Sex change

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Sex change is a process by which a living being changes sex – that is, by which female sexual characteristics are substituted for male ones or vice versa.[citation needed]

Sex change may occur naturally, as in the case of the sequential hermaphroditism observed in some species. Most commonly, however, the term is used for sex reassignment therapy, including sex reassignment surgery, carried out on humans. It is also sometimes used for the medical procedures applied to intersex people. The term may also be applied to the broader process of changing gender role ("living as a woman" instead of living as a man, or vice versa), including but not necessarily limited to medical procedures.

Natural sex change[edit]

In animals[edit]

A clownfish – a species in which sex change from male to female is a normal process in biology

Some species exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. In these species, such as many species of coral reef fishes, sex change is a normal anatomical process.[1] Clownfish, wrasses, moray eels, gobies[2] and other fish species are known to change sex, including reproductive functions. A school of clownfish is always built into a hierarchy with a female fish at the top. When she dies, the most dominant male changes sex and takes her place.[3] In the wrasses (the family Labridae), sex change is from female to male, with the largest female of the harem changing into a male and taking over the harem upon the disappearance of the previous dominant male.

Natural sex change, in both directions, has also been reported in mushroom corals. This is posited to take place in response to environmental or energetic constraints, and to improve the organism's evolutionary fitness; similar phenomena are observed in some dioecious plants.[4]

Chickens can sometimes undergo natural sex changes. Normally, female chickens have just one functional ovary, on their left side. Although two sex organs are present during the embryonic stages of all birds, once a chicken's female hormones come into effect, it typically develops only the left ovary. The right gonad, which has yet to be defined as an ovary, testes, or both (called an ovotestis), typically remains dormant. Certain medical conditions can cause a chicken's left ovary to regress. In the absence of a functional left ovary, the dormant right sex organ may begin to grow; if the activated right gonad is an ovotestis or testes, it will begin secreting androgens. The hen does not completely change into a rooster, however. This transition is limited to making the bird phenotypically male.[5][6] The condition could also be caused by mycotoxins that can develop when animal feed is stored, and these have the same effect as synthetic hormones.[7] In about 10 percent of cases, if eggs fertilized with male chromosomes are cooled by a few degrees for three days after laying, the relative activity of the sex hormones will favour development of female characteristics. The sex chromosomes work by coding for enzymes that affect the bird's development in the egg and during its life. This cooling will produce a chicken with a fully functioning and reproductively fertile female body-type; even though the chicken is genetically male.[8]

Apparent sex change in humans[edit]

Several medical conditions can result in an apparent sex change in humans, where the appearance at birth is somewhat, mostly, or completely of one sex, but changes over the course of a lifetime to being somewhat, mostly, or completely of the other sex[citation needed]. Overwhelming majority of natural sex changes are from a female appearance at birth to a male appearance after puberty, due to either 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (5alpha-RD-2) or 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency (17beta-HSD-3).[9][10]

Sex change as medical procedure[edit]

The term "sex change" to refer to sex reassignment surgery, that is, a set of medical procedures undergone by transgender people to alter their sexual characteristics from male to female or from female to male, is considered offensive and inaccurate by many in the transgender community.[11] The term is also sometimes used for the medical procedures intersex people undergo, or, more often, are subjected to as children.

The term "sex change" is sometimes also used for the whole process of changing gender role ("living as a woman" instead of living as a man, or vice versa), not limited to medical procedures. (This process is often much more important to transgender people than the medical procedures themselves, although medically induced changes and surgeries may be needed to make a change of gender role possible, both socially and legally; they can also have a very significant impact on the person's well-being.)

Many people regard the term "sex reassignment surgery" as preferable to "sex change".[12] Sex in humans is usually determined by four factors:

Not all of these factors can be changed:

  • Chromosomes cannot be changed
  • Gonads can be removed, but not replaced
  • Hormone status can be changed
  • Existing secondary sex characteristics can to some extent be changed; existing ones mostly through surgery, non-existing ones can be induced to grow through hormones.
    For example: Changing a male genital anatomy into a good or even excellent female appearance with functioning is complicated but entirely possible; changing a female genital anatomy into an even reasonably male appearing one, however, is extremely complicated and not successful very often; function is always limited.[citation needed]

Sex reassignment is usually preceded by a period of feminization or masculinization. This is accomplished through hormone replacement therapy, where, for those transitioning to female, estrogens and antiandrogens and sometimes progestogens are prescribed. For those transitioning to male, androgens are prescribed. The most common minimum waiting period before gender reassignment surgery is two years, as specified by the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People. Hormone replacement therapy is normally started after sufficient counseling, and/or after a period of living 'full-time' (in the target gender) typically for a minimum of six months. This waiting period may vary depending on local regulations and is sometimes nonexistent. Many trans people become medical tourists, as gender reassignment surgery is typically less expensive, less regulated, and sometimes performed by much more experienced surgeons in countries such as Thailand.


  1. ^ Black, MP; Grober, MS (2003). "Group sex, sex change, and parasitic males: Sexual strategies among the fishes and their neurobiological correlates". Annual Review of Sex Research. 14: 160–84. PMID 15287162.
  2. ^ Lorenzi, V; Earley, R.L.; Grober, M.S. (2006). "Preventing behavioural interactions with a male facilitates sex change in female bluebanded gobies, Lythrypnus dalli". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 59 (6): 715–722. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0101-0. S2CID 18416862.
  3. ^ "Nemo Meets Neuroscience" (Article). Beckman Institute. Retrieved 2020-12-23.
  4. ^ Yossi Loya and Kazuhiko Sakai, "Bidirectional sex change in mushroom stony corals", Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 22 October 2008
  5. ^ Remy Melina (31 March 2011). "Sex-Change Chicken: Gertie the Hen Becomes Bertie the Cockerel". Live Science.
  6. ^ Shaikat, Amir Hossan (2015). "Investigation of Sex Reversal in Layer Chickens in Bangladesh" (PDF). Advances in Animal and Veterinary Sciences. 3 (4): 245–252. doi:10.14737/JOURNAL.AAVS/2015/ S2CID 10764239. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  7. ^ "'Sex-change' chicken shocks Cambridgeshire owner". BBC News. 31 March 2011.
  8. ^ Luis Villazon (24 September 2009). "Can chickens really change gender?". BBC Focus magazine.
  9. ^ Cohen-Kettenis, Peggy T. (2005). "Gender Change in 46,XY Persons with 5α-Reductase-2 Deficiency and 17β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase-3 Deficiency". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (4): 399–410. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-4339-4. PMID 16010463. S2CID 146495456.
  10. ^ Bertelloni, Silvano; Maggio, M. Cristina; Federico, Giovanni; Baroncelli, Giampiero; Hiort, Olaf (2006). "17β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency: A rare endocrine cause of male-to-female sex reversal". Gynecological Endocrinology. 22 (9): 488–94. doi:10.1080/09513590600921358. PMID 17071532. S2CID 45138108.
  11. ^ Ennis, Dawn (4 February 2016). "10 Words Transgender People Want You to Know (But Not Say)". The Advocate. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  12. ^ Pfäfflin F, Junge A (2003). Sex reassignment thirty years of international follow-up studies after sex reassignment surgery: a comprehensive review, 1961–1991. International journal of transgenderism. Symposion: Düsseldorf. OCLC 244295488.[page needed]