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Women's Health Outreach Guide: Sex & Gender

The Women’s Health LibGuide aims to provide information resources that offer support and a collaborative forum to learn more about women’s health issues from expert sources.

What do we mean by "sex" and "gender"?

From the World Health Organization, a brief introduction to definitions and concepts. Find more

What do we mean by "sex" and "gender"?

Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term "gender", and how it differs from the closely related term "sex".

"Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

"Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

"Male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories.

Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

Some examples of sex characteristics :

  • Women menstruate while men do not
  • Men have testicles while women do not
  • Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men have not
  • Men generally have more massive bones than women

Some examples of gender characteristics :

  • In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work
  • In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate
  • In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
  • In most of the world, women do more housework than men

Content produced by the World Health Organization, more found at

World Health Organization

Explore the Gender, women and health page from the World health Organization (WHO). Includes publications, information on various health topics, and links to resources. 

About Sex & Gender Importance for Research

Policy: NIH to balance sex in cell and animal studies. Link

Comment in the Journal Nature from Janine Clayton and Francis Collins on policies to ensure that preclinical research funded by the US National Institutes of Health considers females and males.


IOM Report: Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? PDF

2001 Institute of Medicine study


Sex and sensitivity: the continued need for sex-based biomedical research and implementation. PubMed Record

Tingen, C. M., Kim, A. M., Wu, P. H., & Woodruff, T. K. 2010). Sex and sensitivity: the continued need for sex-based biomedical research and implementation. Womens Health (Lond Engl), 6(4), 511-516. doi: 10.2217/whe.10.45

The Science of Sex and Gender - Free CME

The Science of Sex and Gender in Human Health is a free online series of courses designed to create a foundation for sex and gender accountability in medical research and treatment by enabling researchers, clinicians, and students in the health professions to integrate knowledge of sex and gender differences and similarities into their research and practice.

Created by the Office of Research on Women’s Health, National Institutes of Health, The Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, eligible participants who complete all lesson quizzes with a score of at least 70 percent and complete a brief evaluation form for each course may receive continuing medical education (CME) credit.