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What is Intersex?

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a child is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. An intersex individual may have biological characteristics of both the male and the female sexes. This doesn't mean that a child with an intersex condition has all the parts of a female and all the parts of a male. What it does mean is that a child with an intersex condition has some parts usually associated with males and some parts usually associated with females.

A child might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a child may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types. Or a child may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

Intersex conditions are also known as "disorders of sex development" (DSD) in the medical community.

How common are intersex conditions?

No one knows exactly how many children are born with intersex conditions because of the secrecy, shame, and openness surrounding it. It is estimated that about one in 2,000 children in the United States, are born visibly intersex.

It is often the parents that immediately has to make the decision to move forward with surgeries or determining the sex of their newborn. Determining the sex of infants at birth may not be the answer in all cases. Most cases differ according to the individual parents. The Intersex Society of North America, as well as some medical specialists, suggests that parents and doctors wait to determine a child’s sexual identity.

Intersex can be divided into four categories

  1. 46, XX Intersex: The child has the correct chromosome number. The normal sex chromosomes of a woman, the ovaries of a woman, but external genitals that appear male
  2. 46, XY Intersex: The child has the chromosomes of a man, but the external genitals are incompletely formed, ambiguous, or clearly female
  3. True Gonadal Intersex: The child must have both ovarian and testicular tissue. This might be in same gonad, or the person might have one ovary and one testis. The child may have XX chromosomes, XY chromosomes, or both
  4. Complex or Undetermined Intersex: Many chromosome configurations other than simple 46, XX or 46, XY can result in disorders of sex development

Parents and a Child with An Intersex Condition

Often parents may feel it is something that they are responsible for. Guilt, insecurities, and fear play a large part in defining who they are. With the support and guidance of their health care provider, transitioning and making the appropriate decisions concerning their child's gender should not be done in haste. Most children born with DSD's are healthy and have no immediate medical problems.

Intersex support groups can be an alternative to helping cope with this issue amongst parents and the immediate family. Consult with someone that can refer you to a support group that shares your thoughts and feelings. Professional psychological support for yourself and your child is important.


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