What is Intersex?

Intersex is a group of conditions where a chromosomal or physical discrepancy may occur between the external and internal genitals.

Intersex occurs 1 in every 2000 births and was once known as hermaphroitism, although this term is now seen misleading and insensitive.

Types of Intersex Conditions

Below is a short list of the most common intersex conditions.  This list is not exhaustive and only covers the four main categories of intersex conditions.

–          XX Intersex—a person may have the chromosomes and ovaries of a biological female but have external genitals that appear to be male. The labia are fused together and the clitoris is enlarged, which may look like a penis. All other internal reproductive organs such as the Fallopian tubes and uterus may be normal.

–          XY Intersex—a  person may have the chromosomes of a biological male, have external genitals that are not fully formed, ambiguous, or appear to be female, and are have internal testes that are malformed or absent.

–          True Gonadal Intersex—a person must have both ovarian and testicular tissue, which both could be the same gonad (i.e., two ovaries) or one of each (i.e., one ovary and one testis).  The person may also have external genitals that are ambiguous, male, or female.  They may also have XX, XY, or both XX and XY chromosomes.

–          Complex or Undetermined Intersex Disorders of Sexual Development—this category of intersex conditions deals with chromosomal configurations such as XXY or XXX.  These conditions are not considered intersex conditions where there is a difference between internal and external genitalia.

What should the medical response be?   

The Intersex Society of North America recommends a patient-center model of treatment for children with intersex conditions.  This model views intersex as a “variation” in physical sex and not a medical problem.  Their suggestion is to treat any medical conditions that need to be fixed immediately (such as urinary infections and metabolic disorders) and leave any non-essential treatments until the patient can consent for themselves for the treatment. This is due to high rates of gender reassignment amongst those with intersex conditions.  They additionally suggest that the child be given a male or female sex after hormonal and genetic diagnostics.

Traditional concealment-centered models view intersex conditions as an abnormality that needs to be repaired.  With this model, parents are encouraged to correct an intersex child’s ambiguous genitalia using surgery, hormonal, or other methods.  Concealment-centered models use new medical technologies brought about by the advent of modern medical procedures, which encourages that the correction of the condition in order to prevent trauma to the child.

These are only two opinions in the treatment of intersex conditions.  It is up to the parents, child, and medical staff to determine appropriate interventions for those with intersex conditions.


Information from U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health online at and the Intersex Society of North America online at