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What is Intersex?


What is Intersex?

Intersex is an umbrella word describing various conditions whereby a person is born with reproductive anatomy that does not fit the strict male and female binary. For instance, someone might be born appearing as male on the outside but having female-typical anatomy on the inside.

Is Intersex the Same as Hermaphrodite?

No. In fact, hermaphrodite should not be used to describe an intersex individual. Although some describe themselves with the “h-word,” some consider it as an insult. There are many ways to possess an intersex body, but there is no way a person can have both a fully developed vagina and a penis.

The term hermaphrodite is a myth. It may suggest that intersex individuals are aliens or do not belong to this world. Unfortunately, most intersex individuals still experience this slur used in their medical history.

Is it Common?

How many intersex babies are born in a year? This is a good question, but even in countries where most people deliver in the hospitals cannot answer it. The reason being no one is required to track the information. But about the commonness, intersex is very common.

According to Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, about 1.7% of people are born intersex. A higher percentage compared to 0.3% chances of giving birth to identical twins. 0.05% of individuals are born with genital differences that may be changed with unnecessary surgery.

Is Intersex and Disorder of Sex Development the Same?

Disorder of sex development (DSD) is a common medical word for intersex characteristics. Most people dismiss this term because it sounds as if their bodies are faulty and need fixing.

Lots of natural human differences have been termed as medical conditions until communities fought for acceptance. In fact, before 1973, being gay appeared like a mental challenge.

What Causes This Condition?

Most intersex characteristics just happen, although some are genetically determined. The following are some reasons why characteristics might develop:

  • use of exogenous hormones during pregnancy
  • variation in the AR (Androgen Receptor) gene
  • Translocation of Sex-determining Region Y

Can Surgeries Help?

Yes. Intersex surgeries are procedures that help change natural disparities of reproductive anatomy. It is mainly connected to binary ideas on what normal looks like.

  • The surgeries include:
  • Clitoroplasty (reducing clitoris)
  • Vaginoplasty (creation of the vagina)
  • Gonadectomy (removal of the organs that makes hormones)
  • Hypospadias repair (removal of a urethra that already works)

Intersex surgeries on an infant have some serious long-term emotional and physical consequences. High complication rates and reduction in sexual activities are among the effects. If done without a person’s informed permission, the United Nations consider the surgeries a violation of human rights.

Most surgeries are done when an individual is less than two years. This means there is no informed consent of the patient. Due to this, lots of people are denied critical choices about their bodies, choices that can have negative impacts on someone’s life forever.

Although some people are happy that the surgeries were done on them, some are traumatized because they didn’t get the chance to choose whether they want the change or not. Therefore, for the well-being of someone’s future, waiting is the best choice.

Are There Statistics on Intersex Surgery?

Most hospitals in the U.S. perform intersexual surgeries. As of 2012, besides Lurie Children of Chicago and Boston Children’s, no hospital said that they don’t perform these surgeries. Although statistics are hard to track since U.S. hospitals should not reveal the information, it is evident that intersexual surgeries are popular. Remember. A single intersexual surgery without the informed consent of the patient is one too many.

What Medical Conditions Considered as Intersex?

Intersex characteristics indicate that classifying human bodies into male and female is wrong. When is the difference enough to be termed as intersex? Who decides what to do next? In the past years, doctors had the authority to determine, although their decisions were made towards surgery.

If an infant is born with an oversize clitoris, which may be an intersex trait, some doctors may recommend a clitoris reduction surgery to the parents. However, attitudes towards intersex are rapidly changing. A good number of doctors concur that the individual must choose intersex surgeries.

Is an Intersex Child Healthy?

The answer is yes. Differences in intersex individuals are healthy and natural. Intersexual surgeries are only necessary if the child is unable to pee, which is very rare. Otherwise, the surgeries can wait until the individual is old enough to decide on what they want.

Remember, intersex traits are only variations from one being to another, not a disorder.

Can I Be Intersex Without Knowing?

Yes. It has happened before. However, the following can help you determine if you are intersex:

  • Genital differences at birth
  • Unexpected early changes at puberty
  • Internal differences that cause infertility in adulthood
  • Learning that your parents covered up childhood medical intervention

Most people notice differences in their bodies and social experiences.

Can Intersex People Reproduce?

Like in any other case, it depends on body parts. If an intersex individual has a penis and testes that can produce sperm, they can get someone pregnant.

If an intersex person has a uterus capable of carrying a pregnancy to term, they can get pregnant.

Intersex is different from fertility- some people are fertile, and others are not intersex but are infertile. It all depends on someone’s health and body parts.

With regards to the information above, intersex is common. Although there are intersexual surgeries, it is always right to wait until the individual gives informed consent before undergoing the surgery.

Read more: All about the LGBTQ+ Acronym: What It Means to Be Intersex

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Kaitlen Knowles, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW (she, her), Rochester, NY

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