Electronics Challenge: Male or Female Connectors

By Ryan Winters
Product Manager

Puzzled by Connector Gender and I'd Like to Know...

Male or Female connectors
You think it's easy to spot a male versus a female connector? The old adage that says "poles" are male and "holes" are female no longer seems to work. I'm not the only one with some gender confusion. I've talked to friends, colleagues and researched online. My survey suggests that the people who should know are split nearly 50-50. So, as we frequently do, we'll leave it up to our customers.

The two connectors in question are the DC barrel power jack and plug shown below. Power connectors are typically categorized as plugs, sockets, jacks and receptacles, but connector components are almost always assigned a gender.

power jack and plug

socket For electronics components, gender is used to distinguish "mating connectors." Mating interconnects match together in size, configuration and number of pins. In case you didn't know, a "male" connector usually has a pin or pins "sticking out" and the "female" connector is designed to receive those pins. Looking at the power cord (pictured right), the end of the cord has a plug that is commonly referred to as male and the end with multiple receptacles is referred to as female. Simple, right? Not so fast.
Female and Male D-sub

Gender identification gets a little more difficult when you consider D-Sub connectors (shown left). I used the same mating concept to determine which D-Sub is male and which one is female. I typically plug them together, take them apart and thoroughly inspect the component before declaring its gender for all to read in the Jameco Catalog. I would like to think that since this is my job, I know what I'm doing, but when it comes to establishing the gender of an electronic component, clearly it's not always so clear.

My whole quandary began when I was adding some new connectors to the catalog (pictured assembled below left). I looked at the two, plugged them together, took them apart, looked at them again and made my decision. The jack is female and the plug is male, right? Clear as mud. I checked out the competitors, a 50-50 split. Looking for a tie breaker, a third site avoided gender all together using the phrase "plug" and "jack". Thus, it's clear that we have a mystery to solve.

Mystery Connectors

I looked at the Wiki page for DC connectors, and it doesn't look like there is an industry standard for the barrel plugs. The jack has a female housing with a male pin, while the plug has a male housing with a female pin. It would appear some vendors reference the housing while others reference the pin for gender. Now that you've spent an abundance of time thinking about it, which one do you think is "male" and which one is "female"?

OK, I realize that this isn't one of engineering's great mysteries, but I take my job seriously and the Jameco Catalog prides itself on accuracy and consistency. Tell me what you think.

power jack and plug

Click here to see survey results to Ryan's question.
Ryan Winters is a Product Manager at Jameco Electronics. His hobbies include working on cars and computers, fiddling with electronic gadgets and learning robotics.