Fear of the unknown and ignorance foster an intolerance still present in today's society regarding gender freedom and sexuality. Intersex is a little-known concept and that, despite being present in a very low percentage of the world's population (around 0.05 and 1.7%), progress and progress in human and ideological rights lead to greater social exposure of these people.
But what is intersex all about? Probably, you have read or heard this term in the media on occasion, but if you are not clear about the meaning of this term it is important to delve into it before falling into prejudices or errors of understanding. To find out what intersex is and its types, at we recommend that you continue reading this article.
What does intersex mean?
Intersex is a concept used to designate the condition of people born with sexual characteristics not corresponded to the hegemonic and traditional binary notions about male and female bodies (chromosomal patterns, genitals or gonads, that is, testicles and ovaries).
Therefore, an intersex person is one who has sexual characteristics that do not fit anatomically within the sexual parameters constituted in the binary model of man-woman. The characteristics of an intersex individual are very diverse: in order for you to understand it, it is essential to consider the concept of ‘variation'.
Intersex refers to all situations in which a body varies with respect to the standard of masculine or feminine corporality culturally in force. These variations are different, so the characteristics of the individual who possesses them are also different.
In short, there is no specific body that can be categorized as intersex, but a wide set of possible corporealities. These variations are given by a way of looking at and measuring bodies from a cultural and biomedical perspective. Thus, intersex bodies can be classified into 4 different types: intersex 46 XX, intersex 46 XY, true gonadal intersex and complex or indeterminate intersex.
Intersex 46 XX
The person with this type of intersex has chromosomes and a woman's ovaries, but male-looking external genitalia. Frequently, it occurs as a result of a female fetus being overexposed to male hormones before birth. The labia majora of the female external genitalia fuse, the clitoris enlarges and looks like a penis.
In most cases, the person has a common uterus and fallopian tubes. It is a condition also called 46, XX with virilization. It used to be called female pseudohermaphroditism. Here are some of its possible causes:
- Male hormones consumed by the mother during the stage of pregnancy, such as testosterone.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, that is, the most common cause.
- Deficiencies of aromatase, an enzyme that normally converts male to female hormones.
- Tumors that produce male hormones in the mother, with ovarian tumors being the most common.
We recommend this other article on What happens if a woman takes testosterone.
Intersex 46 XY
In this case, the person has the chromosomes of a man, but external genitalia defined as female, since they have not been formed in their entirety and are ambiguous. Internally, the condition of the testicles may be normal, absent or malformed.
This condition is also known as 46, XY with subvirilization and used to be called male pseudohermaphroditism. The formation of male, normal and external genitalia depends on an appropriate balance between male and female hormones. Therefore, it needs a correct production and functioning of male hormones. Possible causes of intersex 46, XY are as follows:
- Problems with testosterone generation.
- Problems with the testicles.
- AIS, its most common cause and also called testicular feminization.
- Problems related to the use of testosterone.
- Lacking the enzyme required to transform testosterone into dehydrotestosterone (DHT).
True gonadal intersex
The person has both ovarian and testicular tissue. This can happen in the same gonad (ovosticle) or the individual may have an ovary and a testicle. You may have XY, XX, or both chromosomes. The external genitalia can be feminine in appearance, masculine, or ambiguous.
This is a condition also known as true hermaphroditism. The underlying cause of people with true gonadal intersex is unknown in most cases, although it is believed that it may be linked to exposure to pesticides common in agriculture.
Complex or indeterminate intersex
In this category, also known as indeterminate intersex of sexual development, enter all cases of intersex that cannot fit into the above types.
In this type of condition there are no inconsistencies between external and internal sex characteristics, but the number of chromosomes (XO, XXY or XXX, for example), sex hormones or sexual development in general can be affected.
If you want to know more about how hormones work, you can check out this article on What is the function of hormones.