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Understanding Sexuality: Intersex

By: Sara Keen, Editor-in-Chief, and Mackenzie Border, Layout Manager

Intersex has replaced the term “hermaphrodite” to refer to anyone born with “a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that does not fit typical definitions of male or female,” according to

For intersex individuals, it begins in the womb. “Males and females are defined by their sex chromosomes, biologically speaking,” said Maryam Flagg, Instructor of Biology.

“There are a variety of processes occurring in the development of the sex organs, including development of the gonads (ovaries or testes), development of the duct system and accessory glands, and development of the external genitals.

“This occurs between six and 20 weeks of pregnancy,” Flagg added.

Flagg also said that there are four major groups where a discrepancy is found between the external and internal genitals. These groups include XX Intersex, XY Intersex, True Gonadal Intersex, and chromosome variations, such as XO, which are all detailed in the graphic below.

Flagg included that there are a variety of medical problems that can occur with Intersex individuals.

“98 percent of XO pregnancies are spontaneously aborted,” Flagg stated, adding that those who are born have difficulties ranging from organ defects to infertility.

Flagg explained that fetal development could be affected by blood supply, oxygen level, nutrition, and chemical exposure.

“In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that exposure to environmental sources of estrogen is causing reproductive disorders in humans. Studies have shown a continual decline in semen quality and an increase in male reproductive disorders and cancers in industrialized countries.

This has been attributed to chemicals that mimic estrogen or disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system,” said Flagg.

“Those who are Intersex constantly face a battle with medical personnel and people in general that there is nothing wrong with their bodies,” said Jamie Fuston, Instructor of Sociology.

“Often people who are Intersex are advised to remove parts of their body that are perfectly healthy in an effort to fit into the sexual dichotomy we have created in our society,” Fuston added.

Fuston explained that we frequently force those who do not fit into exclusive categories, such as male or female, into one anyway.

“If they refuse to identify as one of those categories or don’t change their body to fit what we in society deem as ‘normal’ we often shame them for it.

“Those who are Intersex are often taught not to talk about their bodies and to hide themselves and society largely renders them invisible,” Fuston stated.

Fuston included an example of this happening now, in which the trans* bathroom bill, which would force Tennessee students to use the bathroom of their assigned sex, completely ignores those who are Intersex.

“By technicality, I would count as an intersex person,” started Elizabeth Martie, President of Spectrum.

“Some issues that come with [being intersex] include developing sexual relations with a partner, low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, just to name a few,” Martie added.

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