Sex/Gender sensitivity
What is sex/gender sensitivity?

Our understanding of the importance of sex/gender for health is still in its infancy. This is partially due to the complexity and diversity of sex/gender itself. On the other hand, we face major challenges in explaining the connections between sex/gender and health. For example, it is not fully understood what role society, the individual and biology play in the development of health differences between sexes/genders and how these factors interact with each other. Sex/gender sensitivity thus means taking into account social and biological dimensions of sex/gender in their complexity in order to enable a deep and nuanced understanding of the influence of different aspects of sex/gender on health.

How can sex/gender sensitivity be achieved?

Sex/gender sensitivity can only be achieved if diverse sex/gender aspects are included in all phases of the research process: from the formulation of the research question, the choice of the study design, the recruitment of participants and the methods of data analysis, to the interpretation and communication of the results. Currently, the social, cultural and structural aspects of sex/gender in particular are insufficiently taken into account in health research. Results from a sex/gender-sensitive research process could provide the basis for sex/gender-sensitive health reporting, with the goal of making the health situation of all sexes/genders visible and thus contributing to sex/gender-sensitive health care. 

To ensure there is a foundation for considering the complex social and biological dimensions of sex/gender in the research process, including their interactions, concepts from gender theory should be applied. AdvanceGender focuses on the theoretical concept of intersectionality to provide the basis for a more comprehensive understanding of sex/gender. In addition, options for integrating other key concepts from gender theory, such as gender equality and gender equity, are described. These theoretical approaches always take an intersectional perspective in order to consider the interconnectedness of sex/gender with other dimensions of social inequality, such as socio-economic status or ethnicity.

What is gender bias?

Gender bias can occur when individual dimensions of sex/gender are ignored or significant connections between gender and health are overlooked. As a result, false conclusions can be drawn about the health situation of the sexes and about possible causes of health inequalities. For this reason, sex/gender sensitivity is considered a quality criterion for health research. Sex/gender-sensitive research aims to avoid gender bias through a comprehensive and multidimensional understanding of sex/gender.

Example: Gender bias in health research

Further resources

  • Jahn I, Bornhorst C, Gunther F, Brand T. Examples of sex/gender sensitivity in epidemiological research: results of an evaluation of original articles published in JECH 2006-2014. Health Res Policy Syst. 2017;15(1):11.
  • Jahn I, Gansefort D, Kindler-Röhrborn A, Pfleiderer B. Geschlechtersensible Forschung in Epidemiologie und Medizin: Wie kann das erreicht werden? Bundesgesundheitsblatt - Gesundheitsforschung - Gesundheitsschutz. 2014;57(9):1038-46.
  • Ruiz-Cantero MT, Vives-Cases C, Artazcoz L, Delgado A, García Calvente MM, Miqueo C, et al. A framework to analyse gender bias in epidemiological research. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2007;61 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):ii46-53.
  • Nieuwenhoven L, Klinge I. Scientific excellence in applying sex-and gender-sensitive methods in biomedical and health research. J Women Health. 2010;19(2):313-21.