Intersex

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Participants at the third International Intersex Forum, Malta, in December 2013

An intersex human or other animal is one possessing any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies".[1] Such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.[2][3]

Intersex people were previously referred to as hermaphrodites, "congenital eunuchs",[4][5] or even congenitally "frigid".[6] Such terms have fallen out of favor; hermaphrodite is considered to be misleading, stigmatizing, and scientifically specious.[7] Medical description of intersex traits as disorders of sex development has been controversial[8][9][10] since the label was introduced in 2006.[11]

Some intersex infants and children, such as those with ambiguous outer genitalia, are surgically or hormonally altered to create more socially acceptable sex characteristics. However, this is considered controversial, with no firm evidence of good outcomes.[12] Such treatments may involve sterilization. Adults, including elite female athletes, have also been subjects of such treatment.[13][14] Increasingly these issues are considered human rights abuses, with statements from international[15][16] and national human rights and ethics institutions.[17][18] Intersex organizations have also issued statements, including joint statements as part of an International Intersex Forum.

In 2011, Christiane Völling became the first intersex person known to have successfully sued for damages in a case brought for non-consensual surgical intervention.[19] In April 2015, Malta became the first country to outlaw non-consensual medical interventions to modify sex anatomy, including that of intersex people.[20][21]

Intersex people may have any gender identity.[1][22] Some intersex individuals may be raised as a girl or boy but then identify with another gender identity later in life, while most do not.[2][3][23][24]

Definitions[edit]

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.[1]

In biological terms, sex may be determined by a number of factors present at birth, including:[25]

  • the number and type of sex chromosomes;
  • the type of gonads—ovaries or testicles;
  • the sex hormones;
  • the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females); and
  • the external genitalia.

People whose characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female at birth are intersex.[26]

Some intersex traits are not always visible at birth; some babies may be born with ambiguous genitals, while others may have ambiguous internal organs (testes and ovaries). Others will not become aware that they are intersex unless they receive genetic testing, because it does not manifest in their phenotype.

History[edit]

Main article: Intersex in history

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. An early example comes from Sumerian creation myths from more than 4,000 years ago where Ninmah, a mother goddess, fashioned humanity out of clay.[27]

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote of "hermaphroditus" in the first century BCE that Hermaphroditus "is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman", and with supernatural properties.[28]

Michel Foucault has suggested that, "from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century ... hermaphrodites were considered to be monsters and were executed, burnt at the stake and their ashes thrown to the winds."[29] However, alternative perspectives come from Canon Law sources. The 12th Century Decretum Gratiani states that "Whether an hermaphrodite may witness a testament, depends on which sex prevails"[30][31][32]

During the Victorian era, medical authors introduced the terms "true hermaphrodite" for an individual who has both ovarian and testicular tissue, "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 term intersexuality was coined by Richard Goldschmidt in 1917.[33] The first suggestion to replace the term 'hermaphrodite' with 'intersex' was made by Cawadias in the 1940s.[34]

Since the rise of modern medical science, some intersex people with ambiguous external genitalia have had their genitalia surgically modified to resemble either female or male genitals. Surgeons pinpointed intersex babies as a "social emergency" when born.[35] A now debunked 'Optimal Gender Policy' initially developed by John Money, stated that early intervention helped avoid gender identity confusion.[18] Since advances 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.[36]

Dialog between what were once antagonistic groups of activists and clinicians has led to only slight changes in medical policies and how intersex patients and their families are treated in some locations.[37] Numerous civil society organizations and human rights institutions now call for an end to unnecessary "normalizing" interventions. In 2011, Christiane Völling became the first intersex person known to have successfully sued for damages in a case brought for non-consensual surgical intervention.[19] In April 2015, Malta became the first country to outlaw non-consensual medical interventions to modify sex anatomy, including that of intersex people.[20]

Human rights and legal issues[edit]

Main article: Intersex human rights

Human rights institutions are placing increasing scrutiny on harmful practices and issues of discrimination against intersex people. These issues have been addressed by a rapidly increasing number of international institutions including, in 2015, the Council of Europe, the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization. These developments have been accompanied by International Intersex Forums and increased cooperation amongst civil society organizations. However, the implementation, codification and enforcement of intersex human rights in national legal systems remains slow.

Areas of concern include:

  • Non-consensual medical interventions: This includes "normalising" interventions on intersex persons that are medically unnecessary and the unnecessary pathologisation of variations in sex characteristics. Medical interventions to modify the sex characteristics of intersex people, without the consent of the intersex person have taken place in all countries where the human rights of intersex people have been studied.[38] These interventions have frequently been performed with the consent of the intersex person's parents, when the person is legally too young to consent. Such interventions have been criticized by the World Health Organization, other UN bodies such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and an increasing number of regional and national institutions. In April 2015, Malta became the first country to outlaw surgical intervention without consent.[20][21] In the same year, the Council of Europe became the first institution to state that intersex people have the right not to undergo sex affirmation interventions.[20][21][39][40][41] The Chilean government also announced a suspension of non-consensual medical interventions.[42][43]
  • Anti-discrimination and equal treatment: inclusion in Equal treatment and hate crime law. Several countries have so far explicitly protected intersex people from discrimination, including Australia,[44][45] Malta[46][47][48][49][50] and South Africa.[21][51] Bosnia and Herzegovina forbid discrimination based on "sex characteristics".[52][53] Jersey also explicitly protects intersex people from discrimination since 1 September 2015.[54] Since 24 December 2015, Greece prohibits discrimination and hate crimes based on "sex characteristics".[55][56]
  • Access to information and support: Access to information, medical records, peer and other counselling and support. With the rise of modern medical science in Western societies, a secrecy-based model was also adopted, in the belief that this was necessary to ensure "normal" physical and psychosocial development.[17][18][61][62][63][64]
  • Recognition of gender identities: Respecting self-determination in gender recognition, through expeditious access to official documents.[39] The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions states that legal recognition is firstly "about intersex people who have been issued a male or a female birth certificate being able to enjoy the same legal rights as other men and women."[65] Like all individuals, some intersex individuals may be raised as a certain sex (male or female) but then identify with another later in life, while most do not.[2][3][23][24][66][67] Recognition of third sex or gender classifications occurs in several countries,[68][69][70][71] however, it is controversial when it becomes assumed or coercive.[72][73][74][75] In some regions, obtaining any form of birth certification may be an issue. A Kenyan court case in 2014 established the right of an intersex boy, "Baby A", to a birth certificate.[76]

Intersex in society[edit]

Fiction and media representations[edit]

An intersex character is the narrator in Jeffrey Eugenides Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex.

Television works about intersex and films about intersex are scarce. Amongst these, Faking It (2014 TV series) is notable for providing the first intersex main character in a television show,[77] and television's first intersex character played by an intersex actor.[78]

Civil society institutions[edit]

Further information: International Intersex Forum

Intersex peer support and advocacy organizations have existed since at least 1985, with the establishment of the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group Australia in 1985.[79] The Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group (UK) established in 1988.[80] The Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) may have been one of the first intersex civil society organizations to have been open to people regardless of diagnosis; it was active from 1993 to 2008.[81]

Civil awareness days[edit]

Intersex Awareness Day is an internationally observed civil awareness day designed to highlight the challenges faced by intersex people, occurring annually on 26 October. It marks the first public demonstration by intersex people, which took place in Boston on October 26, 1996, outside a venue where the American Academy of Pediatrics was holding its annual conference.[82]

Intersex Day of Remembrance, also known as Intersex Solidarity Day, is an internationally observed civil awareness day designed to highlight issues faced by intersex people, occurring annually on 8 November. It marks the birthday of Herculine Barbin, a French intersex person whose memoirs were later published by Michel Foucault in Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-century French Hermaphrodite.

Flag[edit]

Intersex Pride flag
Further information: Intersex flag

The intersex flag was created by Organisation Intersex International Australia in July 2013 to create a flag "that is not derivative, but is yet firmly grounded in meaning". The organization aimed to create a symbol without gendered pink and blue colors. It describes yellow and purple as "hermaphrodite" colors. The organization describes it as freely available "for use by any intersex person or organization who wishes to use it, in a human rights affirming community context".[83]

Religion[edit]

Hinduism[edit]

Sangam literature uses the word pedi to refer to people born with an intersex condition; it also refers to antharlinga hijras and various other hijras.[84] Warne and Raza argue that an association between intersex and hijra people is mostly unfounded, but popular misunderstandings "cause tremendous fear in the parents" of intersex infants and children.[85]

Islam[edit]

Scholars of Islamic jurisprudence have detailed discussions on the status and rights of intersex based on what mainly exhibits in their external sexual organs. Yet, modern Islamic jurisprudence scholars turn to medical screening to determine the dominance of their sex. The intersex rights includes rights of inheritance, rights to marriage, rights to live like any other male or female. The rights are generally based on whether they are true hermaphrodites, or pseudo hermaphrodite. Scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence generally consider their rights based on the majority of what appears from their external sexual organs.[citation needed]

Judaism[edit]

The Talmud contains extensive discussion concerning the status of two intersex types in Jewish law; namely the androginus, which exhibits both male and female external sexual organs, and the tumtum which exhibits neither.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the treatment of intersex babies started to be discussed in Orthodox Jewish medical halacha by prominent rabbinic leaders, for example Eliezer Waldenberg and Moshe Feinstein.[86]

In 2002 at the Reform Jewish seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, the Reform rabbi Margaret Wenig organized the first school-wide seminar at any rabbinical school which addressed the psychological, legal, and religious issues affecting people who are intersex or transsexual,[87] and in 2003 she was also the first to organize a similar school-wide seminar at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.[87]

Sport[edit]

Multiple athletes have been humiliated, excluded from competition or been forced to return medals following discovery of an intersex trait. Examples include Erik Schinegger, Foekje Dillema, Maria José Martínez-Patiño and Santhi Soundarajan. In contrast, Stanisława Walasiewicz (also known as Stella Walsh) was the subject of posthumous controversy.[88]

The South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya won gold at the World Championships in the women's 800 meter and won silver in the 2012 Summer Olympics. When Semenya won gold in the World Championships, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requested sex verification tests. The results were not released, but Semenya was cleared to race with other women.[89] Katrina Karkazis, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Georgiann Davis and Silvia Camporesi argued that new IAAF policies on "hyperandrogenism" in female athletes, established in response to the Semenya case, are "significantly flawed", arguing that the policy will not protect against breaches of privacy, will require athletes to undergo unnecessary treatment in order to compete, and will intensify "gender policing". They recommend that athletes be able to compete in accordance with their legal gender.[90]

In April 2014, the BMJ reported that four elite women athletes with 5-ARD were subjected to sterilization and "partial clitoridectomies" in order to compete in sport. The authors noted that "partial clitoridectomy" was "not medically indicated, does not relate to real or perceived athletic "advantage".[13] Intersex advocates regard this intervention as "a clearly coercive process".[91] In 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on health, Dainius Pūras, criticized "current and historic" sex verification policies, describing how "a number of athletes have undergone gonadectomy (removal of reproductive organs) and partial clitoridectomy (a form of female genital mutilation) in the absence of symptoms or health issues warranting those procedures."[92]

Language[edit]

Research in the late 20th century has led to a growing medical consensus that diverse intersex bodies are normal, but relatively rare, forms of human biology.[3][93][94][95] Clinician and researcher Milton Diamond stresses the importance of care in the selection of language related to intersex people:

Foremost, we advocate use of the terms "typical", "usual", or "most frequent" where it is more common to use the term "normal." When possible avoid expressions like maldeveloped or undeveloped, errors of development, defective genitals, abnormal, or mistakes of nature. Emphasize that all of these conditions are biologically understandable while they are statistically uncommon.[96]

Self-identification with the term 'intersex'[edit]

Some people with intersex traits self-identify as intersex, and some do not.[97][98] Some intersex organizations reference "intersex people" and "intersex variations or traits"[99] while others use more medicalized language such as "people with intersex conditions",[100] or people "with intersex conditions or DSDs (differences of sex development)" and "children born with variations of sex anatomy".[101]

Hermaphrodite[edit]

Main article: Hermaphrodite

A hermaphrodite is an organism that has both male and female reproductive organs. Until the mid-20th century, "hermaphrodite" was used synonymously with "intersex".[34]

Currently, hermaphroditism is not to be confused with intersex, as the former refers only to a specific phenotypical presentation of sex organs and the latter to more complex combination of phenotypical and genotypical presentation. Using "hermaphrodite" to refer to intersex individuals is considered to be stigmatizing and misleading.[102] In reality, hermaphrodite is used for animal and vegetal species in which the possession of both ovaries and testes is either serial or concurrent, and for living organisms without such gonads but present binary form of reproduction, which is part of the typical life history of those species; intersex has come to be used when this is not the case.

Disorders of sex development[edit]

"Disorders of sex development" (DSD) is a contested term,[8][9] defined to include congenital conditions in which development of chromosomal, gonadal, or anatomical sex is atypical. Members of the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology adopted this term in their "Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders".[11][103] While it adopted the term, to open "many more doors", the now defunct Intersex Society of North America itself remarked that intersex is not a disorder.[104] Other intersex people, activists, supporters, and academics have contested the adoption of the terminology and its implied status as a "disorder", seeing this as offensive to intersex individuals who do not feel that there is something wrong with them, regard the DSD consensus paper as reinforcing the normativity of early surgical interventions, and criticizing the treatment protocols associated with the new taxonomy.[105] Alternatives to categorizing intersex conditions as "disorders" have been suggested, including "variations of sex development".[10] Organisation Intersex International (OII) questions a disease/disability approach, argues for deferral of intervention unless medically necessary, when fully informed consent of the individual involved is possible, and self-determination of sex/gender orientation and identity.[106] The UK Intersex Association (UKIA) is also highly critical of the label 'disorders' and points to the fact that there was minimal involvement of intersex representatives in the debate which led to the change in terminology.[107] In May 2016, Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth published a statement opposing pathologizing language to describe people born with intersex traits, recognizing "increasing general understanding and acceptance of the term "intersex"".[108]

LGBT and LGBTI[edit]

Main article: LGBT

The relationship of intersex to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans, and queer communities is complex,[109] but intersex people are often added to LGBT to create an LGBTI community. Emi Koyama describes how inclusion of intersex in LGBTI can fail to address intersex-specific human rights issues, including creating false impressions "that intersex people's rights are protected" by laws protecting LGBT people, and failing to acknowledge that many intersex people are not LGBT.[110] Organisation Intersex International Australia states that some intersex individuals are same sex attracted, and some are heterosexual, but "LGBTI activism has fought for the rights of people who fall outside of expected binary sex and gender norms."[111][112]

Intersex may be contrasted with transgender,[113] which describes the condition in which one's gender identity does not match one's assigned sex.[113][114][115] Some people are both intersex and transgender.[116]

Intersex can also be contrasted with homosexuality or same-sex attraction. Numerous studies have shown higher rates of same sex attraction in intersex people,[117][118] with a recent Australian study of people born with atypical sex characteristics finding that 52% of respondents were non-heterosexual,[22][119] thus research on intersex subjects has been used to explore means of preventing homosexuality.[117][118]

In an analysis of the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to eliminate intersex traits, Behrmann and Ravitsky find social concepts of sex, gender and sexual orientation to be "intertwined on many levels. Parental choice against intersex may thus conceal biases against same-sex attractedness and gender nonconformity."[120]

Population figures[edit]

The number of intersex people depends on the definition used. While human rights institutions have called for the demedicalisation of intersex traits, as far as possible,[17][39][121][122] medical definitions are still used at present. The now-defunct Intersex Society of North America stated that:

If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.[123]

Specialist medical attention may include surgery to assign infants to a given sex category (i.e. male or female).[124] This is controversial due to the human rights implications.[39][122]

According to Blackless, Fausto-Sterling et al., on the other hand, 1.7 percent of human births are intersex.[125][124] According to Leonard Sax intersex should be "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", around 0.018%. This definition excludes Klinefelter syndrome and many other variations.[126]

Given that many conditions excluded from Sax's analysis are termed disorders of sex development, such individuals may be subjected to sex "normalizing" interventions, and so they meet current definitions of intersex in use by UN and other bodies, the statistical analyses by Blackless and Fausto-Sterling have become widely quoted,[39][127] including by clinicians.[128] The following summarizes those frequency statistics:

Sex Variation Frequency
Not XX, XY, Klinefelter, or Turner one in 1,666 births
Klinefelter syndrome (XXY) one in 1,000 births
Turner syndrome (45,X) one in 2,710 births[129]
Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 1,000 birth.[130]
Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, e.g. progestin administered to pregnant mother) No estimate
5-alpha-reductase deficiency No estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesis No estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
Epispadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 117,000 births[131]

Medical classifications[edit]

Signs[edit]

Ambiguous genitalia[edit]

"Hermaphrodite", 1860, by Nadar

Ambiguous genitalia may appear as a large clitoris or as a small penis.

The Quigley scale is a method for describing genital development in AIS.

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 or 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,[132][133] the distinctions "male pseudohermaphrodite", "female pseudohermaphrodite" and especially "true hermaphrodite"[134] are vestiges of outdated 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.[135]

"True hermaphroditism"[edit]

A "true hermaphrodite" is defined as someone with both testicular and ovarian tissue.

In 2003, researchers at UCLA published their studies of a lateral gynandromorphic hermaphroditic zebra finch, which had a testicle on the right and an ovary on the left. Its entire body was split down the middle between female and male, with hormones from both gonads running through the blood.[136] This is an example of mosaicism or chimerism and is quite rare.

Ovotestes[edit]

Though naturally occurring true hermaphroditism in humans is unknown, there is, on the other hand, a spectrum of forms of ovotestes. The varieties include having two ovotestes or one ovary and one ovotestis, often in the form of streak gonads. Phenotype is not determinable from the ovotestes; in some cases, 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."[137]

Intersex activist Cheryl Chase is an example of someone with ovotestes.[138]

Measurement systems[edit]

The Phall-O-Meter satirizes clinical assessments of appropriate clitoris and penis length at birth.

The Orchidometer is a medical instrument to measure the volume of the testicles. It was developed by Swiss pediatric endocrinologist Andrea Prader.

The Phall-O-Meter is a metric scale, developed by Kiira Triea based on a concept by Suzanne Kessler[139] and later described by Anne Fausto-Sterling in Sexing the Body. The scale combines assessments of acceptable phallus measurements for boys and girls. For a girl, a medically acceptable clitoris can be no bigger than one centimeter. For a boy, an acceptable penis size must be between 2.5 centimeters and 4.5 centimeters. The range between one and 2.5 is unacceptable in either sex.[124]

The Prader scale[140] and Quigley scale are visual rating systems that measure genital virilization or femilization.

Other signs[edit]

In order to help in classification, methods other 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.

Causes[edit]

Adult (38), Klinefelter's 46,XY/47,XXY mosaic diagnosis (19): gynecomastia

The common pathway of sexual differentiation, where a productive human female has an XX chromosome pair, and a productive male has an XY pair, is relevant to the development of intersex conditions.

During fertilization, the sperm adds either an X (female) or a Y (male) chromosome to the X in the ovum. This determines the genetic sex of the embryo.[141] During the first weeks of development, genetic male and female fetuses are "anatomically indistinguishable", with primitive gonads beginning to develop during approximately the sixth week of gestation. The gonads, in a "bipotential state", may develop into either testes (the male gonads) or ovaries (the female gonads), depending on the consequent events.[141] Through the seventh week, genetically female and genetically male fetuses appear identical.

At around eight weeks of gestation, the gonads of an XY embryo differentiate into functional testes, secreting testosterone. Ovarian differentiation, for XX embryos, does not occur until approximately Week 12 of gestation. In normal female differentiation, the Müllerian duct system develops into the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and inner third of the vagina. In males, the Müllerian duct-inhibiting hormone MIH causes this duct system to regress. Next, androgens cause the development of the Wolffian duct system, which develops into the vas deferens, seminal vesicles, and ejaculatory ducts.[141] By birth, the typical fetus has been completely "sexed" male or female, meaning that the genetic sex (XY-male or XX-female) corresponds with the phenotypical sex; that is to say, genetic sex corresponds with internal and external gonads, and external appearance of the genitals.

Conditions[edit]

Further information: Disorders of Sex Development

There are a variety of opinions on what conditions or traits are and are not intersex, dependent on the definition of intersex that is used. Current human rights based definitions stress a broad diversity of sex characteristics that differ from expectations for male or female bodies.[1] During 2015, the Council of Europe,[39] the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights[121] and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights[122] have called for a review of medical classifications that unnecessarily medicalize intersex traits[39][121][122]

Medical treatment[edit]

Psychosocial support[edit]

A 2006 clinician "Consensus Statement on Intersex Disorders and Their Management" attempted to prioritise psychosocial support for children and families, but it also supports surgical intervention with psychosocial rationales such as "minimizing family concern and distress" and "mitigating the risks of stigmatization and gender-identity confusion".[11]

In 2012, the Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics argued strongly in favour of improved psychosocial support, saying:[18]

The initial aim of counselling and support is therefore to create a protected space for parents and the newborn, so as to facilitate a close bond. In addition, the parents need to be enabled to take the necessary decisions on the child's behalf calmly and after due reflection. In this process, they should not be subjected to time or social pressures. Parents' rapid requests for medical advice or for corrective surgery are often a result of initial feelings of helplessness, which need to be overcome so as to permit carefully considered decision-making.

It is important to bear in mind and also to point out to the parents that a diagnosis does not in itself entail any treatment or other medical measures, but serves initially to provide an overview of the situation and a basis for subsequent decisions, which may also take the form of watchful waiting.

...interventions have lasting effects on the development of identity, fertility, sexual functioning and the parent-child relationship. The parents' decisions should therefore be marked by authenticity, clarity and full awareness, and based on love for the child, so that they can subsequently be openly justified vis-à-vis the child or young adult.

A joint international statement by intersex community organizations published in 2013 sought, amongst other demands:

Recognition that medicalization and stigmatisation of intersex people result in significant trauma and mental health concerns.

In view of ensuring the bodily integrity and well-being of intersex people, autonomous non-pathologising psycho-social and peer support be available to intersex people throughout their life (as self-required), as well as to parents and/or care providers.

Surgery[edit]

Surgical procedures depend on diagnosis, and there is often concern as to whether surgery should be performed at all. Typically, surgery is performed shortly after birth. Surgery may be necessary to assist in bowel and bladder functions. However, 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. Psychosocial reasons are often stated.[11] This is criticised by many human rights institutions, and authors including Morgan Holmes and Alice Dreger, who say that surgical treatment is socially motivated and, hence, ethically questionable; without evidence, doctors regularly assume that intersex persons cannot have a clear gender identity. Parents may be advised that without surgery, their child will be stigmatized.[145]

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 or penis is reduced/removed), or feelings of freakishness and unacceptability, which may have been avoided without the surgery. Further, since almost all such surgeries are undertaken to fashion female genitalia for the child, it is more difficult for the child to present as male if that child later identifies as or is genetically male. 20-50% of surgical cases result in a loss of sexual sensation (Newman 1991, 1992).

Additionally, parents are not often consulted on the decision-making process when choosing the sex of the child. The Intersex Society of North America stated that "For decades, doctors have thought it necessary to treat intersex with a concealment-centered approach, one that features downplaying intersex as much as possible, even to the point of lying to patients about their conditions. A lot of people in our culture also had no interest in hearing that sex doesn't come in two simple flavors."[123] Opponents maintain that there is no compelling evidence that the presumed social benefits of such "normalizing" surgery outweigh the potential costs.[146][147]

Intersex advocates and experts have critiqued the necessity of early interventions, citing individual's experiences of intervention and the lack of follow-up studies showing clear benefits. Specialists at the Intersex Clinic at University College London began to publish evidence in 2001 that indicated the harm that can arise as a result of inappropriate interventions, and advised minimising the use of childhood surgical procedures.[148][149][150][151][152][153][154][155][156][157]

Studies have revealed how surgical intervention has had psychological effects, leading to the impact on well-being and quality of life. Genitoplasty, plastic surgery done on the genitalia, does not ensure a successful psychological outcome for the patient and might require psychological support when the patient is trying to distinguish a gender identity.[158] Other than the possible negative psychological outcomes, surgeries, like with a vaginoplasty, can have physical outcomes, one common one being scarring, which can be a factor to insensitivity.[124] Other cases where vaginoplasty has caused complications, is that the implant or artificial vagina will not stay in place, or need further surgeries.[159] One of the reasons there are many complications is that doctors who do not specialize in genitoplasty or similar surgeries (phalloplasty, vaginoplasty) usually reconstruct the child's ambiguous genitalia.

The Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics describes surgical interventions as problematic, with "harmful consequences may include, for example, loss of fertility and sexual sensitivity, chronic pain, or pain associated with dilation (bougienage) of a surgically created vagina, with traumatizing effects for the child. If such interventions are performed solely with a view to integration of the child into a family and social environment, then they run counter to the child's welfare. In addition, there is no guarantee that the intended purpose (integration) will be achieved."[18]

In 2013, a submission by the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Association to an Australian Senate inquiry on the Involuntary and coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia[17] acknowledged that there is no firm evidence of good outcomes from appearance-related genital surgeries on infants and children. They state there is "particular concern" regarding post-surgical "sexual function and sensation".[12]

In 2015, an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) described current surgical interventions as experimental, stating that clinical confidence in constructing "normal" genital anatomies has not been borne out, and that medically credible pathways other than surgery do not yet exist.[160]

Decision-making on cancer risks[edit]

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.[161]

In a major Parliamentary report in Australia, published in October 2013, the Senate Community Affairs References committee was "disturbed" by the possible implications of current practices in the treatment of cancer risk. The committee stated: "clinical intervention pathways stated to be based on probabilities of cancer risk may be encapsulating treatment decisions based on other factors, such as the desire to conduct normalising surgery… Treating cancer may be regarded as unambiguously therapeutic treatment, while normalising surgery may not. Thus basing a decision on cancer risk might avoid the need for court oversight in a way that a decision based on other factors might not. The committee is disturbed by the possible implications of this..."[17]

Medical photography[edit]

Photographs of intersex children's genitalia are circulated in medical communities for documentary purposes; an example appears on this page. Problems associated with experiences of medical photography of intersex children have been discussed[162] along with their ethics, control and usage.[163]

"The experience of being photographed has exemplified for many people with intersex conditions the powerlessness and humiliation felt during medical investigations and interventions".[163]

Hormone treatment[edit]

There is widespread evidence of prenatal testing and hormone treatment to prevent intersex traits.[164][165] In 1990, a paper by Heino Meyer-Bahlburg titled Will Prenatal Hormone Treatment Prevent Homosexuality? was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. It examined the use of "prenatal hormone screening or treatment for the prevention of homosexuality" using research conducted on foetuses with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Dreger, Feder, and Tamar-Mattis describe how later research constructs "low interest in babies and men – and even interest in what they consider to be men's occupations and games – as "abnormal", and potentially preventable with prenatal dex[amethasone]".[164]

Genetic selection and terminations[edit]

The ethics of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select against intersex traits was the subject of 11 papers in the October 2013 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics.[166] There is widespread evidence of pregnancy terminations arising from prenatal testing, as well prenatal hormone treatment to prevent intersex traits.

In April 2014, Organisation Intersex International Australia made a submission on genetic selection via Preimplantation genetic diagnosis to the National Health and Medical Research Council recommending that deselection of embryos and foetuses on grounds of intersex status should not be permitted. It quoted research by Professors Morgan Holmes, Jeff Nisker, associate professor Georgiann Davis, and by Jason Behrmann and Vardit Ravitsky.[167] It quotes research showing pregnancy termination rates of up to 88% in 47,XXY even while the World Health Organization describes the trait as "compatible with normal life expectancy", and "often undiagnosed".[168][169] Behrmann and Ravitsky find social concepts of sex, gender and sexual orientation to be "intertwined on many levels. Parental choice against intersex may thus conceal biases against same-sex attractedness and gender nonconformity."[170]

Gender dysphoria[edit]

The DSM-5 included a change from using Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria. This revised code now specifically includes intersex people who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth, using the language of Disorders of Sex Development.[171] This move was criticised by intersex advocacy groups in Australia and New Zealand.[172]

Notes[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

External video
" What It’s Like To Be Intersex", Lizz Warner, BuzzFeed
"Intersexion" documentary, Wikipedia page