal of Homosexuality, 24 (1993).
West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Women’s place in everyday talk: Reflections on parent–child interaction. In Coates, J. (Ed.), Language and gender: A reader (pp. 165175). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Willis, M., Jozkowski, K. N., Lo, W. J., & Sanders, S. A. (2018). Are women’s orgasms hindered by phallocentric imperatives? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(6), 15651576. doi:10.1007/s10508–018-1149-z
World Health Organization. (2006). Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health. Geneva: World Health Organization.
Wyatt, G. E. (1982). The sexual experience of Afro-American women: A middle-income sample. In Kirkpatrick, M. (Ed.), Women’s sexual experience: Explorations of the dark continent (pp. 1739). New York: Plenum. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-4025-6_2
Wylie, K. (2009). A global survey of sexual behavioursJournal of Family and Reproductive Health, 3(2), 3949.