About the time I was in college, there was this joke that used to do the rounds. It seems there was this one student, who when filling out some academic form, had in the column called ‘Sex’, written ‘Occasionally.’
As much as we found it funny back then, today, I wonder if that person would have even mistakenly answered with an ‘Occasionally’, had the column been called something more grammatically correct. In a country, where the word ‘Sex’ is already taboo, it is all the more imperative that we get this right.
Time and again, we are required to fill out forms. Although questions might differ depending on what we are filling out a form for, some questions such as name, address, contact details, etc. are fairly constant. Then, then is also another one, which is a constant, ‘Sex’ or ‘Gender’.
Obviously, the use of the word ‘Sex’ is incorrect. Government guidelines in the United Kingdom suggest that, barring usage in a medical context, the use of the word ‘Sex’ should be avoided when asking a person’s gender. The preferred word is ‘Gender’.
Americans find nothing wrong in using the word ‘Sex’, when asking a person’s gender and accuse the Brits of being prudes, who do not use it because they find it to be taboo. Grammatically speaking, I would side with the Brits.
‘Sex’ means ‘either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.’ ‘Gender’ on the contrary means ‘either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.
So the right word to use is ‘Gender’, unless the context is medical, in which case, using the word ‘Sex’ is perfectly fine.