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Intersex is a condition which occurs in species which use sexual reproduction. It refers to those individuals which have sexual characteristics midway between having only a penis and scrotum, and only a vagina and clitoris/labia.[1] People who are not intersex may be called dyadic.

An intersex person’s genitalia may be malformed. They may also have male and/or female secondary sex characteristics (such as body shape). Such a person may be called intersexual or simply intersex.

About 1 in 100 babies are born with an intersex condition, and 1 in 1000 babies have an intersex condition that the medical community declares needs surgery, in order adhere to binary sex/gender ideals. 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.

Intersexuals are not hermaphrodites. That term is only used for animals which have both natural male and female organs.

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.

The most common condition that causes intersexuality is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. This is a condition that causes genetically female fetuses to have a male body appearance, such as 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 baby to appear male when it has female chromosomes, even to doctors and parents.

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

Surgery is usually 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.

However, some people do not agree with the surgery as they may not identify with the gender the doctor chose for them. Some people who had surgery to make them look female have a male gender identity. Some people who had surgery to make them look male have a female gender identity. Some surgery may cause loss of sensation or cause pain when they have sex. Some of these intersexual people want doctors to stop doing surgery on intersexed babies. If a baby has an intersex condition that can come with either gender identity, some doctors now say they should not do surgery early. They say they should wait until the baby is older, then the child, adult or teenager can tell doctors his or her gender identity.

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

Other websites[change | change source]