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Breaking Down Intersex

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Did you know about 1.7% of people are born intersex in the United States?  It is also estimated that 0.5% of people have clinically recognizable sexual and reproductive organ variations.  If you compare this to the number of people born with red hair, 2%, this number is more significant than we think!  Statistics on individuals who are intersex may be scarce (since hospitals do not typically track that information), but information on intersex is not.  Let’s break down intersex and learn more.

What is intersex?

Intersex is a term for sex traits or reproductive anatomy differences that fall outside the strict male/female categories.  Intersex people are born with differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes compared to the typical two ways (male or female) human bodies develop.  These differences can happen at birth or develop during puberty. 

What causes intersex?

Being intersex is a natural variation in humans and is not a medical problem.  Although most intersex traits happen randomly, they can be genetic.  Intersex traits can develop when:

  • There is a change or loss of the sex-determining gene “Y.”
  • There are changes in the androgen receptor gene.

There is an exogenous hormone (hormones not produced naturally in the body) used during pregnancy.

Some intersex people have internal sex organs that fall outside the male/female categories, such as having both ovarian and testicular tissues. 

How do I know if I am intersex?

A person can live their whole life without knowing that they are intersex, but there are some common ways for you to notice that you may be intersex:

  1. At birth, your body has genital differences.
  2. During puberty, your body changes too early, unexpectedly, or there are no changes at all.
  3. During adulthood, you experience infertility or other medical procedures that uncover internal differences.

Most intersex people can recognize differences in themselves compared to their family or friends.

National Intersex Awareness Day

National Intersex Awareness Day occurs on October 26 every year.  This date marks the anniversary of the first public demonstration by intersex people in the United States.  In 1996, members of an advocacy group held a protest at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatricians, disapproving of non-consensual infant genital surgeries.  From there, intersex people and advocates recognize October 26 to raise awareness and support for intersex people.

If you know someone who is intersex, the best thing you can do is be supportive and love them for who they are.  If unsure whether you’re intersex, take control of your health and contact your local health care provider.  For encouragement or questions about being intersex, contact InterACT to find your local support group.