Sex, Gender & Sexuality Explained

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Did you know that sex, gender and sexuality are all seperate things!? BOOOOOMM!! Mind blown!? This can get a little confusing, so let's break it down...

'Sex' is used to describe what you are assigned at birth, based on what's in between your legs (a penis = male, or a vagina = female). However, this is not the full picture. Sex is defined by genitals, including internal sex organs, chromosomes and hormones. There are three sex variations: 

  • Male (penis, XY chromosomes, high levels of testosterone)
  • Female (vagina, XX chromosomes, high levels of eostrogen)
  • Intersex (a person born with the sexual anatomy or chromosomes that don't fit the traditional definition of male or female. A combination of reproductive sex organs, iincluding internal sex organs, chromosomes. and hormones). 

'Gender' is used to describe the traditional social roles for males and females. Gender Identity describes how someone feels on the inside, and Gender Expression describes how someone chooses to present their gender to the world. You know how society tends to announce a baby boy with the colour blue or a baby girl with the colour pink? Or how boys are given trucks and girls are given dolls? And how men are encouraged to play sports and be a tough 'man' and women are encouraged to paint their nails and do their hair and where makeup? These are societal constructs of gender. There are three gender variations: 

  • Cisgender - a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a person who was assigned as a male at birth, and identifies as male, or vice versa.  
  • Transgender - a person whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a person who was assigned as a male at birth, but identifies as female, or vice versa.
  • Gender Fluid - a person whose gender identity is not fixed and / or shifts depending on the situation. These people don't feel the need to act according to the sex they were assigned at birth and the associated traditional social roles. 

Some transgender people might have surgery, take hormones or change the way they look or dress to bring their body into alignment with how they identify, but not all trangender people can or want to do this. Being transgender is not dependant on your physical appearance or medical procedures. Hence, the importance of not reducing a person to their genitals (whether they have a penis or vagina). Anyway, does it really matter? How is this any of my business?

Pronouns become important when talking about someones gender identity. Some may identify as 'he', 'she', or 'they'. If someone asks you to call them by a particular pronoun, it's important to respect their wishes. You wouldn't continue to call someone 'Elizabeth' if they asked you to call them 'Liz' or 'Beth' now would you?  

'Sexuality' is the part of you expressed through your sexual activities and relationships. It is represented in your feelings, behaviours and your sexual identity. Your sexual identity is how you choose to describe or label your sexuality. There are many different lables that a person can choose, including not choosing a lable at all! Similarly to pronouns, it's important to refer to a persons sexuality by their chosen label (just ask them if you're not sure, so you're not assuming). A person’s sexuality can be:

  • Heterosexual - A person attracted to people of the oppositie sex.
  • Homosexual - A person attracted to people of the same sex.
  • Bisexual - The word 'bi', meaning 'two', refers to a persons attraction to both genders (male and female). 
  • Asexual - Asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction. For example, some asexual people are in romantic relationships where they never desire sex, and some are not in romantic relationships at all. 
  • Pansexual - 'Pan', meaning 'all-inclusive', refers to a person's attraction to multiple genders. Some pansexual people describe their attraction as being based on chemistry rather than gender, but everyone is different. 
  • Questioning - Some people may be unsure about their sexuality and / or are exploring it, so might identify as 'questioning'. 
  • +  many more variations of sexuality! 

Sexuality is not necessarily black or white. Instead, it can be thought about on a continuum or in shades of grey. 

Three of the most common aspects used to describe sexuality are:

  • Feelings and fantasies: who we fall in love with, who we are attracted to, who we think about when we are aroused, and who we intimately connect with.
  • Behaviours: include any form of sexual contact (kissing, touching, oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex etc.), flirting, who we date, and have relationships with.
  • Identity: is the label or description of our sexuality.

Like many good things in life, sexuality can be confusing. Everyone expresses their sexuality differently with various levels of diversity. Often sexuality and sexual identity changes at different times of our lives. And this is ok!

For more information:

Reach Out – what is sexuality? 

The Freedom Centre – sexuality

The Gender Unicorn 

The Gender Bread Person 

Headspace – sexuality and gender identity


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Our Mission

To minimise the impact and further transmission of HIV, other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. To reduce social, legal and policy barriers which prevent access to health information and effective support and prevention services.

WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of this country throughout Australia, and their strength, resilience and connection to land and community. In particular, the WA AIDS Council would like to acknowledge the Wadjuk people of the Noongar Nation as the traditional custodians of the land in which our office is located.


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