Body Parts

A box is checked on our birth certificate - either male or female. Yet researchers confirm there is a lot of variety in our bodies. Learn about the differences in our bodies that don’t fit within typical male and female boxes.

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Hi! I’m here to help you explore the subject of body parts. This is all about biological sex, which, for a long time, was thought to be pretty simple. If you’re born with a penis, you’re a boy, right? It turns out, we are as different on the inside as we are on the outside. In this section, we dig into the science behind biological sex and what it means to more than just male or female. Let’s get started…

The Basics

Explore the many ways in which our bodies can differ.

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Sex redefined

When the box is checked on our birth certificate it represents many complexities. Learn about biological sex and the many unique aspects of our human bodies.

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What it means to be intersex

Get a quick overview of what it means to be intersex.

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Intersex Q&A

Learn about some of the more common intersex conditions, also known as disorders of sex development (DSD)

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How common are intersex conditions?

Estimates of people born intersex vary widely. Learn why the numbers vary so significantly.

Intersex controversy and debate

Learn about the controversies surrounding the treatment of children born with an intersex condition, the regulation of intersex athletes, and even the term "intersex" itself.

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Intersex treatment: controversy and debate

The Phall-O-Meter was developed by intersex advocates to draw attention to surgeries performed on babies born with an intersex condition.

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Sorting out terms

Read about variations in terminology and current debates over "intersex" vs. "DSD"

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Intersex athletes

Learn about the debates surrounding intersex athletes.

Real people

Hear from people who are intersex as they talk about their lives and identities.

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"I was born a woman"

Learn about the life and career of Indian runner Dutee Chand, who has challenged efforts to regulate intersex athletes.

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”I was afraid to ask questions"

Hear from four women who are intersex as they reflect on their lives and experiences.

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Growing up intersex

Watch as Oprah Winfrey talks with three people about their experiences growing up intersex.

Around the world

Learn about the lives of persons born intersex in other countries.

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Places where intersex is more common

As many as 1 in 90 babies are born intersex in these 2 Dominican villages.

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Living as an intersex person in Australia

Intersex people still face challenges in Australia, even though the country has recently passed anti-discrimination legislation.

Glossary

Gender

(Noun) A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, or some other identity and ascribe qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and vary between cultures.

Gender dysphoria

(Noun) Clinically significant distress caused when a person does not identify with the sex they were believed to be at birth. Can also describe a desire to change the characteristics that are the source of the distress, such as physical anatomy.

Gender fluid

(Adj.) Describes a person who identifies their gender as shifting within a spectrum of gender identities and expressions. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of two (or more) genders, but may feel more one gender some days, and another gender other days. Gender-fluid people may or may not also identify as transgender.

Gender identity

(Noun) One’s deeply held, core sense of being a man, woman, or some other gender. A gender identity can be a combination of two or more genders (such as gender fluid), and some individuals don't identify with any gender at all--described as being agender.

Intersex

(Noun) An umbrella term for more than twenty distinct medical conditions in which a person is born with physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads, chromosomes, or secondary sex characteristics like breasts or body hair) that are neither clearly male nor clearly female. Also referred to as disorders of sexual development (DSD).

Non-binary

(Adj.) An identity that does not conform to traditional two-sided categories of sex, gender, and sexual orientation, such as male-female, man-woman, and gay-straight.

Sex / Sex assigned at birth / Biological sex

(Noun) A person's sex (male, female, or intersex) is often determined based on the appearance of the genitalia, either in ultrasound or at birth. In reality, biological sex is more complicated, referring to a combination of anatomical, physiological, genetic, and physical attributes. These include genitalia, gonads, hormone levels, hormone receptors, chromosomes, genes, and secondary sex characteristics. The phrase "sex assigned at birth" is used by some to emphasize that genitalia alone are not always a sufficient indication of a person's sex, as well as the fact that a person's gender identity is not always aligned with the sex characteristics observed at birth.

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Citations & Sources

AIS-DSD Support Group. Growing Up Intersex Part 1 [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJxZe4KAdqU&feature=youtu.be&t=11m

Ainsworth, C. (2015). Sex redefined: The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943

American Psychological Association. (2006). Answers to your questions about individuals with intersex conditions. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/intersex.aspx

Block, M. (2016, August 16). The Sensitive Question of Intersex Athletes. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetorch/2016/08/16/490236620/south-african-star-raises-sensitive-questions-about-intersex-athletes

Coleman, D. (2018, April 30). Sex, Sport, and Why Track and Field's New Rules on Intersex Athletes Are Essential. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/30/sports/track-gender-rules.html

DSD Research. Accord Alliance, Resources. Retrieved from http://www.accordalliance.org/resources/dsd-research/

Dreger, A. (2018, April 27). Track's Absurd New Rules for Women. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/opinion/caster-semenya-intersex-athletes.html

Feder, E. & Karkazis, K. (2008, September). What’s in a Name? The Controversy over “Disorders of Sex Development”. The Hastings Center Report. Retrieved from http://med.stanford.edu/content/dam/sm/bioethics/documents/people/resumes/karkazispubs/Whatsinaname.pdf

Fogle, A. (2016, October 21). Falling In Between: Inside the Lives of Intersex Women. Good Housekeeping. Retrieved from http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/a40787/intersex-stories/

Ghcorayshi, A. (2017, July 26). A landmark lawsuit about an intersex baby’s genital surgery just settled for $440,000. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/intersex-surgery-lawsuit-settles?utm_term=.if24OoWmp#.ot31g2...

Greenfield, C. (2014, July 8). Should we ‘fix’ intersex children? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/should-we-fix-intersex-children/373536/

Hartney, E. (2018, February 7). What Does It Mean to Be Intersex? VerywellMind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-intersex-21881

IAAF Introduces New Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification. (2018, April 26). IAAF, News, IAAF News and Press Releases. Retrieved from https://www.iaaf.org/news/press-release/eligibility-regulations-for-female-classifica

Padawer, R. (2016, June 28). The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/magazine/the-humiliating-practice-of-sex-testing-female-athletes....

Reardon, Sara. (2016, May 10). The spectrum of sex development: Eric Vilain and the intersex controversy. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/news/the-spectrum-of-sex-development-eric-vilain-and-the-intersex-controversy-1.19873

Ritchie, R.; Reynard, J.; & Lewis, T. (2008, August 1). Intersex and the Olympic Games. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2500237/

Sleath, E. (2014, December 2). I am intersex: Shon Klose’s story. ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/12/01/4140196.htm

Topol, S. (2017, August). Sons and Daughters: The village where girls turn into boys. Harper’s Weekly. Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/2017/08/sons-and-daug

Viewpoints on DSD Care. Accord Alliance, Resources. Retrieved from http://www.accordalliance.org/resources/viewpoints-on-dsd-care/