This List Clears Every Single Doubt You May Have About Gender, Sex And Sexuality

By Jogya Chakravorty:

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) has evolved from sex education to sexuality education, and finally into its present form. Like we have said before, CSE covers a vast array of issues and topics concerning sexual and reproductive health.

Across the world, however, there is a considerable push to limit the scope of CSE and omit certain ‘controversial’ issues. The problem is, different countries find different topics controversial – some consider abortion contentious, while others have a problem with the word ‘sex’ itself! This selective acceptance of sexuality education must be resisted since it is these uncomfortable, debatable and differentially-interpreted topics that most adversely affect our sexual and reproductive lives and health.

With this in mind, we put together a helpful glossary of terms that must be a part of any sexuality education curriculum for it to be comprehensive.

The Spectrum Of The Anatomy Of Sex

Our biology textbooks tell us that there are only two sets of sexual and reproductive organs – male and female. Everything that does not fit into these categories is treated as ‘abnormal’. But these organs are often more complex than we acknowledge them to be. Our reproductive organs and their various parts have a variety of sizes, shapes and combinations.

One way by which we can break the strong link between ‘variation’ and ‘abnormality’ is by removing the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ altogether, when defining reproductive organs. So without further ado, here is that list:

  • Vulva refers to a set of external genitals that typically comprise the labia, mons pubis, clitoris and the vaginal opening.
  • The labia make up a majority of the externally-visible portion of the vulva. They surround and protect the clitoris, urethral opening and vaginal opening. It’s commonly differentiated into the labia majora (outer lip) and labia minora (inner lip), both of which show significant variation in color, shape and size.
  • The clitoris is a sensitive erogenous zone and its sole function is to provide sexual pleasure. It’s located at the top of the vulva just above the urethra. It varies in shape, size and sensitivity.
  • A small hollow muscular organ, the uterus holds and nourishes the foetus from conception to birth.
  • The canal that forms the passage from the uterus to outside the body is called the vagina.
  • The penis is an outer sex organ that’s made up of spongy tissues and blood vessels. It contains a tube called urethra that lets urine and semen (the latter during sexual excitement) pass through and exit the body.
  • The ovaries are two glands that contain thousands of immature eggs.
  • Testes are two ball-like glands that are contained in the scrotum, which is a sac-like structure. The main function of testes is to produce sperm and testosterone (which is a hormone). Sperm are the cells that contain sex chromosomes.
  • Fallopian tubes carry the egg from the ovaries to the uterus.
  • The hymen is a tissue membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening to protect it during developing years. It may or may not exist in everyone who has a vagina – and its presence or absence does not share a necessary relationship with virginity. Hymens vary widely in elasticity and presentation.
  • The epididymus stores the sperm until they mature. From the epididymis, the sperm then pass through a tube called the vas deferens – first to the seminal vesicles and then to the prostate gland – both of which nourish and lubricate the sperm. The sperm, along with the lubricating and nourishing fluids, is called semen, which is a whitish fluid.

The process of the development of these sexual and reproductive organs is called puberty, which usually marks the onset of adolescence. This period of physical, psychological and social change and development continues till the onset of adulthood.

  • Around puberty, sometimes semen comes out of the penis at night, during sleep. This is called nocturnal emission, night fall or wet dreams. Nocturnal emission is not necessarily accompanied by sexual feelings or sexual dreams. This is a common occurrence, as semen cannot be stored by the body at the rate at which it’s produced.
  • Menstruation, (also known as periods, and by many different names colloquially) is the process by which blood, mucosal tissue (from the lining of the uterus) and the unfertilised ova come out of the vagina every month for a few days. Menstruation usually begins during puberty and ends with menopause. One does not menstruate during pregnancy, as the lining provides nourishment to the foetus.
  • Conception refers to the process by which the sperm fertilises the ova. The zygote formed from their fusion then implants itself in the uterus. This leads to pregnancy.
  • To prevent pregnancy, certain artificial methods are used which are collectively called contraceptives. There are several kinds of contraceptives like condoms, birth-control pills, emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, etc.
  • The process of terminating a pregnancy is called abortion. There are multiple methods of abortion depending on the length of the pregnancy. They include medical abortions (in which one has to take medicines) and surgical abortions (differs in different countries based on the law). Abortion is a highly-politicised issue – which is why there are many laws about it in each country, some of which criminalise abortion.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are infections that are transmitted through sexual contact (exchange of sex fluid or even blood). Reproductive tract infections (RTI) are another type of infection, which refer to those that affect the reproductive tract. Although they are two different things, they often overlap (some STIs can be RTIs, and vice versa). RTIs can either be caused by an overgrowth of organisms already present in the tract or by the introduction of certain microorganisms into the tract during sexual contact or medical procedures.
Image used for representative purposes only. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

All Things Sex-y

‘Sex’ refers to two things:

1. The activities we engage in (either alone or with other people) for sexual pleasure (and occasionally reproduction), like these –

  • Intercourse refers to the penetration of the vagina or the anus by the penis or any other object.
  • Outercourse expands the meaning of sexual activity to include everything that is done for sexual pleasure (other than penetration).
  • All acts that we do to sexually pleasure ourselves are known as masturbation. One way this is done is through exploring one’s body – usually by touching or rubbing our own genitals.
  • The peak or climax of sexual excitement is called an orgasm. It is an intensely pleasurable feeling usually centered around our genitals, and may or may not be accompanied by release of sexual fluids from the body.

In any discussion about sex, consent has to take the centre-stage! Simply put, giving consent means to actively, enthusiastically, and explicitly agree to something with full understanding of the situation and without pressure of any kind.

But ‘sex’ also refers to:

2. The physiological and chromosomal makeup of a person at birth that results in categories being assigned to them:

  • A person is generally assigned male at birth on the basis of the presence of a commonly-occurring combination of external genitalia – the penis and the scrotum.
  • If a person’s genitalia at birth appears to be a vulva, they are assigned female at birth.
  • Intersex is a term assigned to persons who have an atypical composition or combination of genitals, hormones, chromosomes, etc. Intersex is not a defined category – and there is no consensus on the characteristics that help decide whether to place people in this category. It tends to be decided by doctors during the person’s birth. Their opinions vary considerably.

The Gender Spectrum

Gender is a social construct that consists of specific traits, roles and expectations that society attaches to males and females. There are two distinct prototypes that defines ‘men’ and ‘women’ and what their lives and behaviour should ideally be like.

But these prototypes perfectly fit only a small percentage of people. Most of us are a combination of both. Thus, it makes sense to see gender as a ‘fluid spectrum’ (instead of just one or the other), where several different experiences, identities and expressions exist and are accepted.

The constant interaction between how society sees you, how you experience yourself in relation to society and how you choose to define yourself make up your gender. This is not fixed and can change multiple times over the course of your lifetime, depending on what identity you are comfortable aligning yourself with. There are more identities that we can define – but here are some of them:

  • A cisgendered person is one whose gender identity reflects the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Trans is an umbrella term that houses many different identities that describe someone who doesn’t relate or identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. These are very diverse and include identities like trans man or woman, transvestite, bigender, gender fluid, pangender, agender, gender non binary, gender neutral and gender two-spirit, among others.

Trans identities can be independent of one’s anatomical/physiological sex. It is also separate from one’s sexual orientation and identity, which is understood from our experience of sexual, romantic attraction and towards whom we direct these feelings.

Like gender, sexual orientations are fluid, can change over time, and have many different labels, some of which are:

  • Heterosexual – being sexually or romantically attracted to the opposite sex/gender.
  • Homosexual – being sexually or romantically attracted to the same sex/gender. Other terms include ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’.
  • Bisexual – When an individual is attracted to male and female sexes/genders.
  • Asexual  When one doesn’t experience sexual desire or attraction.
  • Pansexual – Persons who are sexually attracted to another of any sex or gender.
  • Demisexual  being sexually attracted to individuals that one has formed an emotional connection with.

The word ‘queer’ also falls within this category and in the gender spectrum. While it was initially used as a pejorative term for homosexual individuals, it has since been reclaimed by many people as a term that’s broader and more ambiguous in its scope than LGBTQI+ labels.

Sexuality encompasses everything we’ve talked about so far. As a concept, it is one that’s constantly evolving and changing. Sexuality can be experienced and expressed in thoughts, desires, values, behaviours, roles and relationships. It is also influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political and cultural factors.

Design: Kruttika Susarla

The YP Foundation’s KYBKYR (2.0) campaign is a continuation of the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign that we ran in 2010–2011. KYBKYR 2.o focuses on increasing awareness on the need for young people to have access to SRHR information that is fact-checked, evidence based, and sex-positive. The campaign provides resources that assist young people to advocate for access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) with the decision-makers and authority figures in their lives, including family members, teachers, and administrators in educational institutions. The campaign also reaches out to these individuals directly to support young people’s demand for access to CSE.

This post was originally published on

The author is a third year undergraduate at Jesus & Mary College, and is a TYPF Fellow 2016-17.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Vintage Animations/YouTube
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