Genetic tests can't reveal the sex of your baby – two genetic counselors explain the complexity of sex and gender

Best generally known as celebrations of pink and blue, cake and confetti, and the occasional forest fire, gender reveal parties are usually not only hits on social media, but additionally evidence of how society molds children into considered one of two predetermined gender categories even before they're born.

These parties are sometimes based on the ultrasound at 18 to twenty weeks, also generally known as Anatomy scan. This is the time during fetal development when the genitals often turn out to be visible and the word “boy” or “girl” could be secretly written on a bit of paper and placed in an envelope for the planned reveal.

Now there’s a brand new player within the gender reveal game: genetic screening.

Advances in genetic research have led to the event of an easy blood test called cell-free DNA prenatal screening This test checks whether a baby has extra or missing pieces of genetic information – chromosomes – as early as 10 weeks of pregnancy. This test also includes the sex chromosomes, also generally known as X and Y, which play a job within the body's development and performance.

Illustration of the human karyotype
Prenatal screening tests search for chromosomal abnormalities.
Anastasia Usenko/iStock via Getty Images Plus

This blood test is colloquially called noninvasive prenatal testing or NIPT. Many people confer with it as a “gender test.” But this blood test cannot determine the gender.

As genetic counselor And clinical researchers As we work to enhance genetic services for gender diverse and intersex people, we emphasize the importance of using precise and accurate language when discussing genetic testing. This is critical to offer empowering counseling to each patient in search of pregnancy-related genetic testing and to guard against the Extinction of transgender and intersex people within the healthcare system.

Differentiation of sex and sex chromosomes

“Sex” and “gender” are sometimes used synonymously, but they represent completely different concepts.

When people consider gender, they sometimes consider the categories of female or male. Most commonly, sex is decided by health professionals at birth based on the genitalia they observe within the newborn. Sex can be determined based on the X and Y chromosomes found on a genetic test. Typically, individuals with XX chromosomes are assigned the sex female at birth, and folks with XY chromosomes are assigned the sex male. Because prenatal screening using cell-free DNA (cfDNA) can reveal sex chromosomes months before birth, babies are being assigned their sex much sooner than was previously possible.

While prenatal cfDNA screening can provide details about an infant's possible sex chromosomes, sex determination is rather more complicated than simply determining X and Y.

On the one hand, sex chromosomes cannot accurately determine the gender of an individual. Other chromosomes, hormone receptors, neural pathways, reproductive organs, and environmental aspects also contribute to sex determination, very like an orchestra with its ensemble of instruments. Each cello, flute, timpani, and violin plays a vital role within the performance of the ultimate rating. There isn’t any single instrument that defines the whole lot of the symphony.

Expanding the social and medical concept of gender beyond binary might help patients and doctors.

Intersex people, or individuals with variations in sex characteristics that deviate from societal norms of binary sex, illustrate the complexity of gender. These variations can manifest in a wide range of ways beyond the X and Y chromosomes, reminiscent of differences in hormone levels, genitalia, or secondary sex characteristics.

The simplification of gender based on social norms has led many to imagine that there are only two different genders. The binary gender image excludes intersex people and perpetuates their Deletion and mistreatment each within the healthcare system and in society as an entire.

For example, many intersex people must undergo unnecessary surgeries, reminiscent of non-consensual genital surgery, to evolve to binary norms. Violation of their physical autonomy.

Where gender comes into play

While sex typically describes an individual's anatomical characteristics, gender is an umbrella term that encompasses the way in which someone sees themselves and presents themselves to the world. Countless points influence how someone defines their very own sex and the way the world sees their gender, including clothing, hairstyle, and tone of voice. Similar to Western cultures While society has historically limited gender to 2 categories, two gender categories have also emerged: man and woman.

Gender is not depending on anatomical parts or chromosomes. People are usually not mathematical equations, and certain mixtures of biological parts don’t imply an individual's gender. For example, some people could also be transgender, which implies that their assigned gender doesn’t match their societal or self-defined gender. Nonbinary people don’t discover exclusively with considered one of the 2 genders within the binary system, no matter their assigned gender.

Just like gender diversity, gender diversity just isn’t unusual. A 2022 evaluation by the Pew Research Center found that about 5% of adults In the US, everyone under 30 is transgender or nonbinary.

These estimates will probably increase as social awareness and acceptance of gender diverse people increases. Anti-transgender laws Gender is usually oversimplified and presented as strictly binary, confusing it solely with the sex assigned at birth.

Intersex and gender diverse people show that Sex and gender are each multidimensional. Gender just isn’t determined by biology alone and it’s mistaken to define an individual's sex based on their gender, let alone their sex chromosomes.

Questioning gender norms

The concept that biology plays the biggest role in determining a person’s personality, or bioessentialism, has misunderstandings about sex and gender for a few years. This concept is used to place people in boxes and restrict their self-determination.

For example, societal norms dictate that girls needs to be nurturing and delicate, while men are expected to be protective and assertive. Such rigid gender roles, often enforced from a biological perspective, serve to take care of notions of evolutionary destiny and a supposed natural order.

Doctor holding stethoscope on belly of pregnant person
If you assign a category to your child at birth, his or her ability to define himself or herself is proscribed.
Halfpoint Images/Moment via Getty Images

Marketing strategies for youngsters's toys often adhere strictly to gender roles and direct girls towards dolls and play sets, while boys towards motion figures and construction sets.

Education systems often reinforce Gender norms by directing girls towards subjects reminiscent of literature and art, while boys are directed towards science and math. This reinforces the concept that certain characteristics and interests are inextricably linked to an individual's gender, which reinforces societal norms and perpetuates inequality.

Maintaining binary constructs of sex and gender doesn’t allow for individuality and gender fluidity. Categorizing people from the moment their chromosomes are analyzed or the moment their genitals are observed at birth limits their autonomy and authenticity. These easy assumptions create expectations that could be harmful.

Let children define themselves

If you, as a mother, are offered prenatal cfDNA screening while pregnant, do not forget that it is only one instrument within the orchestra of gender. It cannot examine all the opposite aspects that determine gender as an entire. And it definitely cannot determine gender, which is a very different concerto.

In recent years, Jenna Karvunidisthe mom credited with inventing gender reveal parties shared her regrets about starting the trend, noting that her views on sex and gender have modified. In a 2019 Facebook post, Karvunidis wrote: “PLOT TURN. The world's first gender reveal party baby is a girl who wears suits!” She also had spread the word“Celebrate the baby… Let’s just have some cake.”

As the envelope is opened, the balloons popped, and the flowery cake cut, consider how these practices perpetuate social constraints and a gendered destiny on your little bundle of joy. Perhaps simply go for a celebration that leaves room on your child to at some point define who they’re.

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