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In order to give this review some basis in established theory, we originally cribbed the following definitions from the GCE 'A' level text book, Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour, by Richard Gross, the 1987 edition, published by Hodder and Stoughton. (bookshelf) However, as time has passed, we have gradually amended and refined them.

Much of the literature available blurs the definitions. In particular, many writers use the term sexual identity and gender identity interchangeably. In many cases, the meaning is clear from the context in which it is used, as with the British Gender Recognition Act. The terminology has changed over the years with changing social and personal constructions. There is, unfortunately, very little, even in the scientific literature, that is totally objective.

The following definitions, therefore, are for the purpose of clarity in this series of essays. In general, because of the confusion, we have tried to avoid using any of the terms as far as possible, but we have assumed a usual course of events of sexual identity leading to gender identity/role, leading to sexual orientation, leading to sexual object choice.

Additionally, we should mention that, throughout this website, we use the term sexual dimorphism to describe differences in physiology between the sexes, and gender as differences arising from the developmental social environment. We are aware that this distinction is somewhat artificial, but find it necessary in order to examine the interaction between them.

Sexual identity. The objective categorisation of a person's physiological status as male or female, sometimes referred to as Core Identity.

Sexual identity, especially, gives problems. Does it mean genetic status as XX or XY, or does it mean the sum of our development up until birth? Or is it simply the social label applied to us by our birth certificates?

However in recent years the term has been used instead of Sexual Preference (see beow) and this is the usage in the majority of docoments on the internet.

Gender identity. A subjective, but continuous and persistent, sense of ourselves as masculine or feminine.


Sexual preference (or sexual orientation) refers to a person's preference for the same or opposite sex partners, eg, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual. Even then there is a distinction between who one has sex with, which is more to do with one's sex object, and who one can build a relationship with.

Gay people generally have had problems with either of these terms, feeling perhaps they imply choice. They have appropriated the term Sexual Identity as an expression of a personal total sexual being, sometimes referred to as Sexuality.

caveat emptor

Gender role or sex role. The behaviours, attitudes values, beliefs and so on that a particular cultural group considers appropriate for males and females on the basis of their biological sex.

Given the confusion about this terminology in the literature, we suggest that sex role refers to whether someone lives a male or female role, while gender role is how he, or she, lives that role.

Gender role/identity refers to a person's understanding and acceptance of gender roles. In other words it is how an individual adapts the prescribed sex role to his, or her, individual identity.

Gender presentation We have added this definition because, while gender identity is subjective and internal to the individual, the presentation of one's self either through personality or bodily habitus is what is perceived by others, and may be labelled pejoratively.

Gender or sex role behaviour refers to what people's behaviours are actually like. We feel it is an inadequate description since it does not, on the face of it, account for physical characteristics such as, for instance, broad shoulders on a woman.

Sexual dimorphism is a term used in biology and ethology to describe physical differences in bodily appearance between males and females of a species. However, it has also become common to describe Sexually Dimorphic Behaviours.

Gender or sex role stereotype. The socially determined model which contains the cultural beliefs about what the gender roles should be. It differs from gender role in that it tends to be the way people feel 'others' should behave.

Sex typing refers to the differential treatment of people according to their biological sex.

In practice, this term is used in a more subtle way. If one has very rigid views about how one should behave, or how others should behave, one is said to be highly sex-typed. (or highly sex stereotyped) Thus the Bem Sex-role Inventory (BSRI)(1) is about whether subjects are more or less likely to describe themselves in masculine or feminine, rather than simply more or less socially acceptable, ways. In her terms an androgynous person is not someone who has characteristics of both sexes, but someone who has less rigid and proscribed views about appropriate behaviour.


1. Bem. S.L.,(1974) The Measurement of Psychological Androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, (42) 2, 155-162

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Bland, J., (2005) About Gender: Definitions
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Web page copyright Derby TV/TS Group. Text copyright Jed Bland.
24.05.98 Last amended 09.10.02, 13.04.03, 18.08.03, 17.04.05, 22.09.10, 22.04.12