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Words Matter: Sex and Gender

The current featured article in ANS is titled “Words Matter: Sex and Gender as Unique Variables in Research” authored by John R. Blakeman, MSN, RN, PCCN-K, who completed his PhD degree earlier this year! Download this article at no cost while it is featured – it is accredited for Continuing Education and you can access the CE test on the ANS website to receive credit! Here is a message from Dr. Blakeman about this work:

The impetus for this paper can be traced back to a conversation I had with several of my friends about two and a half years ago, when I was still a PhD student.  We were all sitting around a campfire and discussing a wide array of topics.  At one point during the conversation, a friend of mine noted that she was excited to be attending a “gender reveal party” for one of her friends the following weekend.  At that point, another friend asked, “I wonder why they call them ‘gender’ reveal parties and not ‘sex’ reveal parties, since we find out the baby’s sex and not their gender?”  And that is when the conversation became very interesting  What followed was confusion and division among the group.  

Some of us had a solid understanding of the differences between sex and gender – the idea that biologic sex is really about the 23rd chromosome’s configuration and that gender is socially constructed and variable from society to society.  However, others viewed and used the terms sex and gender interchangeably.  We debated the necessity of these two terms and the importance of distinguishing them.  A few of my friends even admitted that they preferred to use the term gender because it seemed less offensive than the word sex.

Of course, this discussion with my friends led me to develop this paper.  After I left the celebration that night, I began to think about the nursing literature.  How do nurses use the terms sex and gender?  Do we use these terms correctly?  Do we even give these two terms a second thought when designing a study?  As I read several journal articles, I realized that many authors had used the terms sex and gender synonymously and that there was not great clarity in the nursing literature.  As a result, I decided to write a paper that would specifically highlight this issue.

Indeed, measuring and operationalizing sex and gender can present a number of challenges as noted in the manuscript.  There are sometimes more questions than answers, and I certainly do not purport to have all of the answers.  However, I hope that this paper stimulates thought and critical reflection among nurse scientists.  This paper is meant to serve as an initial stimulus for discussion and action.  I hope that we, as nurse scientists, can continue to refine our thinking on this issue and do our best to incorporate these two variables precisely in the research and theoretical work that we conduct. 

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