People who are intersex have genitals, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don’t fit into a male/female sex binary. Their genitals might not match their reproductive organs, or they may have traits of both. Being intersex may be evident at birth, childhood, later in adulthood or never. Being intersex isn’t a disorder, disease or condition.
People who are intersex have reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into an exclusively male or female (binary) sex classification. Intersex traits might be apparent when a person’s born, but they might not appear until later (during puberty or even adulthood). You may never notice their intersex traits externally and you might only find out about them after a surgery or imaging test.
In the past, being intersex was known as having a disorder of sex development (DSD), and you might see it referred to this way in some places. But being intersex isn’t a disorder, disease or condition. Being intersex doesn’t mean you need any special treatments or care. But some people who are intersex choose gender affirmation options if their gender doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth.
Being intersex may affect your:
An estimated 1 in 100 Americans is intersex. Around 2% of people worldwide have intersex traits.
Experts don’t know what causes being intersex. Some intersex traits can be genetically inherited (passed from one generation to the next in a family). Being intersex might occur due to:
Being intersex can present in about 40 different ways. The most common intersex traits include:
Sex and gender are not the same. Key differences include:
People who are intersex have a range of gender identities, just like everyone else. Some people who are intersex consider their gender to be intersex. Others identify as female, male, nonbinary or a different gender.
Being intersex doesn’t affect whether you’re straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual or have another sexual orientation. It’s also not the same as being transgender. A person who is transgender identifies with a gender that’s different than the sex they were assigned at birth. A person who is intersex may be transgender if their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned or raised as.
No. Hermaphrodites don’t exist. That is an outdated term implying that a person is both fully male and fully female, which isn’t biologically possible. In fact, many people who are intersex consider that term derogatory and stigmatizing. Intersex and being intersex are the correct terms.
If you’re a person who is intersex, you don’t typically require any surgery (unless you choose it).
In the past, children who were intersex have been given surgery to make their genitals match the sex they were assigned at birth or to remove reproductive anatomy (like gonadal tissue) that doesn’t match their assigned sex. These intersex surgeries often take place before a child is 2 years old.
More recently, people who are intersex and advocates have spoken against intersex surgeries, calling them unnecessary. They want parents to let their children choose whether to get surgeries or treatments — and which ones — when they’re old enough to make that choice.
Many organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, support intersex people in making decisions about their bodies. This means waiting until a person is old enough to give informed consent.
The risks of intersex surgery include:
Most people who are intersex are healthy. In rare cases, being intersex can be associated with:
If you don’t have noticeable genital changes at birth, it’s possible not to know that you’re intersex. Later in life, you may experience:
If you’re a person who is intersex, your ability to conceive a child depends on your reproductive anatomy. Many people who are intersex can have families through assisted reproductive technology (ART). This may involve in vitro fertilization (IVF), using donated eggs, sperm or embryos, or having a gestational carrier (surrogate).
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Being intersex might cause you to have lots of questions, especially after learning about it for the first time. People who are intersex may be self-conscious about their appearance or struggle to fit in with peers. It can be helpful to connect with others who understand these challenges. Talk to your healthcare provider about support groups and other resources that can help you feel seen and heard.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/19/2022.
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