Being intersex is not a disease. This is a naturally occurring mutation in humans. Similarly, being intersex does not affect the physical health of the child, although it can cause complications over time, including potential fertility problems.
This article will explore what it means to be intersex, including its relationship with sexuality and identity.
What Does Intersex Mean?
Intersex is an umbrella term that describes differences in sexual characteristics that do not typically conform to the binary idea of male or female. Sex characteristics include genitalia, hormones and chromosome patterns.
There are many ways that a person can be intersex. Intersex Human Rights Australia says there are at least 40 different intersex variations.
Some intersex traits may be visible at birth, while others do not appear until a person reaches puberty. In some cases, a person may never know they are heterosexual.
According to some estimates, up to 1.7% of the population has intersex traits. This is comparable to the number of people who have red hair.
Some may also refer to someone who is intersex as having a difference in sexual development.
A 2020 study indicates that intersex people can display a range of gender identities. Gender identity refers to an individual’s gender regardless of their personal sense of gender.
A 2015 Australian survey reported a similar finding, with 75% of intersex respondents identifying their gender as “male” or “female” and the remaining 25% reporting multiple other options, including intersex. made a choice Respondents were able to choose multiple options.
Intersex is not the same as nonbinary, in which people do not identify exclusively as male or female.
The National Center for Transgender Equality explains that non-binary people are generally not intersex. They usually have either male or female sexual characteristics, but do not see their gender identity as male or female.
Intersex is also not the same as transgender, in that a person’s gender identity may differ from the traditional expectations of the gender assigned by a doctor at birth.
However, some intersex people may identify as transgender or non-binary.
How to Identify
Doctors will always assign a legal gender to intersex babies. In most of the United States, it will be a man or a woman. However, this need not affect a person’s gender identity.
People can self-identify as another gender and choose to live according to that gender. Some may identify as non-binary and have multiple genders or no gender, while others may transition between genders or identify as another gender.
It should be a person’s choice what gender they identify with. They should not feel that they should normally conform to the gender assigned to them by the doctor or family at birth or to the gender that society may assign them based on their appearance or anatomy.
What Happens When a Person is Born Intersex?
Sometimes, it is obvious that an infant is intersex. An intersex infant may have:
- labia that do not open
- a larger clitoris than expected
- a penis without a urethral opening
- outwardly male or female genitalia but the internal anatomy of the other sex
- no vaginal opening
- a smaller penis than expected
Other times, it may only appear that someone is having sex with each other during puberty, when they don’t reach the expected milestones for their gender due to hormonal differences.
In other cases, a person may not discover that they are having sex with each other until adulthood. For example, some may find out when they are trying to conceive, while others may find out during an unrelated medical procedure.
When an infant is born together, doctors and the infant’s parents often decide to “assign” the child a gender and raise him according to the gender norms associated with that sex.
Doctors can sometimes perform genital surgery on infants, but this is now considered unacceptable by most medical institutions. Some may also prescribe hormone treatments during puberty, but this is also considered unacceptable.
The goal of these treatments is usually to make the child “fit” better into the male or female category.
However, there is a growing movement that aims to change the way medical professionals, parents and others view intersex people. Because it is not a disease, many people believe that intersex does not require treatment.
Amnesty International, the United Nations, and intersex advocacy groups are all highlighting the concerns associated with medically unnecessary surgeries and treatment of infants and young children who cannot make their own decisions.
Instead, these groups advocate for intersex people to make their own decisions about treatment as they age.
Sexuality refers to a person’s sexual feelings, thoughts, and behavior toward others.
There are many types of sexuality, including homosexual, heterosexual, and pansexual, among others. Some individuals may prefer not to use a label to describe their sexuality.
Sexuality is independent of a person’s physical makeup or gender identity. Research involving intersex people shows no relationship between sexuality and gender identity, just as there is no relationship between people who are not intersex.
In a 2015 Australian survey, 48% of respondents identified as gay, 22% identified as bisexual, and 18% identified as heterosexual.
The following are some frequently asked questions about intersex.
Is intersex the same as ambiguous genitalia?
No, it’s not the same thing. Some intersex people have typically male or typically female genitalia, yet their hormones or chromosomes may be more closely aligned with the other sex.
Some intersex people may not like the term ambiguous genitalia, because they don’t feel that there is anything ambiguous about their genitalia.
Is the term ‘hermaphrodite’ offensive?
Interact, an advocacy group for intersex youth, advises that people should never use the term hermaphrodite to describe an intersex person. Many intersex people consider it a slur, although some may choose to reclaim the word.
How and why do people assign sex at birth?
Most countries and states in the US require doctors to assign the gender (usually male or female) to babies at birth. However, this is something that people may be able to change later.
Doctors and families may believe that surgery at birth can make life easier medically and socially when the baby grows up. However, this can lead to problems later in life, especially if the person later identifies as another gender.
Do intersex people need treatment or surgery?
No, being intersex is not a disease. Therefore, it does not require treatment.
However, some people may choose to undergo surgery to achieve genitalia that are normally associated with their gender identity. Others may require medical intervention due to complications that arise from the genitals, such as difficulty urinating.
Are there support groups for intersex people?
There are intersex support groups in various states and countries. There are also online forums and groups for intersex people. Interact here to maintain a list of intersex support and advocacy groups.
Can intersex people have children or get pregnant?
Some intersex people can reproduce, but others cannot. Some may be able to with the help of in vitro fertilization. It depends on the individual, their anatomy, and their hormones.
According to Interact, many intersex mutations cause infertility, but not all do.
The term intersex describes a range of physical variations that do not fit traditional definitions of male or female. People with intersex traits can identify with different genders and sexualities, just as non-gender people do.
Being intersex is not a disease, and does not require treatment unless complications arise.