Organisms of many species are specialized into male and female varieties, each known as a sex. Sexual reproduction involves the combining and mixing of genetic traits: specialized cells known as gametes combine to form offspring that inherit traits from each parent. The gametes produced by an organism define its sex: males produce small gametes (e.g. spermatozoa, or sperm, in animals; pollen in seed plants) while females produce large gametes (ova, or egg cells). Individual organisms which produce both male and female gametes are termed hermaphroditic. Gametes can be identical in form and function (known as isogamy), but, in many cases, an asymmetry has evolved such that two different types of gametes (heterogametes) exist (known as anisogamy).
Physical differences are often associated with the different sexes of an organism; these sexual dimorphisms can reflect the different reproductive pressures the sexes experience. For instance, mate choice and sexual selection can accelerate the evolution of physical differences between the sexes.
One of the basic properties of life is reproduction, the capacity to generate new individuals, and sex is an aspect of this process. Life has evolved from simple stages to more complex ones, and so have the reproduction mechanisms. Initially the reproduction was a replicating process that consists in producing new individuals that contain the same genetic information as the original or parent individual. This mode of reproduction is called asexual, and it is still used by many species, particularly unicellular, but it is also very common in multicellular organisms, including many of those with sexual reproduction. In sexual reproduction, the genetic material of the offspring comes from two different individuals. As sexual reproduction developed by way of a long process of evolution, intermediates exist. Bacteria, for instance, reproduce asexually, but undergo a process by which a part of the genetic material of an individual donor is transferred to another recipient
Among humans and other mammals, males typically carry XY chromosomes, whereas females typically carry XX chromosomes, which are a part of the XY sex-determination system. Other animals have different sex-determination systems, such as the ZW system in birds, the X0 system in insects, and various environmental systems, for example in crustaceans. Fungi may also have more complex allelic mating systems, with sexes not accurately described as male, female, or hermaphroditic