At the same time as there is increasing awareness in medicine of the risks of exaggerating differences between men and women, there is a growing professional movement of ‘gender-specific medicine’ which is directed towards analysing ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ differences. The aim of this article is to empirically explore how the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are used in the new field of ‘gender-specific medicine’, as reflected in two medical journals which are foundational to this relatively new field.
The data consist of all articles from the first issue of each journal in 2004 and an issue published three years later (n = 43). In addition, all editorials over this period were included (n = 61). Quantitative and qualitative content analyses were undertaken by the authors.
Less than half of the 104 papers used the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Less than 1 in 10 papers attempted any definition of the concepts. Overall, the given definitions were simple, unspecific and created dualisms between men and women. Almost all papers which used the two concepts did so interchangeably, with any possible interplay between ‘sex’ and gender’ referred to only in six of the papers.
The use of the concepts of ‘sex’ and gender’ in ‘gender-specific medicine’ is conceptually muddled. The simple, dualistic and individualised use of these concepts increases the risk of essentialism and reductivist thinking. It therefore highlights the need to clarify the use of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in medical research and to develop more effective ways of conceptualising the interplay between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ in relation to different diseases.