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Intersex is a condition which occurs (though rarely) in species which use sexual reproduction. It refers to those individuals which have sexual characteristics midway between normal males and normal females.[1][2][3] A term used increasingly is 'disorders of sex development' (DSD)s.[4]

An individual's genitalia may be abnormal in some way. They may also have male and/or female secondary sex characteristics (such as body shape). Such a person may be called intersexual. A child born with genitalia atypical enough to call in an expert occurs in about 1 of 1,500 births.[5] But there are many more subtle forms of sex anatomy, sex chromosome abnormalities for example.[5] These don't even show physically. Some won't show up until later in life.[5] On average about 1 in 100 babies are born whose bodies differ from standard male or female.[5] About 1 or 2 in 1,000 babies have an intersex condition that requires some form of surgery.[5] It can be difficult to determine if an intersex baby is genetically male or female (with XY chromosomes or XX chromosomes). Sometimes, the condition may appear when the baby reaches puberty or becomes an adult. More information on the frequency of different causes is available.[6]

Intersexual people are not hermaphrodites. That term is only used for animals which have both natural male and female organs. Society prefer to think of sex categories in simple terms of male, female and only occasionally intersex.[7] However, there is a wide range of variation in sexual anatomy.[7] It is difficult to determine where normal sexuality leaves off and intersexuality begins.[7]

Causes of intersexuality[change | change source]

Most causes of intersexuality are congenital. That means people are born with it, usually because of a genetic condition. All development is governed by genes which regulate the process of growth.[8]

The most common condition that causes intersexuality is a hormone condition. This causes genetically female fetuses to have a male body appearance, for example having a penis instead of a clitoris, and a scrotum instead of labia. This is because the babies' adrenal gland produces higher levels of androgen hormones (hormones that act like testosterone). This may cause the female baby to appear male even to doctors and parents.

Medical treatment of people who are intersexual[change | change source]

Surgery may be used on intersexed babies to give function to the genitals or a more usual appearance. The surgery usually makes the baby look female, as this is less complicated. When they become adults, some people agree with this surgery as it made their life easier when they were a child.[9] However, there is also currently a movement against such surgery, as others have said that these surgeries take their identities away from them without their consent.

The Intersex Society of America has a discussion about the uses of terms which some find helpful.[10]

References[change | change source]

  1. King R.C; Stansfield W.D. and Mulligan P.K. 2004. A dictionary of genetics. 7th ed, Oxford University Press. p234
  2. Money, John; Ehrhardt, Anke A. (1972). Man & woman, boy & girl: differentiation and dimorphism of gender identity from conception to maturity. USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-1405-7.
  3. Domurat Dreger, Alice (2001). Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00189-3.
  4. I A Hughes, C Houk, S F Ahmed, P A Lee, and LWPES1/ESPE2 Consensus Group (2006). "Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders". National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "How common is intersex? | Intersex Society of North America". Retrieved 2009-08-21.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "What is intersex?". ISNA. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  8. Kolodny, Robert C.; Masters, William H.; Johnson, Virginia E. (1979). Textbook of sexual medicine (1st ed.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-50154-9.
  9. Summary of Consensus Statement on Intersex disorders and their management: Houk, Hughes, Ahmed, Lee, Writing Committee for the International Intersex Consensus Conference Participants, 2006, in Pediatrics. [1]
  10. Intersex Society of America. [2]

Other websites[change | change source]