1 existing or occurring between the sexes
2 having sexual characteristics intermediate between those of male and female
Intersexuality is the state of a living thing of a gonochoristic species whose sex chromosomes, genitalia and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female. An organism with intersex may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes.
Intersexuality is the term adopted by medicine during the 20th century applied to human beings who cannot be classified as either male or female
Intersexuality is also the word adopted by the identitary-political movement, surged at nineties, to criticize medical protocols in sex assignment and to claim the right to be heard in the construction of a new ones.
LanguageResearch in the late twentieth century has led to a growing medical consensus that diverse intersex physicalities are normal, but relatively rare, forms of human biology. Perhaps the most prominent researcher, Milton Diamond, stresses the importance of care in selection of language related to intersexuality.
HermaphroditeThe terms hermaphrodite and pseudohermaphrodite, introduced in the 19th century, are now considered problematic as hermaphrodism refers to people who are both completely male and completely female, something not possible. The phrase '"ambiguous genitalia'" refers specifically to genital appearance, but not all intersex conditions result in atypical genital appearance.
Disorders of sex developmentThe Intersex Society of North America and intersex activists have moved to eliminate the term "intersex" in medical usage, replacing it with "disorders of sex development" (DSD) in order to avoid conflating anatomy with identity. Members of The Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology accepted the term "disorders of sex development" (DSD) in their "Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders" published in the Archives of Disease in Children and in Pediatrics. The term is defined by congenital conditions in which development of chromosomal, gonadal, or anatomical sex is atypical. However, this has been met with criticism from other activists who question a disease/disability model and advocate no legal definition of sexes, no gender assignments, no legal sex on birth certificates, and no official sexual orientation categories.
Alternatives to labeling these as "disorders" have also been suggested, including "variations of sex development"
Intersex people in society
HistoryIntersex individuals are treated in different ways by different cultures. In some cultures intersex people were included in larger "third gender" or gender-blending social roles along with other individuals. In most societies, intersexed individuals have been expected to conform to either a male or female gender role.
Whether or not they were socially tolerated or accepted by any particular culture, the existence of intersex people was known to many ancient and pre-modern cultures.
As an example, one of the Sumerian creation myths from more than 4,000 years ago has Ninmah, a mother goddess, fashioning mankind out of clay. She boasts that she will determine the fate – good or bad – for all she fashions. Enki, the father god, retorts as follows.
- Enki answered Ninmah: "I will counterbalance whatever fate -- good or bad -- you happen to decide." Ninmah took clay from the top of the abzu [ab = water, zu = far] in her hand and she fashioned from it first a man who could not bend his outstretched weak hands. Enki looked at the man who cannot bend his outstretched weak hands, and decreed his fate: he appointed him as a servant of the king.
- ... [Three men and one woman with atypical biology are formed and Enki gives each of them various forms of status to ensure respect for their uniqueness] ...
- Sixth, she fashioned one with neither penis nor vagina on its body. Enki looked at the one with neither penis nor vagina on its body and gave it the name Nibru [eunuch(?)], and decreed as its fate to stand before the king."
Since the rise of modern medical science in Western societies, some intersex people with ambiguous external genitalia have had their genitalia surgically modified to resemble either male or female genitals. Ironically since the advancements in surgery have made it possible for intersex conditions to be concealed, many people are not aware of how frequently intersex conditions arise in human beings or that they occur at all. Contemporary social activists, scientists and health practitioners, among others, have begun to revisit the issue, and awareness of the existence of physical sexual variation in human beings is returning.
There are increasing calls for recognition of the various degrees of intersex as healthy variations which should not be subject to correction. Some have attacked the common Western practice of performing corrective surgery on the genitals of intersex people as a Western cultural equivalent of female genital cutting. Despite the attacks on the practice, most of the medical profession still supports it, although activism has radically altered medical policies and how intersex patients and their families are treated. Others, typically social conservatives, have claimed that the talk about third sexes represents an ideological agenda to deride gender as a social construct whereas they believe binary gender (i.e. there is only male and female) is a biological imperative.
Depending on the type of intersex condition, corrective surgery may not be necessary for protection of life or health, but purely for aesthetic or social purposes. Unlike other aesthetic surgical procedures performed on infants, such as corrective surgery for a cleft lip (as opposed to a cleft palate), genital surgery may lead to negative consequences for sexual functioning in later life (such as loss of sensation in the genitals, for example, when a clitoris deemed too large/penile is reduced/removed, or feelings of freakishness and unacceptability) which would have been avoided without the surgery; in other cases negative consequences may be avoided with surgery. Opponents maintain that there is no compelling evidence that the presumed social benefits of such "normalizing" surgery outweigh the potential costs.(Similar attitudes are present in some cases of botched infant circumcision, in which the solution might involve intensive medical and parental efforts to reassign the male baby to a female identity, which opponents claim lead to the degrading interpretation that females are essentially castrated males. This view overlooks the embryological origin of the penis/clitoris.) Defenders of the practice argue that it is necessary for individuals to be clearly identified as male or female in order for them to function socially. However, many intersex individuals have resented the medical intervention, and some have been so discontented with their surgically assigned gender as to opt for sexual reassignment surgery later in life.
During the Victorian era, medical authors introduced the terms "true hermaphrodite" for an individual who has both ovarian and testicular gonadal histology, verified under a microscope, "male pseudo-hermaphrodite" for a person with testicular tissue, but either female or ambiguous sexual anatomy, and "female pseudo-hermaphrodite" for a person with ovarian tissue, but either male or ambiguous sexual anatomy. The writer Anne Fausto-Sterling coined the words herm (for "true hermaphrodite"), merm (for "male pseudo-hermaphrodite"), and ferm (for "female pseudo-hermaphrodite"), and proposed that these be recognized as sexes along with male and female. However, her use was "tongue-in-cheek"; she no longer advocates these terms even as a rhetorical device, and her proposed nomenclature was criticized by Cheryl Chase, in a letter to The Sciences which criticized the traditional standard of medical care as well as Fausto-Sterling's shorter names, and announced the creation of the Intersex Society of North America.
Intersex in popular cultureBeginning as early as 1989, intersex became a topic of interest for broadcast TV and radio in the United States and other countries. Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex (2002) is narrated by an intersex character who discusses the societal experience of an intersex person. The Japanese manga series I.S., first published in 2003, features intersexual characters and how they deal with intersex-related issues and influence the lives of people around them.
Notable intersex people
Noted researchers on intersexed development
- Milton Diamond, professor of neurology, Univ. of Hawai'i at Manoa
Response from "mainstream" society
Lack in educationIn high school, most emphasis is placed upon the most common XX and XY genotypes. Thus, people nowadays may be more likely to look towards the sex chromosomes than, for example, the histology of the gonads. However, according to researcher Eric Vilain at the University of California, Los Angeles, "the biology of gender is far more complicated than XX or XY chromosomes". Many different criteria have been proposed, and there is little consensus.
Disorders and scopeSax's strict definition of intersex is most relevant to family practice and psychological research. Other interest groups serve different communities and concerns and so broaden the definition of intersex in these fields.
For instance, the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) definition states that the following conditions "sometimes involve intersex anatomy":
- 5-alpha reductase deficiency
- androgen insensitivity syndrome
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- gonadal dysgenesis (partial & complete)
- Klinefelter syndrome
- mosaicism involving sex chromosomes
- MRKH (mullerian agenesis; vaginal agenesis; congenital absence of vagina)
- ovo-testes (formerly called "true hermaphroditism")
- partial androgen insensitivity syndrome
- progestin induced virilization
- Swyer syndrome
- Turner syndrome
Some people with some of these conditions (such as Kallmann syndrome and Turner syndrome) do not self-identify as intersex. See also 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency.
PrevalenceThe prevalence of intersex depends on which definition is used.
According to the ISNA definition above, 1 percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity, approximately one in every hundred births. Between 0.1% and 0.2% of live births are ambiguous enough to become the subject of specialist medical attention, including surgery to disguise their sexual ambiguity.
According to Fausto-Sterling's definition of intersex|}}
According to Leonard Sax the prevalence of intersex "restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female" is about 0.018%.
Ambiguous genitaliaAmbiguous genitalia appear as a large clitoris or small penis and may or may not require surgery.
Because there is variation in all of the processes of the development of the sex organs, a child can be born with a sexual anatomy that is typically female, or feminine in appearance with a larger than average clitoris (clitoral hypertrophy); or typically male, masculine in appearance with a smaller than average penis that is open along the underside. The appearance may be quite ambiguous, describable as female genitals with a very large clitoris and partially fused labia, or as male genitals with a very small penis, completely open along the midline ("hypospadic"), and empty scrotum.
Fertility is variable. According to some, the distinctions "male pseudohermaphrodite", "female pseudohermaphrodite" and especially "true hermaphrodite" are vestiges of 19th century thinking. According to others, the terms "male pseudohermaphrodite", and "female pseudohermaphrodite" are used to define the gender in terms of the histology (microscopic appearance) of the gonads.
"True hermaphroditism"With some conditions of intersex, even the chromosomal sex may not be clear. A "true hermaphrodite" is defined as someone with both male gonadal tissue (testes) and female gonadal tissue (ovarian tissue).
In 2004, researchers at UCLA published their studies of a lateral gynandromorphic hermaphroditic bird, which had a testicle on the right and an ovary on the left. Its entire body was split down the middle between male and female, with hormones from both gonads running through the blood.
This extreme example of hermaphroditism is quite rare.
OvotestesAlthough there are no definite reports on any true hermaphroditism in humans, there is, on the other hand, a spectrum of forms of ovotestes. The varieties range, including having two ovotestes or having one ovary and one ovotestis. This is often in the form of streak gonads. Phenotype is not determinable from the ovotestes; in some case the appearance is "fairly typically female," in others it is "fairly typically male," and it may also be "fairly in-between in terms of genital development."
Intersex activist Cheryl Chase is an example of someone with ovotestes.
Other diagnostic signsIn order to help in classification, other methods than a genitalia inspection can be performed:
For instance, a karyotype display of a tissue sample may determine which of the causes of intersex is prevalent in the case.
ManagementManagement of intersex can be categorized into one of the following two :
- Treatments: Restore functionality (or potential functionality)
- Enhancements: Give the ability to identify with “mainstream” people e.g. breast enlargement surgery
However, there are other categorisation systems of management of intersexed, which falls into neither category.
In any case, the most common procedure is surgery.
SurgeryThe exact procedure of the surgery depends on what is the cause of a less common body phenotype in the first place.
IfThere is often concern whether surgery should be performed at all.
A traditional approach to the management of Intersexuality has been socially motivated surgery. However, some By birth, the typical fetus has been completely "sexed" male or female, the hormones and genital development remaining consistent with the genetic sex.
The final body appearance doesn't always correspond with what is dictated by the genes. In other words, there is sometimes an incongruence between genotypic (chromosomal) and phenotypic sex. Although there neither no less common chromosomal sex nor mosaicism/chimerism, but just the most common types (XY or XX), less common phenotypes still appear in such cases. In this sense, the common habit in the 21st century of elevating the role of the sex chromosomes above all other factors when determining gender may be analogous to the older habit of finding "true" sex in the gonads.
This phenomenon complicates the common XY sex-determination system, because it proves that genes don't always definitely determine the sex.
ComplicationsIntersex people are in the risk of developing gender identity disorder, feeling significant discomfort or being unable to deal with the condition.
Furthermore, in the cases where nonfunctional testes are present, there is a risk that these develop cancer. Therefore, doctors either remove them by orchidectomy or monitor them carefully. This is the case for instance in androgen insensitivity syndrome.
It should be noted however that there is a growing political intersex movement which argues against labelling these categories as disorders.
- Beh, Hazel Glenn, Milton Diamond. 2000. An Emerging Ethical and Medical Dilemma: Should Physicians Perform Sex Assignment on Infants with Ambiguous Genitalia?. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, Volume 7 (1): 1-63, 2000.
- Human Rights Investigation into the medical "normalization" of intersex people - a report of a hearing of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission - PDF format
- Sax, Leonard. How common is intersex? A response to Anne Fausto-Sterling. J Sex Research 39:174-9, 2002
- (2004) The Evolution of Self-Fertile Hermaphroditism: The Fog Is Clearing. PLoS Biol 3(1): e30.
- Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (AISSG)
- Organisation Intersex International
- New guidelines for treating 'intersex' babies Doctors urged not to operate on infants with unclear gender (Associated Press, February 2005)
- Bodies Like Ours
- Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development
- Intersex Society of North America
- Intersex Initiative
- Semi-identical twins discovered
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intersexual in Simple English: Intersexuality
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