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sex matters

Campaign for the right to choose single sex

The issues

There is a dizzyingly rapid shift taking place across the Western World towards mixing the sexes in all cases. Architects are changing the way they are designing buildings, policy-makers are changing the way they word policies and providers are changing their provision, all without public consultation or consent.

If in all cases the sexes continue to be mixed, then we will no longer have the choice to assert a personal boundary to be separate from the opposite sex and be in the company of only people of our own sex. This is a choice which many people do not want to lose for a number of reasons including their safety, privacy, dignity, inclusion, freedom, sanctuary, support and fellowship.

Furthermore, if in all cases the sexes continue to be mixed then we will not be able to gather data to assess or address sex inequality such as the pay gap, unequal political representation, different patterns of criminality and victimhood or to monitor and plan for health. This will be harmful for women because distorted statistics will give a distorted picture of actual real world inequality rooted in the biological and reproductive differences between women and men.

Although these changes are far-reaching, discussion and debate about them has so-far been stifled and unease is growing with the number of people and the number of concerns that are not openly given voice. 

In the U.K. we have Equality Law which protects single-sex spaces however it is misinterpreted because both 'sex' and 'gender reassignment' are protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. This is confusing and appears to be contradictory because, in common parlance and in written policies, the words 'sex' and 'gender' are often used interchangeably although they actually mean quite different things and have different political and practical significance.

Sex refers to the clear reproductive binary of ‘female’ and ‘male’ which characterises the majority of organisms, including humans, where reproduction is achieved by a large immobile gamete of the female sex uniting with a smaller mobile gamete of the male sex. Sex is not a ‘sliding scale’ where gametes become ‘more male’ or ‘more female’, gametes are simply one or the other. In mammals, either sex has unchanging biology from the chromosomes inside their every cell to their reproductive organs and physical role in producing young. This biological sex binary has clear, recognisable influences upon human bodies and human lives. The scale of these influences can be as small as the fact that only males need urinals and only females need menstrual bins, to a scale as large as the fact that only females can be discriminated against because of their ability to bear offspring or only males can die of untreated prostate cancer.

The use of the word gender originates in grammar where in some languages nouns are either ‘feminine’, ‘masculine’ or ‘neuter’. The associated adjectives ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’, unlike ‘female’ and ‘male’ in biology, describe a non-binary sliding scale of qualities with ‘neutral’ in the centre. Also unlike ‘female’ and ‘male’, these qualities are to some extent subjective and culturally relative and they can be applied to anything, from inanimate objects and abstract ideas to human bodies, human behaviours and human activities. Although what is meant by the qualities of ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ is loosely associated with female and male bodies and behaviours, these abstractions are actually stereotypes because most people of either sex do not neatly conform to them.

Unlike ‘sex', the word ‘gender’ has no basis in biology. This means that the increasing replacement of the word sex with gender in policy and practice, is a move away from consideration and protection of people according to biological sex and a move towards consideration and protection of people according to gender stereotypes. For example clothes shops are allowing ‘feminine’ males to use fitting rooms that females customers would expect to be single sex. Furthermore, unlike sex, gender is not a 'protected characteristic' in the Equalty Act, which also means that the increasing replacement of the word sex with gender in policy and practice is a move towards unsubstantiated belief and away from the law.

Many people do not feel comfortable without the choice for single-sex provision or with defining themselves by abstract, often stereotyping qualities of gender. Many people are concerned about the loss of legal protections rooted in their biological sex. Many people are worried about the implications of being unable to categorise by biological sex for the purposes of gathering data. For this reason we say sex matters and campaign for providers to invoke the Equality Act sex exemptions to let us have the right to choose single sex.

The principles

1. Single sex means all participants are the same sex and separate from the opposite sex.

2. The inclusion of even just one member of the opposite sex, means that for the duration of their participation, single sex ceases and instead becomes unisex inclusion.

3. Campaigning for the right and freedom to choose single sex is not a campaign to end unisex inclusion for those who prefer and choose it. We support a range of options.

4. Where unisex inclusion exists, but numbers of willing participants are low, those who choose and prefer single sex provision must not be forced into unisex inclusion.

The right to choose

For the right to choose how we define our own boundaries, we need the option of single-sex facilities, services and accommodation for privacy, safety and dignity where we are vulnerable such as when are in states of undress, tending to matters of puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage, birth, breastfeeding, other matters of primary and secondary sex function and health, or tending to matters of excretory organs.

We also need the option single-sex facilities when we are asleep or unconscious, or where we are conducting personal care, grooming or medical procedures, or any other situation where we are vulnerable to voyeurism, exhibitionism, sex assault or impregnation. This includes hospital wards, prisons, changing rooms, gyms, baths, personal care assistance, conveniences, school trips and shared overnight accommodation. 

We need the option to retreat from the opposite sex for same-sex support when we are being harassed, stalked, intimidated, threatened or are fleeing violence by a member of the opposite sex. This includes specific services such as Rape Crisis Centres and women's refuges as well as informal places such as women's conveniences.  

We need the choice of single-sex spaces for sanctuary, privacy and recovery where we can be confident we will be free from potential harassment, voyeurism, intrusion, domination or embarrassment by the opposite sex. We need the choice of single-sex spaces which allow for open discussion of personal issues, private engagement in intimate activities, informal same-sex support for victims of sex-based violence or oppression and enable those of us in fear of the opposite sex, or those with cultural restrictions, greater social participation.   

We need single-sex categories for fair competition in sports so that the clear advantages and disadvantages of chromosomal sex differences can be taken into account, enabling the increased participation of women and girls and avoid unnecessary severe injuries in contact sports. 

We need opportunities for single-sex learning, education and development because some children and adults thrive more in single-sexed education and recreational activities. This includes single-sex schools, Girl Guides and women and girls in STEM subjects.   

We need to be able to catagorise by sex so we can monitor and address sex differences relevant to health, education, employment, salaries, political representation, births, deaths and crime, so we can tailor sex-specific provisions and redress inequality. This includes health planning, analysing specific patterns of offending and victimisation and all-women shortlists.  

We can only exercise the right to choose when we have the category, the option and the provision for single sex.

Sex matters, it is not chosen and it cannot be changed.

The biological facts

Humans are a dimorphic species, meaning that we are born either male or female and human reproduction can only be achieved by the male and females gametes (sperm and ova) successfully uniting and growing in the womb and body of an adult female.

Being biologically male or female is determined by our sex chromosomes in our DNA within every cell of our body, shaping not just the reproductive system we are born with, but our bone structure, cardiovascular system and other biological factors, such as the risk of specific health problems.

Because the ‘blueprint’ of our sex chromosomes is in our DNA, our sex can be known through examining any of our cells, our blood, saliva, even our bones long after our death.

Rare chromosomal and gestational anomalies can cause some people to be born with ‘intersex’ conditions where the sex organs are ambiguous or not fully formed, which can compromise their reproductive capability.

These rare anomalies do not mean humans are not sexually dimorphic, just as rare anomalies in the development of the lower limbs do not mean humans are not a bipedal species.

Our biological sex was shaped by our chromosomes and DNA from our conception and it does not change from female to male or vice versa if our reproductive system is only partially functioning, or has been removed by surgery or lost by injury.

Our sex and reproductive organs are sexed. Female sex organs are the ovaries, uterus, vagina and vulva and the male sex organs are the testes, prostate, scrotum and penis, by definition, so there can be no such thing as a ‘female penis’ or a ‘male vagina’. 

Hormone blockers, cross sex hormones and cosmetic surgery can change the appearance and specific functioning of the sex organs, but does not result in a person changing biological sex.  

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We Are

A group of over 500 people (and growing) who came together on Mumsnet, although not all of us are parents, sharing the same concern that our rights and choices are being eroded as part of a cultural shift towards denying human biology on the part of decision-makers, businesses, services and the media.

We have views spanning the political spectrum. We come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. We include academics, scientists, doctors, social workers, teachers, lawyers, shop workers and stay at home parents. We are women and men including those who identify as trans.

We believe that sex matters.

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