How to Determine the Gender of your Cable

How can you tell if the plug (or port) on the end of your cable is male or female? While it may seem like common sense in most cases, some cables can pose a bit of a challenge when determining the sex.

The tradition of labeling connectors either male or female exists throughout the electronics and mechanics industries dating back to the early days. Essentially it describes a mated pair of cables by how the corresponding parts fit together. The male cable’s active component is generally shaped as a protrusion that is coupled with a matching female port that the male plug inserts into.

In the video below, LockerGnome’s Brandon Wirtz instructs me on the finer points of determining the gender of various cables:

Based on some of the information presented by Brandon, not every male cable is easily identified as such. Sometimes, the basic shape of the connector itself can be deceiving. The important part is the functional component that actually sends an electronic signal from one component to the other. All a cable needs to be identified as male is a single tiny wire that carries the current protruding in a way that allows it to fit securely on its female counterpart.

In many cases, the sex of the cable can tell you more than just what it needs to be paired with. In the case of electrical cables, the gender of a given cable or port is determined by guidelines that help maintain a directional transfer of energy between one component and another. Should two power sources be connected to one-another improperly, the result could be hazardous.

For cables that simply transfer data from one point to another, gender changers can help in situations where you have two male ends and you need to form a connection between them. In this case, a male to female gender changing adapter could come in handy. These are usually easy to find at electronics stores and are commonly used with audio, video, and low-powered data components.

It’s not uncommon to see a cable that is both male and female. The termination at one end being male and the other female. As mentioned before, this is most common with electrical cables in order to avoid the possibility of an accidental connection between two sources. A computer or monitor power cable would be an example of this. Another common example can be found in extension cables that are intended to add to the possible length between devices.

Determining the gender of your cable is important when you’re undertaking a project that requires multiple connections between devices and can help you avoid embarrassing repeated trips to the electronics store to find the right connector for the job.