Intersexuality (also known as DSD) is a term describing a person whose physical sex is neither male nor female. It is a broad term, which describes a vast number of conditions that can cause a variety of physical variations. The term "hermaphrodite" is regarded as insulting and deprecated.
Intersexuality may be caused by:
- Chromosomal variation
- Hormonal variation
- Gonadal variation
- Physical variation
Or some combination thereof.
Some intersex people are born with ambiguous genitalia. Many of these are subject to sex change operations as a baby, in order to "correct" their sex. Most, nowadays, regard this practice as barbaric and is the subject of protests.
Other intersex people have more subtle conditions that are discovered later in life, including, but not limited to, Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), Swyer Syndrome and Klinefelter's Syndrome. These are usually chromosomal or genetic.
AIS and Swyer Syndrome are both XY sex reversal conditions, which causes a genetic male, with 46,XY chromosomes, to be born female. In the case of AIS, the girl possesses undescended testes, but does not process testosterone and therefore grows breasts at puberty, while lacking in a great deal of body hair. In the case of Swyer Syndrome, the girl has no functioning gonads. What is there is usually removed upon diagnosis due to its tendency to develop tumours. The girl only gets the first signs of puberty, but it halts, and it is after this that diagnosis is usually made.
In the case of Klinefelter's Syndrome, the person's chromosomes is 47,XXY. This causes the person to be born male, but normally has reduced testicular function, and they sometimes can develop breast tissue. Often, they will take testosterone supplements.
- Creighton, S. and Minto, C. (2001). Managing intersex: Most vaginal surgery in childhood should be deferred. BMJ, 323, (7324): pp. 1264-1265.
- AIS Support Group
- Intersex Society of North America
- Organisation Intersex International
- XXYTalk Forums