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Intersex variations occur (though rarely) in species which use sexual reproduction. Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that lie between those of typical males and typical females.[1][2] Older terms include the word hermaphrodite, but this term is now only used for animals which have both natural male and female organs.[3] The clinical term 'disorders of sex development' (DSDs) is very controversial.[4][5][6]

An individual's genitalia may be atypical in some way. It can be difficult to determine if an intersex baby is genetically male or female (with XY chromosomes or XX chromosomes). They may also have male and/or female secondary sex characteristics (such as body shape). However, there is a wide range of variation in sexual anatomy.[3] There are many more subtle forms of sex anatomy, or sex chromosome differences.[7] These don't even show physically. Some won't show up until later in life.[7] Sometimes, the variation may appear when the baby reaches puberty or becomes an adult.

Population figures[change | change source]

Up to 1.7% of people may be born with an intersex variation.[2] A child born with genitalia atypical enough to call in an expert occurs in about 1 of 1,500 births.[7] More information on the frequency of different causes is available.[8]

Causes[change | change source]

Most causes of intersex are congenital, or born with it, usually because of a genetic condition. All development is governed by genes which regulate the process of growth.[9]

The most common intersex variation is a hormone condition. This causes genetically female fetuses to have a more masculine body appearance, 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 interventions[change | change source]

Surgery may be used on intersex babies to give a more usual cosmetic appearance. This is sometimes thought to make children more normal, but this idea lacks evidence[10] and is contested.[11][6] Early cosmetic medical interventions can lead to problems in later life, including decreased sexual function and sensation.[12][13] The children concerned cannot consent to those surgeries, and their parents may not understand the full implications.[14] There is no medical consensus about surgical interventions, including their type, timing, necessity and conduct.[10]

Human rights[change | change source]

Civil society organizations and human rights experts have called for an end to medical interventions on intersex children that are carried out for social reasons.[15][13] United Nations and other human rights experts regard these medical treatments as harmful.[12]

In 2011, Christiane Völling became the first intersex person known to win a legal case taken because of non-consensual surgical intervention.[16] In April 2015, Malta became the first country to end medical interventions to modify the sex anatomy of intersex children.[17]

Several countries protect intersex people from discrimination, including South Africa,[18] Australia,[19][20] and Malta.[21][22][23]

References[change | change source]

  1. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "United Nations for Intersex Awareness". Retrieved 2016-11-12.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Free & Equal Campaign Fact Sheet: Intersex" (PDF). United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "What is intersex?". ISNA. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  4. Davis, Georgiann (11 September 2015). Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis. New York University Press. pp. 87–89. ISBN 978-1479887040.
  5. Holmes, Morgan (September 2011). "The Intersex Enchiridion: Naming and Knowledge". Somatechnics 1 (2): 388–411. doi:10.3366/soma.2011.0026. ISSN 2044-0138. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Senate of Australia; Community Affairs References Committee (2013). Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia. Australian Senate. Canberra. ISBN 978-1-74229-917-4.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "How common is intersex? | Intersex Society of North America". Retrieved 2009-08-21.
  8. Blackless, Melanie; Charuvastra, Anthony; Derryck, Amanda; Fausto-Sterling, Anne; Lauzanne, Karl; Lee, Ellen (March 2000). "How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis". American Journal of Human Biology 12 (2): 151–166. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6300(200003/04)12:2<151::AID-AJHB1>3.0.CO;2-F. ISSN 1520-6300. PMID 11534012.;2-F/abstract. 
  9. 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.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Lee, Peter A.; Nordenström, Anna; Houk, Christopher P.; Ahmed, S. Faisal; Auchus, Richard; Baratz, Arlene; Baratz Dalke, Katharine; Liao, Lih-Mei et al. (2016-01-28). "Global Disorders of Sex Development Update since 2006: Perceptions, Approach and Care". Hormone Research in Paediatrics 85 (3). doi:10.1159/000442975. ISSN 1663-2818. Retrieved 2016-01-30. 
  11. Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics NEK-CNE (November 2012). On the management of differences of sex development. Ethical issues relating to "intersexuality".Opinion No. 20/2012 (PDF). 2012. Berne.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (October 24, 2016). "Intersex Awareness Day – Wednesday 26 October. End violence and harmful medical practices on intersex children and adults, UN and regional experts urge".
  13. 13.0 13.1 Council of Europe; Commissioner for Human Rights (April 2015), Human rights and intersex people, Issue Paper
  14. Liao, Lih-Mei; Wood, Dan; Creighton, Sarah M (28 September 2015). "Parental choice on normalising cosmetic genital surgery". The BMJ: –5124. doi:10.1136/bmj.h5124. ISSN 1756-1833. Retrieved 30 September 2015. 
  15. ILGA-Europe (December 2, 2013). "Public statement by the third international intersex forum". . 
  16. International Commission of Jurists. "In re Völling, Regional Court Cologne, Germany (6 February 2008)". Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  17. Reuters (1 April 2015). "Surgery and Sterilization Scrapped in Malta's Benchmark LGBTI Law". The New York Times.
  18. Government Gazette, Republic of South Africa, Vol. 487, Cape Town, 11 January 2006.
  19. Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, No. 98, 2013, ComLaw, C2013A00098, 2013.
  20. On the historic passing of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, Organisation Intersex International Australia, 25 June 2013.
  21. Malta (April 2015), Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act: Final version
  22. Cabral, Mauro (8 April 2015). "Making depathologization a matter of law. A comment from GATE on the Maltese Act on Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics". Global Action for Trans Equality. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  23. OII Europe (1 April 2015). "OII-Europe applauds Malta's Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act. This is a landmark case for intersex rights within European law reform". Retrieved 3 July 2015.

Other websites[change | change source]