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.

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    '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.' This depends on the audience. If your target audience is going to listen to what you have to say at all, surely they'll get over the 'naughty schoolboy' giggles after the first couple of occurrences. // There's always a battle against mediocrity. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 16 at 18:12
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    The word used on all forms, such as census returns, for example, has been 'sex' for as many years as there have been such forms - certainly two hundred years. What has changed to render that word, in the context you describe, inappropriate? You appear to want to ask about sex not gender, so just go ahead and do it. – JeremyC Aug 16 at 21:57
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    I’m confused as to your use case. You discard biological sex and similar options for being “really wordy after a while”, but then you say it’s for a form where the word stands more or less alone on a page – so what while could you be after? You could also indicate options as a way of ‘type hinting’: Sex (m/f) is reasonably common, though it does limit the choice to just two. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 20 at 23:21
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    @Seph Reed: Your objections are purely because you think this precise and useful scientific term is obscene. IMO, you need an alternative to the word “sex” because you have a convoluted understanding of that word. – mRotten Aug 21 at 5:44
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    @SephReed I’ve told you that your understanding of the word “sex” is convoluted. That is a valid criticism in this forum, so please try not to take it personally. It may not be the criticism you were expecting, and it’s your choice to heed or not, but it is a valid criticism in the forum you chose to ask your question. In which of my comments did I tell you how to live? – mRotten Aug 21 at 20:01

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]


I do not consider this a true answer, but it's at least something.

Because it appears there is currently no widely recognized solution to this problem, I propose an alternative:

Use "sexe" with the extra "e" to denote that you are not referring to coitus.

It's recognizable and it looks more like sexes than sexual. Obviously use of "sexe" should be kept out of legal work, or anything where serious laws and/or scrupulous eyes exits. But as something of a stopgap slang for anyone who can get away with it (in my case, I can use this in my code no problem), using "sexe" has been effective for me to have a clear, obviously defined term relating to biological sex without it feeling too made up.

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    First, "sexe" isn't an English word. Also, I would read that and pronounce it "sexy", and maybe interpret it as a misspelling of the same, so whoever you're worried about offending might be more confused. Also, I write code for genetics work, and I use the word "sex" in my code. I sometimes even capitalize it ("SEX") as column labels in pandas DFs and SQL DBs. – mRotten Aug 20 at 21:00
  • "First, sexe isn't an English word." You're being obtuse. Written above: "stopgap slang." – Seph Reed Aug 20 at 21:45
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    Absolutely an opinion, but I'm sort of over words that end in silent "e" for non-historic, clearly heady, and arbitrary reasons. Can we not promote this? If I have to see Smarte Carte one more time... – psosuna Aug 20 at 22:22
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    I too would read this as either sexy (as mRotten) or French. Both would perplex me. If using sex is not a good solution, I cannot think of any context where this would not be much worse. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 20 at 23:14
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    @Seph Reed - You argued that “it’s recognizable”. It is not. It’s literally not an accepted English word, so there is no accepted meaning, so your interpretation may not be mine. Furthermore, every link on the first page of hits in google for “sexe” is a porn site. Just because you’re not getting the answer you hoped for doesn’t mean I’m being obtuse. – mRotten Aug 21 at 4:22

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