Mpox (“em-pox”) is a disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox. It has also been called monkeypox. It is primarily transmitted from human to human through prolonged close physical contact, including sexual contact, though it is not currently categorized as a sexually transmitted infection. To refer to the populations seeing the largest numbers of mpox cases as of August 2022, some organizations suggest phrasing such as “men who have sex with men and those in their sexual networks,” which emphasizes behavior rather than identity. However, being as specific as possible about the population(s) being discussed may be helpful for clarity. Some scientists have criticized the name “monkeypox,” saying it is stigmatizing and has racist connotations; alternatives in use in some places beyond mpox include MPX, hMPX, and MPV. As with reporting on any disease or diagnosis, it’s important to keep people’s right to privacy in mind, and to consider whether disclosing someone’s diagnosis or vaccination status is truly necessary and relevant to coverage.
Sex assigned at birth (SAAB) is a term that refers to the sex label (e.g., male or female) an infant is assigned by doctors and/or parents at birth, based on biological and genetic factors like chromosomes and sexual anatomy. SAAB is not inherently connected to gender or gender identity, and the terms are not interchangeable. SAAB is also clearer than “biological sex,” which is scientifically imprecise and can be invalidating to trans and nonbinary people.
Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the default or “normal” sexual orientation, which in turn implies that any other sexual orientation is abnormal or unnatural. It also assumes that binary genders are the norm and that anything else is an aberration. To avoid perpetuating heteronormativity, it’s helpful to apply identifiers equally across all sources; for instance, if identifying someone as queer (when relevant), also identify someone as straight (when relevant).
While still common, gendered language can result in assumptions, stereotypes, and prescriptions around gender, including reinforcing the idea of a gender binary. Using gender-neutral terms whenever possible ensures language choice encompasses the whole population it could refer to (e.g., “server” instead of “waitress,” “parental leave” instead of “maternity leave”). Similarly, when referring to a person whose gender is unknown or unconfirmed, using the singular “they” rather than “he or she” avoids assuming someone’s gender or reinforcing a gender binary. Using gendered language when not relevant to a story can reinforce assumptions about gender or gender roles.
Passing is a term that identifies someone as able to “pass,” or be perceived as a member of a dominant group. In the context of gender and sexuality, this could mean, for one example, the ability of nonbinary and trans people with more conventional gender presentations to pass for cisgender. The ability to pass is often considered a privilege. It offers safety and access to opportunities that people who can’t pass don’t have. However, a person’s ability to pass does not erase their identity, nor should the ability to pass be used to invalidate their gender or sexual orientation.
Misogyny is a contempt for or ingrained prejudice against women and girls. Generally the adjective form, “misogynistic,” is more accurate to describe someone’s actions (e.g., “made misogynistic comments” instead of “is a misogynist”). It may be helpful to specify and define the particular type of misogyny being discussed (for instance, misogynoir is directed specifically toward Black women and girls, and transmisogyny is directed specifically at trans women and girls).
Rape culture is based on enduring gender inequities that normalizes and justifies sexual violence. Manifestations of rape culture in media coverage can involve, for instance, describing what a rape victim wore, using the term “sex” to describe a rape or sexual assault (which implies consent), and including stereotypes of rape victims and survivors in general.
“Fluid” is a term used generally to describe one’s sexual, romantic, and/or gender identity, with the understanding that it exists on a spectrum, isn’t permanent, and may shift over time. The term can be used to describe sexual or romantic attraction to multiple genders, as well as attractions that shift over time. Since the term doesn’t always point to a specific identity, specifying which orientation(s) or identity (or identities) are being discussed can be helpful for clarity.
When discussing abortion, aiming for precise language — using terms like pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion, rather than pro-choice/pro-life, for instance, and explaining the specific procedure or legislation in question — brings clarity to coverage. Many common phrases associated with the topic (for instance, “partial-birth abortion”) are not medical terminology and may be the favored terms of advocates on one side of the issue. If necessary and relevant to your coverage to include these such terms, explaining them and how they may be used in emotional or political arguments adds vital context to audiences. Using gender-neutral language to discuss abortion in a general sense ensures coverage encompasses the widest range of people who could be affected by the issue. “Pregnant people,” “people seeking an abortion,” “abortion seekers,” and “people who give birth” are all employed as gender-neutral alternatives to woman-specific ones, though they may not be useful or applicable when discussing abortion in the context of women’s health and rights more broadly.
Sex positive and sex positivity refer to a social and philosophical movement dedicated to shifting attitudes and norms around sex and sexuality by approaching sex in a nonjudgmental and respectful way. It values consent above all else, and teaches communication, education, and allowing the individual to make informed decisions about their body and pleasure. It’s important not to make assumptions about a person’s connection to, views on, or comfort with sex positivity based on their belonging to a particular community, or mode(s) of self-expression. Focusing on an individual’s or group’s story and identifiers can prevent overgeneralizations.
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