Posted On 22 Jan 2019
Connector Gender Explained
When a connector is manufactured, it is not an it. Well, it is, but it’s so much more than that too. Like humans, connectors have anatomy that signifies what their connector gender is: male, female, or even genderless. To make identification very simple for humans, connector gender matches human gender. Thus, a male connector can be inserted into a female’s receptacle (a process conveniently known as mating).
Simple enough, right? But why do connectors have genders and what does this mean for consumers?
What is the point of giving inanimate objects genders?
Understanding Connector Gender
Referring to connectors as male or female helps us differentiate between them and remember the type of connector we’re dealing with-whether it’s a plug being inserted (i.e., male) or a receptacle in which a plug is inserted (i.e., female). Connector gender is a reflection of the devices’ anatomy, which is designed and manufactured with a number of different considerations in mind like functionality, directionality, safety, and proper orientation. Sometimes connectors are given their genders because of the role they play in the process, like if power is flowing from one device to another.
Other times, gender protects a connector from being used erroneously. Gender can physically enforce correct usage.
Identifying a connector’s gender can sometimes be confusing. For example, when someone unfamiliar with the field looks at D-subs, they sometimes mistake the female for the male and vice versa. Even though the female D-sub projects outward from its mounting base, it has receptacles. And even though part of the D-sub male acts as a receptacle (its shell may envelop the female’s body), its most important features are the pins, which project out and will be inserted into the female.
When a connector has multiple layers of shells and features like this, you can usually look to the innermost feature (in this case, pins) to figure out whether the connector is male or female.
It is also difficult to understand connector gender when jacks come into play. A jack is a connector designed to be fixed on the surface of a bulkhead of enclosure. It is the more stationary of the mating pair. Of course, when one hears the word jack, they think of a male, but a jack can be either a female or male connector.
Calling a connector a jack refers to its function, not its gender.
Sometimes other terms are substituted when discussing male and female connectors. Males can be called plugs, pins, and prongs, while females can be called receptacles, sockets, and slots. However, these terms are not always used to designate gender. Just as a female connector can be a jack, so can a male connector be a plug.
The letters M and F are often used in part numbers to designate connector gender.
Connector Gender & Safety
When used with high-voltage electronics, female connectors are more often fixed or mounted on equipment because their recessed contacts make them more resistant to damage and contamination.
This is especially important when dangerous voltage is involved; female connectors are better able to hide danger from inadvertent touching. Male connectors are exposed on cables and they are easier to replace.
Hermaphroditic & Mixed Gender
Some connectors are hermaphroditic (aka genderless), which means that they include both male and female elements so that they can mate freely. Other connectors contain both male and female elements but they are not freely interchangeable (meaning they are not hermaphroditic).
These connectors are usually called mixed-gender, but sometimes professionals decide their gender based on the shape of the connector’s body rather than its pins and sockets.
Connector gender can be confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never again wonder if a connector is male, female, or genderless.