Gender and Life

What is intersex?
Answered by Discovery Fit & Health
  • Discovery Fit & Health

    Discovery Fit & Health

  1. When a baby is born, we expect the proud parents to announce "It's a boy!" or, "It's a girl!" In rare cases, though, it's impossible to tell whether a baby is male or female. These people are said to be intersex. An intersex baby may have ambiguous genitalia or chromosomal anomalies. For example, a baby born with a small penis and an opening at the scrotum that is shaped more like labia would be considered intersex. The decision of whether to conduct surgery to form either male or female genitalia is quite controversial; some doctors believe that the stigma of intersex will harm the person, while others believe that more damage can be done by picking the wrong gender for the child.

    The intersex condition falls into one of four different types. First is "46, XX," in which the person has visibly male external genitalia but the chromosomes and ovaries of a woman. A second type of intersex is called "46, XY," where the external genitals aren't fully formed or indeterminate but the chromosomes are male. A third type is called "true gonadal intersex," where the person has both ovarian and testicular tissue, which could appear in the same gonad or the person might have one testis and one ovary. Chromosomes can be XX, XY or both. And the fourth intersex category is complex or undetermined intersex disorders of sexual development, which has many potential chromosomal configurations causing sex development disorders.

    The condition used to be called hermaphroditism, derived from a fusing of the names of the Greek god and goddess Hermes and Aphrodite, respectively. (Hermes represented male sexuality and Aphrodite that of women.) The term today has largely been discontinued, as it's considered inaccurate and insensitive. Conditions such as intersex are today grouped under the general heading of sex development disorders [source: National Institutes of Health].

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