An intersexual is a person whose reproductive or sexual anatomy differs from the typical definitions of male or female. However, being a hermaphrodite or an intersexual is not the same thing as being transgender or transsexual. Individuals who identify as being transgender or transsexual feel that they have been born into the "wrong body" but may have typical male or female anatomy.
Hermaphrodites, or intersexuals, do not have typical male or female anatomy. Often, intersexuals have strong gender identification and do not struggle internally over gender identity in the same way as transgenders or transsexuals.
Common Variations of Intersexuality
According to the Intersex Society of North America, there are many common abnormalities that can be defined as interex.
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: This is a genetic condition that occurs in about 1 in 20,000 births. The body is unable to respond properly to androgen, the male hormone, and the fetus may lack a uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, or male structures such as the vas deferens and seminal vesicles. The newborn is clearly female and may have undescended or partially descended testes. Later in life these females will never menstruate, will have sparse or no pubic hair, and are not fertile. Surgery may be performed at some point to remove the testes or to increase the size of the vagina.
Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: The genitals are ambiguous, meaning either the clitoris is too large or the penis is too small. When these children are older, they may undergo surgery to make the genitals appear either more female or more male.
Clitoromegaly and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: This means that the clitoris is larger than normal, often looking similar to a penis. The newborn will continue to develop masculine-like characteristics such as body hair, deep voice, and large muscles. Later on, if this condition is untreated the person will experience puberty far earlier than usual.
Hypospadias: In this case, the "pee-hole" is located underneath, rather than at the tip of the penis.
Klinefelter Syndrome: These men inherit an extra X chromosome from either parent and have unusually small, firm testes. At puberty, these boys may not grow much body hair and may even experience breast development. At some point they may choose to take testosterone injections to increase masculinity.
Micropenis: These penises are unusually small and the testes may be undescended or partially descended.
Mullerian Agenesis or Vaginal Agenesis: The ovaries would be present but the uterus would either be completely absent or misshapen and small.
Ovotestes: Sex glands contain some combination of both ovarian and testicular tissue. Newborns may look either male or female. Often, these people choose to have the testicles removed.
Progestin Induced Virilization: If a pregnant woman was exposed to progestin, she may give birth to a newborn that may have an enlarged clitoris but have all other female reproductive organs intact. Surgery to reduce the size of the clitoris is usually cosmetic and without benefit.
Swyer Syndrome: These people may be born completely without sex glands and typically look female. She will be incapable of undergoing puberty without hormone replacement therapy.
Turner Syndrome: In this case, female sex characteristics are underdeveloped and atypical. These women may have oddly spaced nipples and be infertile.
Raising an Intersexual Child
Here are some tips for raising a child with intersex characteristics:
- Children who are intersexual should be treated without shame in a supportive environment.
- The truth about their sexual characteristics should never be hidden.
- They should be given access to psychologists, clergymen, or other therapists who can held aid the process of becoming comfortable in their own skin.
- There are also online support groups that can connect these children and reduce feelings of isolation.
- Parents may need additional support as well to properly "grieve" the abnormality.
- It helps if these children are given a gender assignment that they can identify with as they age.
- Surgeries done purely for cosmetic benefit should only be performed with the child’s consent when they are old enough to decide. Surgery done to "normalize" a child has not been documented to save them from future psychological harm.