So, I tried looking up synonyms for "sex," and it's a good laugh. But in all seriousness, I'm looking for a word to indicate a persons biological sex (as in chromosomes) which will not cause confusion.

The problem with the word sex is that it really reads like intercourse a lot more than chromosomes. It's also prone to creating distraction in the reader.

The problem with the word gender, is that it's kind of in a grey zone where it can (and historically was) used to mean sex, but now it's sort of confusing and touchy to many.

There are ways to use extra words to clearly get the idea across (ie "Biological Sex"). This is really wordy after a while.

Another thought was to use "M/F," but it reads pretty technical. (eg. "Her M/F was F"). Also, in the context of transexual people, the terms M2F and F2M are already in use... so I can see more confusion coming in there.

Is there any alternative word for [biological] "sex" other than "gender"?

My particular example is that I have a form with big bold words above each field. One of the fields is:

Gender: [ some input ]

I tried changing it to sex, and it becomes confusing and I don't like have the word "Sex" in big bold letters, standing alone on the page. It really does not read right.

Sex: [ some input ]

While the confusion from Sex is not okay to me, confusion from a new word is. New word confusion may pass, but context defined words are always going to be a hassle.

EDIT: I should also mention, beyond using it in the form, I'd like all of my code to be able to use the same wording. So while "Biological Sex" would work for just the form, it's not great for naming a column in a database and typing over an over again. For what it's worth, I'm currently using sexes and singular sexe in the code. It works, but sexe is not a real word.

EDIT 2: Please attempt to imagine a scenario in which needing this word might exist. Not everybody will agree on what scenario would, but from my perspective, it would be really helpful to have a word.


3 Answers 3


Currently, you would most likely have to use phrases to express what you mean: biological sex, chromosomal sex, hormonal sex, and so on, based on how you define sex. There is no single alternative word (outside gender) that would be generally recognized as a synonym for sex. Even gender may either operate as a synonym for (biological) sex or for the "behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits" typically associated with a sex (Merriam-Webster).

The closest single word I can find is one that once referred to sex, but that today sounds odd in that usage: kind. Oxford English Dictionary, "kind, n."


†a. The state or fact of belonging to a particular sex; the quality of being either male or female; gender, sex. Cf. kin n.1 7. Obsolete.


b. Either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and many other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions; the males or females of a particular species, esp. the human race, considered collectively; a sex.

The latter usage, of biological sex, appeared in uses like this (OED):

1789 M. Madan in New & Literal Transl. Juvenal & Persius II. 453 Some pretended to so nice a taste, as to be able to distinguish whether the bird he was eating was of the male or female kind.

and even in the later centuries it appears:

1921 A. C. Perry & A. E. Eichmann Appl. Gram. II. 78 Note that man and woman are nouns; that man denotes a person of the male kind.

2011 A. Cheuse Song of Slaves in Desert vi. 43 Women are the frailer kind, are they not?

However, this usage of kind was not adopted in scientific and academic use compared to either sex or gender, and becomes harder and harder to find in use compared to its other meanings. Today, its usage is virtually indistinguishable from more generally referring to categories of things. (That's what you'll find in Merriam-Webster, not sex but "category" or "essence.") So kind has become a hypernym of sex, and it would only be an alternative if you were being intentionally archaic or non-scientific in usage.



an atypical chromosome especially : SEX CHROMOSOME
Source: Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/allosome

This can work largely as a drop in replacement for sex as a noun. With specificity for chromosomal configuration.

Allosome: [some input]


After trying quite a few things, I've finally settled on naming the property/variable birthSex. What works with it:

  • It's only a couple more characters than gender.
  • It's explicit in meaning.
  • It's (hopefully) unoffensive.
  • It includes its own context (birth).

I feel totally comfortable putting the variable birthSex anywhere at all -- no context -- without any worries that it will be misinterpreted.

  • 3
    'Birth sex' sounds like a good appropriate English counterpart. 'birthSex' is not a well-formed English word - coming up with good variable or field names for programming is considered off-topic for ELU.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 20:19
  • "'Birth sex' sounds like a good appropriate English counterpart. 'birthSex' is not a well-formed English word - coming up with good variable or field names for programming is considered off-topic for ELU."
    – Seph Reed
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 16:56
  • 1
    Seph, I know, right?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 18:29
  • That was my faith in humanity. Seemed a short enough leap, I didn't even think to explain it.
    – Seph Reed
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 19:22

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