The word “intersex” isn’t used in most households. Even though the vast majority of people are not born intersex, raising awareness of this demographic is beneficial for those living with the condition, their support systems, therapists and medical professionals working in society.
While understudied, a few pieces of research do exist covering the psychological impact of being intersex. One piece of study comes from the Department of Endocrinology & Diabetes at the University of Melbourne in Australia, which looked at 50 intersex people and 27 controls for differences in psychological, social and sexual components.
According to the survey, the “intersex group did not differ from controls on physical or mental health, depression, state anxiety, neuroticism, psychoticism or stressful life events.” The subjects were also generally satisfied with their appearance, although males did show some discontent with aspects of their sex organs. Additionally, intersex people experienced more overall discomfort during sexual activities.
Intersex people have variations in sex characteristics that may not match traditional appearances of males and females, sometimes causing overall gender ambiguity.
The Intersex Society of North America exemplifies this androgyny as “a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types.”
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, acknowledges that surgical interventions were once considered an immediate option for children born with ambiguous sex organs, but recent trends indicate an increasingly hesitant view toward using this kind of procedure.
The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner recently released a report advising against surgical options for intersex children, as these young people might not have the mental capacity to understand the implications of such an invasive surgery.
The organization says such surgeries can cause infertility, incontinence, pain, loss of sexual functioning and lifelong mental illnesses such as depression. Experts from the UN say many children still receive such procedures without informed consent, which the UN considers a human rights violation. The practice continues due to a desire for gender conforming and stereotyping.
The UN provides several action points to battle discrimination of intersex people throughout the world. They include encouraging prohibition of unnecessary medical procedures on intersex children, illegalizing discrimination of all intersex people, more research of the concerns facing the demographic and other measure meant to ensure physical and mental autonomy of this group.