Home > Analysing the Body > Determining Sex

Determining Sex

By: Jack Claridge - Updated: 24 Feb 2016 | comments*Discuss
Sex Skeleton Male Female Pathologist

Sometimes during the course of a criminal investigation and its subsequent autopsy the pathologist may find his or herself faced with the task of identifying the sex of a skeleton after decomposition.

Obviously before decomposition there are detailed differences between the form of a male or a female but once decomposition has taken a hold and carried out the unpleasant tasks that nature has intended, all that remains is the skeletal form with teeth and possibly some hair to work with.

Steps in Determination of Sex

Of course having teeth and hair does not always constitute enough material to make identification so the pathologist with perhaps the help of a forensic anthropologist will try to first of all work out what sex the skeleton was in life.

The determination of sex in skeletons is only possible once the male or female has reached adolescence or adulthood. Sexual dimorphism is slight in pre-adolescent children so this is a difficult task to perform if the skeleton is that of what might be a child.

A common way in which a pathologist and anthropologist might differentiate between male and female is quite simply bone size. This of course is not always accurate but for the most part male bones are larger in size to female bones and are so because of the addition muscle that may build up on the male body through adolescence and into adulthood.

The pelvis area is another good way of differentiating between the sexes. A female will have a larger sub-pubic angle to that of a man and this is obviously indicative of child bearing requirements in the female that are not required in the male of the species. This difference is noticeable across all species in nature where birth is from the womb. The male's sub-pubic area is less than ninety degrees whilst the female's is more.

The area around the pelvic inlet (in the middle of the pelvic bone) is larger in females than in men again with relevance to child bearing. The skeleton of a female who has given birth will be identifiable by the fact that this space will have widened upon the birth of a child and although it will contract it will not contract fully back to its original size.

Body Part Clues

The acetabulum - the socket in the pelvis, which is used to secure the head of the femur - is larger in males than in females.

Another area of the body in which the difference between males and females can be identified during the examination of a skeleton is the head and skull.There are several characteristics that are visible different in the male and female skull and they are:

  • The chin is squarer in the skull of a man than that of a woman, who will tend to have a slightly more pointed chin
  • The forehead of the male will slant backwards where again with a female it will be slightly more rounded
  • Males seem to have a brow ridges whereas females do not.
All in all there are plenty of differences between the male and female skeleton and if the pathologist and anthropologist have a complete skeleton to work from they should be able to make a positive determination as to the sex of the deceased before they died.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
[Add a Comment]
mtDNA and Y-STR profiling can determine sex from DNA from recovered bones, teeth, hair shaft etc.
fimiaow - 2-Feb-16 @ 8:55 AM
@yoloswagcraay : That is a very crude way of looking at things, and may not even work if there is only a skeleton. We are looking at the fine art of forensics, not a tirade without correct spelling or words longer than "there".
MrsManners - 31-Jan-16 @ 6:08 AM
Can an autopsy show whether a woman has given birth more than once?
LSN80 - 25-Aug-14 @ 9:02 PM
say only a skull is found and its a very muscular female but they dont know that. is there a way to tell where the muscle meets the skull in the back of the head or is that only one of the ways to confirm it?also behind the jaw over the external ear is the extended zagamatic arc a male or female sign?
thatonechica - 5-Nov-13 @ 1:13 AM
yo der just look down there an if dey have stick they da boy if dey hav hole dey are de gurl yeeee
yoloswagcraay - 19-Mar-13 @ 2:23 PM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Kaka
    Re: Processing Rape Evidence
    I am falsely implicated in rape case by my sister in law All the investigation is negative All medical reports are negative. Please…
    1 May 2016
  • Stinking Man
    Re: What is a Pathologist?
    I moved into a horrific, poorly kept inn/hotel. I lived in a single room. Just a room with a bathroom and a window. I could not handle the…
    1 May 2016
  • Eguerra89
    Re: Performing an Autopsy
    Hi, My father passed away almost two years ago and it was an unexpected death at home so they conducted a autopsy on him however they…
    30 April 2016
  • Adaughtermissingherm
    Re: Asphyxiation
    In 2002 my mother died. It was ruled a suicide. However I know in my heart her very scary boyfriend had something to do with it. Things aren't making…
    30 April 2016
  • JECA
    Re: Exhuming a Corpse For Forensic Analysis
    My mother was poisonend with fungicides (pesticid) for tomato about year ago i found out now , now i want to do…
    29 April 2016
  • FAFA
    Re: Blunt Force Trauma
    Hi Forensics, At 54 I have sustained a long history of injuries from child abuse, and elsewhere, many concussions and multiple head fractures,…
    29 April 2016
  • staci
    Re: The Four Manners of Death
    About 9 weeks ago my brother was killed well that's what I feel he was at a bar and he acquired some drugs from a person he met at the…
    29 April 2016
  • truthteller
    Re: Forensic Cases: Colin Pitchfork, First Exoneration Through DNA
    If this website is going to make statements you could at least get your facts right!…
    28 April 2016
  • firechild17
    Re: Recording and Preserving the Crime Scene
    I am studying forensics...and I wanna know why is it important to record the scene?
    27 April 2016
  • Chip
    Re: Forensic Cases: Colin Pitchfork, First Exoneration Through DNA
    Never release this thing. He does not deserve the title of a man. When I was young…
    26 April 2016
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the ExploreForensics website. Please read our Disclaimer.