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Are there more than 2 sexes?


WillyWehr
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When in science we assign categories the big question is always what makes sense (aka is it useful?) and to some degree how close do categories reflect reality.

For example using categorical variables to assign size (e.g. small, medium, large) has obviously some uses (e.g. for certain clothing) but clearly does not capture the complexity of height ranges in humans.

So OP is kind of asking how close the common two categories reflect nature. To answer this question it is obviously necessary to collect data and then decide whether there are categories that reflect that data. I.e. we cannot start of with the assumption that there are only e.g. three categories and then try to squeeze everything into it. If we were to do that, I could make the argument that there are only three heights in humans.

So now take a look at potential classifiers and to keep things simple let's stick with humans. One potential way that has been mentioned is karyotyping. We just say that XY is male and XX is female. The issue is that more than those two karyotypes exist. 

While the number is low, we cannot just ignore them. They exist and therefore the classification does not reflect the entirety of biology. It covers well over 98% of all cases, however, and in many cases it is sufficient to use such a measure. But again, that is a category we make and it does not fully capture the complexity of nature.

There are other criteria one could make, such as looking at gonad tissue. But there are cases of chimerism where folks have both types of tissue. We can decide based on fully formed reproductive organs, but then it would include folks whose organs are not fully formed. We can decide based on function (e.g. childbirth) but that would exclude sterile folks. So fundamentally we can make categories that cover most, but clearly not all cases. So to answer the question are there more than 2 sexes, one would have to be very clear what one is really asking.

Have we (as humans) created more than two sexes as classifiers? That depends on the field I guess but quite often only two are used as main categories and then the term intersex is often used as a kind of catch-all for all other cases. If you are saying if nature has only two sexes, the answer is not really.

MigL, to answer your question, it depends a lot on what the researcher is looking for. If they want to look at genetic control of their sex, they could e.g. look at the expression of the main regulator gene and go from there. If group interactions are what folks are looking at, often the largest in the group is the dominant female and has altered behaviour. That being said, there are many cases where it might not be apparent (e.g. incomplete sex changes) and in these cases you can not really assign a sex trivially. E.g. you might have a fish that behaves like a female but is unable to produce eggs, for example. Or you can dissect the fish to look at the gonadal tissue, but again, it might be unclear. In other words, the researchers assign sex once sufficient parameters are fulfilled relevant to their work (on the tissue, functional organ and/or behavioural level) but they can get things wrong if the transition does not follow the expected route. 

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That is the mechanism by which this fish changes gender state, Stringy.
And researchers can tell when it changes from a male state, to a female state.
Presumably, they must have at least, one criterion for differentiating the male state from the female state.
And you are using this as an argument that there are no criteria to differentiate between male state and female state ???

 

I can agree with your above post CharonY.

There are two genders with varyng degrees of commmon characteristics.

Or didn't you mean to say that ?

Edited by MigL
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8 minutes ago, StringJunky said:

Here's the process.:

 

Finding Nemo could have been much more interesting...

 

They do use the opposite ZW system for their sexes too though not sure how that works out.

8 minutes ago, MigL said:

That is the mechanism by which this fish changes gender state, Stringy.
And researchers can tell when it changes from a male state, to a female state.
Presumably, they must have at least, one criterion for differentiating the male state from the female state.
And you are using this as an argument that there are no criteria to differentiate between male state and female state ???

 

I can agree with your above post CharonY.

There are two genders with varyng degrees of commmon characteristics.

Or didn't you mean to say that ?

Best definition is based on type of gametes produced. Even that is bit dubious though. You're not actually restricted as long necessary code exists or relevant hormones.

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57 minutes ago, MigL said:

BTW grade 11 level Biology, for me

I picture you right now holding a wooden cube in one hand and a hammer in the other. Below you is a hole slightly smaller than the cube and the hole is shaped like a circle.

You’re tenaciously pounding away trying to smush the cube into the hole with your hammer, scraping the sides and causing dirt to displace everywhere… and all the while you’re mocking everyone else who attempts to clarify for you that your cube doesn’t actually fit there.

More than that, you’re being told where it DOES fit yet you’re plugging your ears and closing your eyes to this information… the information highlighting that there’s a square hole right beside you ready to perfectly receive your cube like a glove awaiting a hand. 

Edited by iNow
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18 minutes ago, MigL said:

Nope.
I stopped taking wood shop in grade 9.

 

:)  Is a photon a wave or a particle? It depends how you measure it. Is a  clownfish male or female? It depends (probably) when you measure it. You don't have any problem with the former, do you?

@Endy0816 Yes, it would have added a new dimension to the movie.

Edited by StringJunky
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1 hour ago, MigL said:

There are two genders with varyng degrees of commmon characteristics.

You got it backwards. Depending on which characteristic you use, you there will be a subpopulation which you could assign to either category, if you only use two. I.e. if you use karyotype, clownsfish have only one sex. If you use behavioral cues you can to some degree of accuracy say that the those that do more of the behaviour of males are males and those that fit female behaviour are female. But if you look at a hundred females assigned that way, 99 might have female gonads, but 1 might still have retained male ones. You might find a couple that still have both characteristics and so on. So in other words, if everything has to fit two categories, you can make them, but it does not mean that those reflect nature.

 

And as a side note, in science lingo, gender and sex are two different (but related things) things. 

54 minutes ago, StringJunky said:

:)  Is a photon a wave or a particle? It depends how you measure it. Is a  clownfish male or female? It depends (probably) when you measure it. You don't have any problem with the former, do you?

@Endy0816 Yes, it would have added a new dimension to the movie.

Exactly. And also the photon does not care either way, it is just what it is. The categories are basically made by an observer, not by the photon itself, if that makes any sense.

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15 minutes ago, CharonY said:

You got it backwards. Depending on which characteristic you use, you there will be a subpopulation which you could assign to either category, if you only use two. I.e. if you use karyotype, clownsfish have only one sex. If you use behavioral cues you can to some degree of accuracy say that the those that do more of the behaviour of males are males and those that fit female behaviour are female. But if you look at a hundred females assigned that way, 99 might have female gonads, but 1 might still have retained male ones. You might find a couple that still have both characteristics and so on. So in other words, if everything has to fit two categories, you can make them, but it does not mean that those reflect nature.

 

And as a side note, in science lingo, gender and sex are two different (but related things) things. 

Exactly. And also the photon does not care either way, it is just what it is. The categories are basically made by an observer, not by the photon itself, if that makes any sense.

Yes. We have preset frameworks stored in our minds and we try to fit things to them, like the 'square peg in round hole' analogy iNow mentioned earlier.

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1 hour ago, StringJunky said:

Is a photon a wave or a particle? It depends how you measure it. Is a  clownfish male or female? It depends (probably) when you measure it.

A photon is neither, but can display either behaviour when you 'look' for it.
A clownfish is not probabilistic; there is no Heisenberg Fishing Principle.
It is either male, female, or varying degrees of in-between.

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9 minutes ago, MigL said:

It is either male, female, or varying degrees of in-between.

Well, do you call a clownfish then that shows both traits? Male with female characteristics of female with male characteristics? What would be the difference? And also you do realize that if you call it either you make a judgment call?

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That's what it boils down to in the end in so many of these discussions. What word do YOU think is appropriate. The facts don't change, but the view of each person is different. 

It's like having two pigments. Black and white. But you can have various combinations. You can argue all you like about what to call this or that shade of grey. But grey will never be a pigment itself. Only a blend of the two pigments, black and white.

But even Hermaphrodites wouldn't qualify as a sex in my book. They are an organism that carries both sexes. ie, a combination of the two sexes, not a third sex. Like a flower that has both pollen and eggs. Still two sexes, male and female parts, not threemale.  

No human has ever produced both sperm and eggs as far as I know, so we don't even venture down the hermaphrodite road. 

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So whats the answer, how many are there and what are their traits and definitions? Our 5 year old son asked the other day if hes going to have a kind some day and I want to give him a comprehensive answer and keep the narrative simple for now.

Edited by koti
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19 hours ago, swansont said:

So menopause is where a female becomes male? Puberty is the opposite? A hysterectomy or tubal ligation is a sex change?

No, of course not you know full well this was not what I meant, you are just being pedantic. 

16 hours ago, iNow said:

By this definition, those who are infertile and post-menopausal aren't women. . 

Yeah which is why I stated in my post that you conveniently left out in your quote. - Based on design, structure and mechanics. 

I understand and accept that at a technical level where chromosomes vary and all the other subtle changes, differences show up etc... the definition between male and females gets very muddy. Not unlike most things in nature as we probe deeper into the workings of the universe. 

So where do we draw the line on definitions? At what point do we consider the actual differences to define the terms?

I may say a snow is white, you may correct me and say, actually each flake is transparent but is perceived as white due to the way the crystals that form the snow flake reflect the light. Technically you would be correct, generally though snow is accepted and defined as white. 

Why do we define the sexes as binary, then argue that this is not the case?

My point was that generally speaking a human male and female differ because one is designed to bear offspring and the other isn't. I couldn't think of any simpler explanation of how we could define the differences without going too deep into the muddy waters.    

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3 hours ago, koti said:

So whats the answer, how many are there and what are their traits and definitions? Our 5 year old son asked the other day if hes going to have a kind some day and I want to give him a comprehensive answer and keep the narrative simple for now.

The answer depends on what you want to convey. Two sexes is sufficiently simple narrative, like the sun is yellow or the sky is blue. It is an operating framework that works, but if you ask scientifically, you know it is a simplification.

3 hours ago, Intoscience said:

No, of course not you know full well this was not what I meant, you are just being pedantic. 

Yeah which is why I stated in my post that you conveniently left out in your quote. - Based on design, structure and mechanics. 

I understand and accept that at a technical level where chromosomes vary and all the other subtle changes, differences show up etc... the definition between male and females gets very muddy. Not unlike most things in nature as we probe deeper into the workings of the universe. 

So where do we draw the line on definitions? At what point do we consider the actual differences to define the terms?

I may say a snow is white, you may correct me and say, actually each flake is transparent but is perceived as white due to the way the crystals that form the snow flake reflect the light. Technically you would be correct, generally though snow is accepted and defined as white. 

Why do we define the sexes as binary, then argue that this is not the case?

My point was that generally speaking a human male and female differ because one is designed to bear offspring and the other isn't. I couldn't think of any simpler explanation of how we could define the differences without going too deep into the muddy waters.    

As mentioned before, it is all about context. You know, all models are wrong, some are useful. The karyotype definition covers about 98% of all cases and that will often suffice. Unless of course you want to focus on the remaining few percentages, at which it becomes iffy.

The design argument is problematic as an ability becomes the defining factor and any form of sterility makes it complicated. You then again have to override the definition to fit certain folks in.

We have generally accepted definitions, but as you mentioned, if we look at them in more detail, it is clear that classifications are all constructs. It does not mean that we should abandon them. However, when dealing with nature scientifically, we should not confuse them with reality, either. 

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1 hour ago, CharonY said:

We have generally accepted definitions, but as you mentioned, if we look at them in more detail, it is clear that classifications are all constructs. It does not mean that we should abandon them. However, when dealing with nature scientifically, we should not confuse them with reality, either. 

+1

Yes and this can make arguments difficult especially if the context is not clear. My attempt on this subject was to define the sexes with a basic generally accepted construct. I certainly wouldn't argue with experts like yourself on the technical details at levels that go beyond my understanding.

 

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2 hours ago, CharonY said:

The answer depends on what you want to convey. Two sexes is sufficiently simple narrative, like the sun is yellow or the sky is blue. It is an operating framework that works, but if you ask scientifically, you know it is a simplification.

I misspelled „kid” in my previous post. Our 5 year old asked us recently if hes going to have a kid one day like Mommy had him in the tummy. Do you think we should tell him its complicated? 

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6 hours ago, Intoscience said:

So where do we draw the line on definitions?

Probably at the point where we acknowledge it’s entirely inaccurate and long outdated to continue obstinately demanding that there are only two sexes. 

6 hours ago, Intoscience said:

Technically you would be correct [in context of snowflake color]

Exactly, and the same applies here… yet here we are in a thread where a sizable percentage of participants are refusing to move off their position which is functionally equivalent to demanding that ‘ALL snowflakes are the EXACT same color!!!’

Edited by iNow
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16 minutes ago, koti said:

I misspelled „kid” in my previous post. Our 5 year old asked us recently if hes going to have a kid one day like Mommy had him in the tummy. Do you think we should tell him its complicated? 

Tell him a story that he's capable of understanding and accepting, that can be explained further as his comprehension improves, thus building his pyramid of knowledge; who cares if the foundation of his knowledge contains a story about storks or fairy's. 

Edited by dimreepr
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9 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

Tell him a story that he's capable of understanding and accepting, that can be explained further as his comprehension improves, thus building his pyramid of knowledge; who cares if the foundation of his knowledge contains a story about storks or fairy's. 

So you think I shouldn’t explain for now and leave him hanging with the notion that he might have a child one day in his tummy like Mommy or should we explain to him that girls get to have kids in their tummies and boys don’t? 
 

Edited by koti
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2 minutes ago, koti said:

So you think I shouldn’t explain for now and leave him hanging with the notion that he might have a child one day in his tummy like Mommy or should we explain to him that girls get to have kids in their tummies and boys don’t? 
 

Strawman much?

Also, by the way… he technically could. A male pregnancy is certainly possible by having an embryo implanted into the man's abdomen. It would be ectopic with the placenta attached to an internal organ such as the bowel and later delivered surgically.

So YET AGAIN your argument crumbles under even the most basic scrutiny.

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I think that at 5 years of age, the mechanics of reproduction is not a matter of urgency. By the time it is, he may be able to,  he may not want to, he may be happier if somebody else carries the baby for him, or the world may have changed so much that nobody wants to bring kids into it. So, the correct answer (as it so often) is: "Maybe. I don't know."

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42 minutes ago, iNow said:

Strawman much?

Also, by the way… he technically could. A male pregnancy is certainly possible by having an embryo implanted into the man's abdomen. It would be ectopic with the placenta attached to an internal organ such as the bowel and later delivered surgically.

So YET AGAIN your argument crumbles under even the most basic scrutiny.

I have no argument.
So you would suggest I explain to my 5 year that he could have a child in his tummy? 

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11 minutes ago, koti said:

I have no argument.
So you would suggest I explain to my 5 year that he could have a child in his tummy? 

I would suggest you tell your child, to play on the swings; while the grown-ups have a conversation. 

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