A person who is born between (inter) sexes, having partially or fully developed
pairs of female and male sex organs. Intersexed is prefered over
the word hermaphrodite. Also, intersexism should be used in place
of intersexuality to try and be consistent in this distinction. It is purely
a physical and gender thing and not a sexual one beyond the physical of
the sex organs. Otherwise, this is all about “sex” organs and not
Origin of the
Term: Hermaphroditus, the merger of the mythological
Greek god, Hermes, and goddess, Aphrodite, into one body. The term intersex
came into being as early as 1949, and is the preferred term today. In fact
most intersexed people do not consider themselves to be both sexes, which
is what the term hermaphrodite implies.
The Issue of
Sexual Assignment at Birth...
From the moment of birth, everybody wants to know if it
is a boy or a girl. This question can be complicated when a third
option is introduced. One out of every two thousand children in America
is born intersexual (125,000 living in the United States today--enough
to fill a good sized city). There is a point in fetal development when
sex of the child could go either way. The only reason you are not
the opposite sex had to do with something called testosterone. The
fetus that becomes a male is bathed with it, whereas, it is absent in the
development of a female. In one case, the sexual organ extends itself
into a penis. Conversely, a fetus becomes female when there is no
release of testosterone and the sexual organ extends inwardly. The
natural development from that moment on determines which sex we are to
However, sometimes biology malfunctions and children are
born with mixed sexual characteristics in what is called an intersexual
birth. For some intersexuals, whether they are boys or girls is never
really clear to them. Many argue that the standard practice of sexual
assignment by surgery in infancy should be discontinued giving the intersexual
the right to choose or not to choose surgery once that individual reaches
adolescence. Whatever the choice, intersexuals show us that gender
is infinitely more complex than the shape of our genitals.
What are herms, merms and ferms?
These terms were used by Anne Fausto-Sterling in her 1993 article in
_The Sciences_ "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not enough". Herm
refers to "true hermaphrodite"; a merm would be a person born intersexed
whose karyotype was XY (nominally male) and a ferm is an XX intersexed
person (nominally female). These delineations serve to educate people that
sex is not a bipolar dichotomy, but they do not really classify intersexed
people themselves in any meaningful way.
If abnormalities of cell division occur, a fetus with
mosaicism may result. The baby may have both cells with 46 XY chromosomes
and cells with 46 XX chromosomes. This is the condition referred to a hermorphoditism.
Because both male and female cells exist within the same fetus, both male
and female structures develop. Typically, the penis is not completely virilized
(hypospadias). One or both testes may not be palpable or they may be palpable,
but undescended. Whenever you see an infant with both hypospadias and an
undescended testis (cryptorchidism), the result is hermaphroditism.
Hydroxylase deficiency in female embryos causes androgenic
stimulation and development of the genital tubercle and labio-scrotal folds
just as normal production of testosterone does in male embryos. This can
result in a female infant having marked enlargement of the clitoris to
the degree that it takes the appearance of a penis and fusion of the labioscrotal
folds into a scrotum-like structure.
the Complexities of Intersexuality...
Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote, "At birth, instead of hearing
the inevitable pronouncement of "boy" or "girl" new parents might excitedly
await a much expanded range of possibilities. Herms, ferms, and merms,
being the rarer birth events might come to be seen as especially blessed
or lucky, having as they do the best of all possible worlds, sexually speaking.
Herms, merms and ferms might become the most desirable of all possible
mates able as they are to pleasure their partners in a variety of ways.
Furthermore, the existence of three additional sexes would open up possibilities
for the rest of us. It would become difficult to maintain a clear conceptualization
of homosexuality, for example, and perhaps
its current contentious status would fade from view. If we envision the
world in fives instead of twos, it would also be more difficult to hold
onto rigid constructions of male and female sex roles. ...Should we have
only two sexes?--my answer would be a resounding no."
Where are Intersexed
Those who realize that intersexed
people really do exist may wonder, "If there may be as many as one out
of two thousand people affected by some form of intersex condition, then
where are they? Why don't we hear more about them or have more information
about their lives?
The answer is that most intersexed people have a very,
difficult time with the personal issues which surround them. There
is a relatively small group of out-of-the-closet intersexuals in the world.
This number is steadily growing but the vast majority of them live with
the silence, shame, and fear that they learned as children and teens. Other
misunderstood minorities have made great strides in being recognized and
accepted. There are thousands of books written by gay men and women and
even dozens on the subject of transsexuality.
The reason may be that most intersexed people have been
subjected to very powerful family, medical, and societal proscriptions
about their bodies or medical status. This begins from the very moment
of birth for most of them because that is usually when the question is
first asked, "Is it a boy or a girl?"
Intersexuals who are subjected to neonatal surgery undergo an
early physical trauma resulting in a lifelong trauma on many levels.
Intersexuals who miss early surgery often grow up alone and confused.
They are also often abused because of their "in between" status.
Surgery as young teens and adults to "correct" their bodies is also traumatic
and may not have a satisfactory outcome. It all adds up to one thing:
a very strong desire to keep quiet and not tell anyone about their being
factor may be abuse. Some intersexed chidren are abused by peers and family
due to their intersexuality. But there is also a sort of institutionalized
abuse which takes its toll as well. The constant dehumanizing exams and
case studies are painful, humiliating and upsetting for a child or young
teenager. The result is a desire to never have to talk or deal with the
subject ever again.
With Intersexed People...
Unlike other communities outside the realm of hetrosexual
thinking, intersexed people are not thought of in sexual terms as much
as in medical terms. Society has forced them to remain in the closet.
They have been left alone to deal with their ongoing battle to stop the
travesty of early childhood gender assignment mutilation.
However, becoming aware that their numbers constitute
a sizeable population should be enough to seriously get our attention.
They are human beings who love and have the same need as all of us to be
loved in return. As in the hetrosexual community, some have little
or no desire for primary relationships or physical intimacy,
whereas, others enjoy the same with committed mates and are living happy,
productive, and fulfilling lives.
The lesson here is that we need to stop viewing intersexual
people as some kind of biological mistake or oddity. They are indeed
a natural manifestation of God's design and fully invested citizens of
the human race. In fact, their very existence forces the most conservative
religious people to reconsider their own attitudes toward those who do
not fit what has been considered as the traditional understanding of a
two sex only society.
There are many of them who enjoy wonderful relationships
with those who not only accept them, but love them in the deeply.
To think that a dual gendered individual could not enjoy such things as
a result of some kind of "birth defect" is false thinking to say the least.
There are more things in this world than most of us have
ever imagined or could even begin to dream about. The very fact that
intersexed people walk among us, live real lives, and have probably crossed
most of our paths at one time or another should motivate us to revisit
the narrow confines of our own thinking. They remind us that the
world is a place of wonder and filled with people whose experience is not
limited to the norms of any given culture, age, or society.
They are not asking for tolerence. What they deserve
as human beings is full acceptance and love.
That's the right of any human being regardless of their
Otherwise, God would not have allowed them to exist amongst
© all rights reserved - 1/1/2002
The mission of this not-for-profit website is to promote clear insights
and toleration regarding the many variations of primary relationships that
exist in our world. We ask for neither acceptance or approval but
hope that each visitor who reviews the pages of this site will leave them
with a better understanding of the numerous cultural, historical, preferential,
religious, sexual, and sociological approaches to coupling that have always
existed and will continue to exist as long as there are at least two human
beings living on this planet. If the effort put into creating and
maintaining this site results in others coming to the realization that
the basic human need to love and be loved takes on many forms which are
accepted by those who practice them, whether right or wrong as determined
by the personal belief system of others, then it will have served it's