Welcome to the Parallax Discussion Forums, sign-up to participate.
RS-232 devices may be classified as Data Terminal Equipment (DTE) or Data Circuit-terminating Equipment (DCE); this defines at each device which wires will be sending and receiving each signal. According to the standard, male connectors have DTE pin functions, and female connectors have DCE pin functions. Other devices may have any combination of connector gender and pin definitions. Many terminals were manufactured with female connectors but were sold with a cable with male connectors at each end; the terminal with its cable satisfied the recommendations in the standard.
The standard recommends the D-subminiature 25-pin connector up to revision C, and makes it mandatory as of revision D. Most devices only implement a few of the twenty signals specified in the standard, so connectors and cables with fewer pins are sufficient for most connections, more compact, and less expensive. Personal computer manufacturers replaced the DB-25M connector with the smaller DE-9M connector. This connector, with a different pinout (see Serial port pinouts), is prevalent for personal computers and associated devices.
Presence of a 25-pin D-sub connector does not necessarily indicate an RS-232-C compliant interface. For example, on the original IBM PC, a male D-sub was an RS-232-C DTE port (with a non-standard current loop interface on reserved pins), but the female D-sub connector on the same PC model was used for the parallel "Centronics" printer port. Some personal computers put non-standard voltages or signals on some pins of their serial ports.