Decades of research have shown that sex is far more complex than we may think. And though sex differences in sports show advantages for men, researchers today still don’t know how much of this to attribute to biological difference versus the lack of support provided to women athletes to reach their highest potential. “Science is increasingly showing how sex is dynamic; it has multiple aspects and also shifts; for example, social experiences can actually change levels of sex-related hormones like testosterone in our bodies in a second-to-second and month-to-month way!” Sari van Anders, the research chair in social neuroendocrinology at Queen’s University, in Ontario, told me by email. She said that this complexity means it doesn’t make sense to separate sports by sex in order to protect women athletes from getting hurt. “If safety was a concern, and there was evidence to select certain bodily characteristics to base safety cut-offs on, then you would see, say, shorter men excluded from competing with taller men, or lighter women from competing with heavier women, across sports.” We do see weight-class separation in boxing, rowing, and wrestling, yet it’s far from the norm across all sports, and isn’t typically seen as a method of integrating athletes of different sexes—though it could be. Old notions of sex as a marker of physical capability are changing, and more research is making clear that sex differences aren’t really clear at all.
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