Sex and gender: you should know the difference

The term “gender selection” is used inappropriately to describe the determination of embryonic sex chromosomes. Gender is socially and culturally determined, and therefore the correct term is “sex determination” or “sex selection.”

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Volume 107, Issue 6, Pages 1294–1295


Darcy E. Broughton, M.D., Robert E. Brannigan, M.D., Kenan R. Omurtag, M.D.


Embryos do not have a “gender”; rather, they have a “sex.” Gender refers to social and cultural distinctions between sexes, not biological ones. An embryo's “maleness” or “femaleness” should therefore be defined by its biological sex (i.e., sex chromosome pair).

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Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders. 


Go to the profile of Nikola Komlenac
over 4 years ago
I agree with Broughton, Brannigan and Omurtag (2017) that proper terminology is needed and that the synonymous use of the two constructs “sex” and “gender” are disadvantageous. However I do not agree that embryos do not have a gender. Gender encompasses not only the person’s self-definition. As mentioned by the authors, it encompasses also how persons are responded to. Even though embryos are not active or conscious, they – at least in the context of reproductive medicine - interact with their social surrounding. Especially when it comes to the discussion of “sex selection” the gender of the embryos becomes evident. When at least discussing about sex selection or in clinics that offer couples the option of choosing the embryos based on sex chromosomes, people behave differently towards embryos solely because of the embryo’s different characteristic on the variable sex. This difference in behavior does not reside in biological determination (or differentiation). There is no justification to behave differently towards the embryos of different sexes. When it comes to sex selection, however, embryos have a gender. Embryos are responded to differently depending on whether they are male or female. These responses are not routed in biological differences but refer to social and cultural distinctions. By “selecting” embryos, embryos get gender. Therefore embryos have a gender. (The embryo’s gender can be different of this person’s gender later in life.) Kind regards, Nikola Komlenac