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Sex Determination in Humans

In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins.

In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins.

Format: Articles

Subject: Processes, Processes

Biological Sex and Gender in the United States

In the United States, most people are assigned both a biological sex and gender at birth based on their chromosomes and reproductive organs. However, there is an important distinction between biological sex and gender. Biological sex, such as male, female, or intersex, commonly refers to physical characteristics. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, and actions people take on, usually in relation to expectations of masculinity or femininity. As of 2022, there is disagreement over the relation between sex and gender.

Format: Articles

Subject: Organizations, People, Processes, Ethics

Plowman v. Fort Madison Community Hospital (2017)

In June 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court decided the case Plowman v. Fort Madison Community Hospital, or Plowman v. FMCH, and ruled that women who gave birth to children with severe disabilities could sue for wrongful birth in Iowa. Specifically, after Plowman v. FMCH, a woman could sue for wrongful birth if she believed that her physicians failed to disclose evidence of fetal abnormalities that may have prompted her to terminate the pregnancy.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal

The Shettles Method of Sex Selection

In the 1960s in the United States Landrum B. Shettles developed the Shettles method, which is a procedure for couples to use prior to and during an intercourse to increase their chances of conceiving a fetus of their desired sex. Shettles, a physician, who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, found a difference in the size and shape of male sperm cells that he correlated with the different sex chromosomes they carry.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies, Reproduction

Sex in a Cold Climate (1998)

In 1998, Testimony Films released the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate, which reported the true stories of four survivors from the Magdalene asylums in Ireland in the twentieth century. Magdalene asylums, also called Magdalene laundries and homes, were institutions of the Catholic Church that sought to reform women engaged in prostitution and those who birthed children out of wedlock by forcing the women to do hard labor.

Format: Articles

Subject: Outreach, Publications

The Sex Side of Life (1919) by Mary Ware Dennett

Mary Ware Dennett, an activist in the US for birth control and sex education in the early twentieth century, wrote an educational pamphlet in 1915 called “The Sex Side of Life, and it was published in 1919. The pamphlet defined the functions of the sex organs, emphasized the role of love and pleasure in sex, and described other sexual processes of the body not usually discussed openly.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Thesis: Human Preconception Sex Selection: Informing the Public of Sex Selection Methods and Ethical Considerations

By questioning methods of sex selection since their early development, and often discovering that they are unreliable, scientists have increased the creative and technological capacity of the field of reproductive health. The presentation of these methods to the public, via published books on timing methods and company websites for sperm sorting, increased interest in, and influence of, sex selection within the global society.

Format: Essays and Theses

Subject: Technologies, Ethics

“Chapter Two: Minimum Initial Services Package (MISP)” in Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations: An Inter-agency Field Manual (1999), by the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises

In 1999, the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises, hereafter the IAWG, wrote the Minimum Initial Services Package, hereafter MISP, which is the second chapter in Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations: An Inter-agency Field Manual. The IAWG wrote MISP for governments and agencies, who respond to humanitarian crises, as a guide for the provision of reproductive health services at the beginning of a humanitarian crises.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

“The Social and Psychological Impact of Endometriosis on Women’s Lives: A Critical Narrative Review” (2013), by Lorraine Culley, Caroline Law, Nicky Hudson, Elaine Denny, Helene Mitchell, Miriam Baumgarten, and Nicholas Raine-Fenning

In “The Social and Psychological Impact of Endometriosis on Women’s Lives: A Critical Narrative Review,” hereafter “Social and Psychological Impact of Endometriosis,” authors Lorraine Culley, Caroline Law, Nicky Hudson, Elaine Denny, Helene Mitchell, Miriam Baumgarten, and Nicholas Raine-Fenning review the extent at which endometriosis results in a negative quality of life for affected women.

Format: Articles

Subject: Reproduction, Disorders, Publications

“Abstinence Education: Assessing the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs” (2008), by Government Accountability Office

On 23 April 2008, the US Government Accountability Office, or GAO, released a report titled, “Abstinence Education: Assessing the Accuracy and Effectiveness of Federally Funded Programs,” hereafter “Abstinence Education,” in which it investigated the scientific accuracy and effectiveness of abstinence-only education programs sanctioned by individual states and the US Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS. GAO is a government agency whose role is to examine the use of public funds, evaluate federal programs and activities, and provide nonpartisan support to the US Congress.

Format: Articles

Subject: Legal, Reproduction, Publications

“Sources of Human Psychological Differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart” (1990), by Thomas J. Bouchard Jr, David T. Lykken, Matthew McGue, Nancy L. Segal and Auke Tellegen

In 1990, Thomas J. Bouchard and his colleagues published the paper “Sources of Human Psychological Differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart” in Science Magazine. The paper described the results of a study initiated in 1979 on the development of twins raised in different environments. The scientists conducted their experiment at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The researchers physiologically and psychologically assessed monozygotic twins or triplets who were reared apart, comparing the similarity of those twins to twins who were reared together.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Your Baby’s Sex: Now You Can Choose (1970), by David M. Rorvik and Landrum B. Shettles

In the book Your Baby’s Sex: Now You Can Choose, David Michael Rorvik and Landrum Brewer Shettles describe methods that couples can use prior to and during conception that will increase the chances of producing a child of their desired sex. Rorvik, a science writer, and Shettles, an obstetrics and gynecology researcher and physician, co-wrote the book. Shettles developed the methods detailed in the book during the 1960s. Although the authors claim a high success rate, some researchers have contested the validity of the methods proposed in Your Baby’s Sex: Now You Can Choose.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Frank Rattray Lillie's Study of Freemartins (1914-1920)

Frank Rattray Lillie's research on freemartins from 1914 to 1920 in the US led to the theory that hormones partly caused for sex differentiation in mammals. Although sometimes applied to sheep, goats, and pigs, the term freemartin most often refers to a sterile cow that has external female genitalia and internal male gonads and was born with a normal male twin.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments

“The Emergence of Developmental Psychopathology” (1984), by Dante Cicchetti

In 1984, Dante Cicchetti published “The Emergence of Developmental Psychopathology,” an article in which he argued that the previously amorphous study of developmental psychopathology was emerging as a unified discipline. According to Cicchetti, developmental psychopathology describes an interdisciplinary field that studies abnormalities in psychological function that can arise during human development.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (1998), by Alice Domurat Dreger

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, by historian of science Alice Domurat Dreger, was published in 1998 by Harvard University Press. In the book, Dreger describes how many doctors and scientists treated human hermaphrodites from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. She states that during this time period, many physicians and scientists struggled to determine the nature sex, and to support a classification of sex as male or female, many physicians and scientists resorted to viewing a person's gonads for identification of his or her sex.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Theories, Disorders

Menstrupedia Comic: The Friendly Guide to Periods for Girls (2014), by Aditi Gupta, Tuhin Paul, and Rajat Mittal

Menstrupedia published the comic book Menstrupedia Comic: The Friendly Guide to Periods for Girls, hereafter Menstrupedia Comic, in July 2014 in India. Aditi Gupta, the founder of Menstrupedia and a women’s health activist, wrote Menstrupedia Comic while studying at the National Institute of Design in Gujarat, India, in 2013. Gupta worked alongside her husband, graphic designer Tuhin Paul, who provided the illustrations for the book. According to Menstrupedia, misconceptions and taboo surrounding menstruation in India prompted Gupta to develop the book.

Format: Articles

Subject: Publications, Reproduction, Outreach

Franz Josef Kallmann (1897–1965)

Franz Josef Kallmann studied the biological and genetic factors of psychological disorders in Germany and the United States in the twentieth century. His studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, New York, focused on the genetic factors that cause psychiatric disorders. Kallmann was one of the first to use twins to study how a mental disorder is passed on by comparing the occurrence of epilepsy and schizophrenia in both fraternal and identical twins.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

David Reimer and John Money Gender Reassignment Controversy: The John/Joan Case

In the mid-1960s, psychologist John Money encouraged the gender reassignment of David Reimer, who was born a biological male but suffered irreparable damage to his penis as an infant. Born in 1965 as Bruce Reimer, his penis was irreparably damaged during infancy due to a failed circumcision. After encouragement from Money, Reimer’s parents decided to raise Reimer as a girl. Reimer underwent surgery as an infant to construct rudimentary female genitals, and was given female hormones during puberty.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories

“Sex Limited Inheritance in Drosophila” (1910), by Thomas Hunt Morgan

In 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan performed an experiment at Columbia University, in New York City, New York, that helped identify the role chromosomes play in heredity. That year, Morgan was breeding Drosophila, or fruit flies. After observing thousands of fruit fly offspring with red eyes, he obtained one that had white eyes. Morgan began breeding the white-eyed mutant fly and found that in one generation of flies, the trait was only present in males.

Format: Articles

Subject: Experiments, Publications

“Annual Research Review: Prenatal Stress and the Origins of Psychopathology: An Evolutionary Perspective” (2011), by Vivette Glover

In 2011, fetal researcher Vivette Glover published “Annual Research Review: Prenatal Stress and the Origins of Psychopathology: An Evolutionary Perspective,” hereafter, “Prenatal Stress and the Origins of Psychopathology,” in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. In that article, Glover explained how an evolutionary perspective may be useful in understanding the effects of fetal programming. Fetal programming is a hypothesis that attempts to explain how factors during pregnancy can affect fetuses after birth.

Format: Articles

Subject: Theories, Reproduction, Disorders

Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)

Henry Havelock Ellis was born on 2 February 1859 at Croydon in Surrey, England, to Susannah Wheatley Ellis and Edward Peppen Ellis, a sea captain. A psychologist, essayist, and physician, he is best known for his contributions to the study of human sexuality and his support of sex education and women's rights. Ellis 's work catalyzed the revolution against repressive Victorian views of sexuality.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

The Whelan Method of Sex Selection

The Whelan Method of Sex Selection is a method for increasing a couple’s probability of conceiving an infant of the desired sex through timing intercourse. Elizabeth Whelan, a public health researcher, suggested that couples only have intercourse at specific times during the woman’s menstrual cycle based on whether they wanted a female or male infant. Whelan published her method in her book, Boy or Girl, in 1977.

Format: Articles

Subject: Technologies

Eugen Steinach (1861–1944)

Eugen Steinach researched sex hormones and their effects on mammals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe. He experimented on rats by removing their testicles and implanting them elsewhere in their bodies, and he found that the testes interstitial cells produce male sex hormones. He developed the Steinach Rejuvenation Procedure, which he claimed could rejuvenate men by increasing their production of sex hormones. Steinach’s work on female sex hormones and on ovarian extracts led to the development of the first standardized injectable estrogen.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

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