IELTS Vocabulary: What’s the difference between sex and gender

English is a funny language.

Look at the example of these two words – sex and gender. They mean the same, right?

Yes, in IELTS Writing Task 1.
No, in IELTS Writing Task and Speaking Part 3.

Find out why:

1. What is the difference between sex and gender?

Maybe you think there’s no difference. Sex is ‘male’ or ‘female’ and so is gender. In fact, if you look up the dictionary definition of sex and gender, the first definition is the same:

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However, from this point on, the definition changes. Further definitions and examples vary slightly. This means that while the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are often used interchangeably (e.g. in IELTS Writing Task 1 when talking about the number of men and women), there is actually a little bit of difference between these words.

Even before a baby is born, a simple ultrasound shows the ‘sex of the baby’. Note, doctors never use the term ‘gender of the baby’. This means sex – whether a person is male or female – depends on which sexual organs one has. Sex is therefore a purely biological term.

Gender, on the other hand, is how a person feels and behaves

e.g. When I was little, I hated playing with dolls. I still don’t like girly things and colors like pink.

and how society perceives them.

e.g. Ahmed is so manly.

 

The other questions in this post will help you think more about the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.

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