On forms and sex


If you inevitably need to ask your users about their sex to make your product work, you should:

  • Put the female option first.
  • Group the options as Sex.

This is a rather sensitive topic, so I just want to point out a few tips.

Form fields

First of all, keep in mind it's best to ask as little questions as possible to provide your service.

We've all seen it. You're signing up for any Internet service/product and there they are: all those apparently-useless-for-using-the-product compulsory fields to complete your account. Of course, one of those fields is usually "Sex", or "Gender".

Why do they need to know this? The answer for most of the cases is "data".

Facebook asks for... whatever, just choose one

Facebook (visit it in a private tab, since you most probably will already have an account) directly asks you to choose your... Well, just choose "Female" or "Male". It's not really clear what they're asking because the form is missing a group label. OK, "It's implicit they're asking for your sex." you may think; but implicit makes things unclear. There's even a funny detail in their sign up form: they explain why they bother you by asking your birthday, but no reasons for asking your "whatever".

Their options are:

  • Female
  • Male

Google asks for gender

Google accounts (remember, private tab), on the other hand, makes explicit what they ask for: "Gender". I thought the folks at Google would be more concerned about these kind of data and its labeling. I'll explain this later.

Their options are:

  • Female
  • Male
  • Other
  • Rather not say

If "rather not say" is an option, why bother asking?

Microsoft asks for gender

Like Google, Microsoft's Outlook signup (you might also need a private tab for this) relies in the term Gender but their options are fewer and unclear:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Not specified

This later option is a bit confusing as it might refer to "I don't want to share that kind of information" or "third sex / intersexual". I want to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, but I think they're offering the "not share" option.

Sex and gender

People often use indistinctly "sex" or "gender" to refer to one's genitalia (eg. Google). Although there is no consensus about labelling or even differentiation, sex is commonly used for describing biological sex (female, male, or rarely intersexual individuals); while gender is used to cultural behaviour related to sex.

While most people are born either male or female (biological sex), they are taught appropriate behaviours for males and females (gender norms) – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and workplaces (gender relations) and which functions or responsibilities they should assume in society (gender roles).

Why ask that information at all?

There are really few scenarios where there's an actual justification for asking that kind of sensitive –even dangerous, depending on the country– information. Identification/medical products are one of those rare cases, because some services can depend on it.

Which should go first? Female? Male?

While I was designing a identity-related form I had to include a Sex field. I asked myself which option ought to go first. I thought of putting female out of feminism. But I decided to investigate and gladly found that female should go first indeed.

The reason is that according to the UN, sex parity is a worldwide fact. Actually, there are more males than females in the whole world.

Total population: 7.550 M

Male population: 3.808 M

Female population: 3.741 M

This situation might be related to cultural traditions in Asia, since it's the only continent where there are more males than females.

But. In most countries, the female population is slightly bigger. And this trend becomes stronger at 25 years old population.

If you live and work outside the Asian market, you probably develop products or services for these same countries. So, if you work in a product or service not sex/gender oriented, given that most products and services are offered to adults, you will statistically have more female than male users.