Lens: Type: Characteristic

A person’s assigned sex at birth.

Photo: jaspereology
woman and man looking at camera

Sex is based on a person’s physical and biological traits and is assigned at birth. Sex can be described as female or male, though when people have disorders of sex development, sex is not assigned at birth. Sex is different from gender identity and sexual orientation, and should not be interchanged with these concepts. Sex can prescribe how a person physically completes some activities, such as using a toilet or competing in athletic events. In some cultures, a person’s sex can affect their social standing and can prescribe their role and expected behaviors. Gender inequality divides people based on their sex and in most cases, females have historically made less money doing the same work as men and have had less access to advancement in the workplace.

Designers have an opportunity to create products, services, and systems that promote equality and reduce the impact of people’s sex on the choices they can make for themselves.

Sex Examples

  • Male
  • Female
  • Not assigned at birth (people who have disorders of sex development)

Researching Sex

Interviews, surveys, and other methods can be used to learn a person’s sex. In some cultures and locations, sex is an important aspect that overrides other characteristics, barring people from making choices for themselves, setting up hard-line social roles. Learning a person’s sex can help designers understand how a person uses objects that are specific to their biology. It can also indicate ways a person may be treated in different contexts based on sex.

Knowing a person’s sex is not always essential for all design outcomes. Avoid making assumptions about a person’s sex and how important they regard their sex when researching this aspect.

Questions to Ask About Sex

  • What is this person’s sex?
  • In what ways is this person’s sex different from the way they identify their gender?
  • In what ways does a person’s sex override their identity in a context?

Look for These When Researching Sex

  • A person sharing their biological sex.


References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.


Suar, D., & Gochhayat, J. (2016). Influence of Biological Sex and Gender Roles on Ethicality. Journal of Business Ethics, 134(2), 199-208.


Pater, R. (2016). The politics of design : a (not so) global manual for visual communication. BIS Publishers.


Gamble, N. K., & Pruski, M. (2018). Teleology and Defining Sex. New Bioethics, 24(2), 176-189.

Physical Sciences

Lee, P. A., Houk, C. P., Ahmed, S. F., & Hughes, I. A. (2006). Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders. International Consensus Conference on Intersex. Pediatrics, 118(2), e488-e500.

Social Sciences

Abed, E. C., Schudson, Z. C., Gunther, O. D., Beischel, W. J., & van Anders, S. M. (2019). Sexual and gender diversity among sexual and gender/sex majorities: Insights via sexual configurations theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(5), 1423-1441. doi:10.1007/s10508-018-1340-2

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Sex, APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved October 27, 2019 from

Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of “sex”. Routledge.

Carlson, Å. (2016). Sex, Biological Functions and Social Norms: A Simple Constructivist Theory of Sex. NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 24(1), 18-29.

Feingold, A. (1992). Gender differences in mate selection preferences: A test of the parental investment model. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 125.

Schudson, Z. C., Beischel, W. J., & van Anders, S. M. (2019). Individual variation in gender/sex category definitions. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 6(4), 448-460. doi:10.1037/sgd0000346


Chau, P.-L., & Herring, J. (2002). Defining, Assigning And Designing Sex. International Journal of Law, Policy & the Family, 16(3), 327-366.

Frye, P. R. (2000). The international bill of gender rights vs. the cider house rules: transgenders struggle with the courts over what clothing they are allowed to wear on the job, which restroom they are allowed to use on the job, their rights to marry, and the very definition of their sex. William & Mary Journal of Women & the Law, 7(1), 133-216.


Brabaw, K. (2019). Allosexual, Demisexual, Bicurious — & Other Sexualities You Need To Know. Retrieved September 4, 2019 from

Padawer, R. (2016). The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes. The New York Times.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. (n.d.). Sex, Gender, and Gender Identity. Retrieved October 28, 2019 from

Sexuality Education Resource Centre MB, & Klinic Community Health Education. (n.d.). Teen Talk: Gender Identity. Retrieved September 10, 2019 from

The Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Glossary of Terms. Retrieved October 27, 2019 from