by Ellen Pasternack
Tuesday, 14
June 2022
Spotted
14:15

Being ‘intersex’ isn’t that common

People aren't using the term correctly
by Ellen Pasternack
Credit: Claudio Abarca Sandoval/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This week, headline-grabbing research has found that roughly one in 500 men do not have the standard XY sex chromosomes, instead having an extra copy of either the X (XXY, also called Klinefelter syndrome) or Y (XYY) chromosome. These differences are caused by mutations in the egg or sperm before conception, and both are associated with health issues including a risk of infertility or of minor learning difficulties.

Much of the reporting on this either implies or directly states that these conditions have been revealed to be much more common than previously thought. But actually, this latest prevalence estimate is slightly lower than the figures currently given by the NHS and the US-based National Organisation for Rare Disorders.

What this new research provides is a reliable estimate for both how common and how serious these conditions are, using a large sample from UK Biobank, a fantastically useful database containing genetic data as well as demographic and lifestyle information from half a million people. This means they aren’t relying on individuals happening to come to the attention of doctors — instead, they check more than 200,000 men in one fell swoop.

Their finding was that a large majority of men with either of these mutations, XXY or XYY, do not realise that they have them — implying that on average, symptoms may be much less serious than you’d assume if you’re only looking at the subsection who receive medical attention for them. Similarly, in 2019 the same team discovered that many women who carry a sex chromosome mutation in some of their cells (having just a single X or three X chromosomes instead of the usual two) are not aware of it. In both studies, many affected individuals were able to have children naturally.

Conditions like these are often referred to as “intersex” and cited as evidence that sex exists as a spectrum from female to male. It’s frequently claimed that being “intersex” — biologically neither male nor female — is as common as having red hair. The argument goes like this: if sex is a cluster of characteristics, including genitals, gonads (ovaries or testes), and chromosomes, and someone’s sexed characteristics depart from the norm, then they are not fully male or female, and instead are somewhere in between.

However, when we consider people who have atypical sex chromosomes, this argument leads us to the strange position of trying to claim that someone is not “really” male or female despite looking and functioning like other members of their sex to the extent that they live their whole life not realising anything is out of the ordinary. Sex is about which reproductive role your body is developed towards; and though XX and XY are by far the most common, there are multiple chromosome combinations that can prompt a person to develop down either route. So how can we say that someone who produces sperm and fathers a child is anything other than male?

In fact, advocates dislike the term “intersex” as it falsely and hurtfully implies people with these conditions are not “real” men or women, preferring to refer to “differences of sexual development” or DSDs.

This new research does not show that it’s common for people to be “intersex” and that sex is a continuum. Instead, it illustrates that when people cite these conditions as an example of “intersex”, they are referring much of the time to physiologically normal males or females.

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Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
18 days ago

I have been under the impression for decades that the terms male and female are pretty much defined by the reproductive function of a person (or animal or plant), simple as that. Ok, there are hermaphroditic snails and parthenogenic insects, some snakes, even some sharks etc, but mammals reproduce sexually with one male and one female, the terms defined by their role in the process.

John Murray
John Murray
18 days ago

Everybody has been under that impression since the Book of Genesis (and probably quite a good deal before that). Takes a really expensive education to not know it!

Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
18 days ago
Reply to  John Murray

Actually, Megan K DeFranza Ph.D. a Christian Theologian reads Genesis differently. That us intersex people are born in the image of God, too. https://www.intersexandfaith.org

Last edited 18 days ago by Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Kelly Madden
Kelly Madden
17 days ago

And worthy of all dignity and all rights and love. But that’s not the question, is it?

Kit Read
Kit Read
17 days ago
Reply to  John Murray

University graduate Mhari Black MP step in a House of Commons Debate that 5% of the population are intersex/hermaphrodite. There are no human hemaphrodites, about 0.001% of males are genotypical male but the phenotype looks female due to testis not responding in womb to male hormones. These individuals have testes inside body cavity, have no ovaries, fallopian tubes but do have a vagina and are usually registers females. Another MP Dawn Butler maintains that sex is assigned at birth with up to 100 different genres!

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
17 days ago
Reply to  Kit Read

O, dear! And this MP is there in our Parliament for …exactly, what?

Slopmop McTeash
Slopmop McTeash
18 days ago

Why does anyone pay any attention to these morally and intellectually bankrupt idiots?

N Forster
N Forster
18 days ago

Because they use a combination of sophistry, histrionics, emotional blackmail and coercion.
And have been and still are very well organised.

Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
18 days ago

I think you are mixing up transgender with intersex. Thanks to this article using the wrong flag! I urge you to listen to my TEDx Talk, Born Intersex: we are human! http://bit.ly/TEDxMxAnunnakiRayMarquez

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
17 days ago

Interesting article but it ignores the main reason for inflated estimates of prevalence of intersex. Frequently cited figure of 1.7% of the population (“as common as having red hair”) is mostly comprised of women with late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. This condition, which leads to excess androgen production, occurs in a range of severities. When defined broadly, it includes many women who are asymptomatic. When defined more strictly, estimates of its prevalence shrink dramatically.
Intersex is real. It also occurs in varying degrees, ranging from hermaphroditism to much milder and more subtle instances of feminine males and masculine females. This biological reality supports one of the claims of the trans lobby – many undoubtedly are “born this way”. But this is not news – androgyny is as old as the human species, testified by the ancient mythology of many cultures. What’s new is the ideological effort to erase sex as a biological category, along with a weird reification of gender.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12476264/
https://www.realityslaststand.com/p/intersex-is-not-as-common-as-red
https://ihra.org.au/16601/intersex-numbers/

Last edited 17 days ago by David D'Andrea
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 days ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

Excellent and reasoned comment. Thanks!

harry storm
harry storm
18 days ago

We’re mammals, and physiologically, we behave much the same as other mammals. (Anyone who’s had a dog or cat know they get many of the same diseases we do.) Mammals have two sexes and no genders, and humans are the same. However, the human brain can sometimes get very warped, and concepts like “gender” emerge from such minds.

Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
18 days ago
Reply to  harry storm

Intersex Bodily variations have to do with sex traits: chromosomes, hormones, reproductive systems, gonads, and genitals. You are right, intersex traits have nothing to do with gender. However, an intersex person can have any gender identity. Here is a fast educational Here is a TEDxTalk that will teach what this article confused. My TEDx Talk, Born Intersex: we are human! http://bit.ly/TEDxMxAnunnakiRayMarquez

harry storm
harry storm
15 days ago

It’s always bothered me how trans activists drag intersex people into these debates. Intersex individuals have physiological anomalies that have nothing to do with gender identity — whatever that is. They are being used by trans activists to support their absurd notion of a “spectrum” where there isn’t one.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 days ago

Er, no, human beings cannot possess ‘any gender identity’ because this statement is literally meaningless, as is the concept of ‘being born in the wrong body’.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
17 days ago

Anyone claiming that sex is a spectrum should be able to tell us what the intermediate gamete is.

All humans who’ve ever existed either produce ova, sperm or nothing (medical status or time of life). If ova and sperm were the two ends of a spectrum, there’d be at least one intermediate gamete. But there isn’t.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
16 days ago

Caster Semanya was assigned female at birth due to her having or appearing to have a vagina. She has XY chromosones. However, she also has naturally high testosterone levels for a woman and, I believe, no womb. Chromosones are not the only determinant of sex. Caster is an intersex woman. Her complicated but natural state and the social response to it means that she deserves sympathy. Unfortunately, the argument has been highjacked by men who put a dress on and think they’re a woman.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
17 days ago

frankly who cares?

William Shaw
William Shaw
17 days ago

The term, intersex seems to be commonly used to describe someone with ambiguous genitalia, not people with chromosomal abnormalities such as, X, XXX, XXY & XYY, though I suppose the two things might be related in some instances.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
13 days ago

Obfuscation and disruption is the aim, so science and logic are nothing to do with it.

Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
18 days ago

In September 2018, I was the first person in Colorado, United States, to receive an intersex birth certificate. All due to being born with intersex physiology. Some of us intersex people used to be called hermaphrodites. First, this article starts off badly, by the choice of using a transgender flag, instead of a person with an intersex flag. This was the first clue to me that this article would be bad, misinformed, prejudiced, and not accurate. Which it sadly is in too many ways for me to mention here. As an intersex survivor, educator, and activist I urge you to listen to my TEDxTalk: Born Intersex: we are human! Especially, if you want the right information. I share how we intersex people are surgically and psychiatrically violated, about our sexuality, and even about how our intersex sex traits have nothing to do with our gender identity. My TEDx Talk, Born Intersex: we are human! http://bit.ly/TEDxMxAnunnakiRayMarquez

Last edited 18 days ago by Mx. Anunnaki Ray Marquez
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
18 days ago

What do you mean by ‘intersex’? When I covered human reproduction at school we were taught that ‘intersex’ meant that that person possessed the reproductive organs of both sexes e.g. a p***s and overies, and was a rare condition. Perhaps this is another term that has been re-defined to allow more people to feel special and demand that others treat them as special. If indeed you are intersex in the classical definition of the term then, of course, none of this applies to you.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
18 days ago

Sounds like you might have something interesting to say, but I do not do video, it takes too long. Do you have a link to some actual text I could read instead?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 days ago

Attempting to use classic identity politics ‘victim’, grievance and guilt-tripping tropes and language is a bit of a ‘red flag’ and not the way to advance your ideas on this forum. There are loads of poorly argued and nonsensical TED talks; I don’t think many of us are going to spend time listening to a lecture on your experience, but we would listen to clearly articulated arguments.

Last edited 11 days ago by Andrew Fisher
Cheryl Poniatowski
Cheryl Poniatowski
18 days ago

I lactated from puberty and endured severe gender dysphoria until I began hormonal reassignment therapy in my 40s. My baseline testosterone was between male and female and obviously my brain wasn’t fully masculinized during my prenatal development.

Am I intersexual? I’m not formally classifed that way, but I think there’s a good argument to be made that a lactating male with extremely low testosterone isn’t fully male. Either that, or we’re a mile down the rabbit hole of fascism.

Here’s the full listing of intersexual conditions on Wikipedia. Note that there are more than 50 of them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Intersex_variations

Transsexuality is not formally categorized as an intersex condition even though medically, transseuxals who seek reassignment are treated identically to intersexuals who seek reassignment. My prediction is that transsexuality will eventually be categorized as an intersexual condition based on the growing body of objective evidence.

Transsexuality is the result of ambiguous sexual differentiation of the brain as determined with objective testing such as frozen section of the BSTc in the hypothalamus and functional MRI response to specific neurological stimuli.

The World Physicians Association for Transgender Health Standard of Care now applies to all intesexual people seeking reassignment, yet transsexuality is not medically classified as an intersex condition owing to a legacy of ignorance and bigotry within and without the medical community.

Intersex people have endured involuntary genital reassignment at birth, involuntary hormonal reassignment at puberty, and illegal withholding of their own medical records from them, by physicians who conscript parents into a conspiracy of silence. Lives have been ruined by this malignant abuse of authority.

Why is Unherd giving oxygen to the erasure of intersexuals? Is this supposed to be an enlightened minority position, or is it just more bigoted establishment science denial? Where’s the merit of an article like this? It’s merely the sexism du jour. It’s disgusting.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
18 days ago

In what sense is this article trying to “erase” intersexuals? It does not deny that they exist. Nor does it in any way denigrate intersexuals (or trans people, who it doesn’t even mention) or seek to deny them rights or dignity – unless you can point to anything in the article that does? It is arguing that some definitions currently being used are effectively exaggerating the numbers of intersexuals. If you disagree, fine, but branding such a calmly and reasonably argued article “bigoted”, “disgusting” and “science denial” is unfair and unhelpful to civilised debate. Unless you don’t want debate, but rather everyone to blindly accept your views?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 days ago

Firstly, in what way did this article about ‘intersex’ conditions attempt to ‘erase’ them? Attempting to use classic identity politics, victimhood and guilt-tripping tropes and language is a bit of a ‘red flag’ and not the way to advance your ideas on this forum. If you have poor personal experiences being treated by, say, medical staff, then I am sorry, but that doesn’t justify bad arguments and poor policy proposals.

The ‘growing body of objective evidence’ you cite seems extremely dubious to me, but if solid scientific and medical opinion (hopefully not ‘political opinion’) crystallises that there is a clearly defined ‘transexual’ minority then so be it.

However in the meantime, jumping onto a identity politics bandwagon, as you appear to be doing, using precisely the same kind of ‘cry-bully’ language (‘erasure’) to do what – add yet another victim group category? would be a social and political disaster. Society – and in particular the clear biological and essential SOCIAL categories of men and women – should not be utterly transformed in a revolutionary way, simply to assuage the feelings of a tiny minority (and even more so the bullying tactics used by fanatical non-minority activists supposedly fighting their cause).

Last edited 11 days ago by Andrew Fisher
A Malek
A Malek
11 days ago

Several months ago I suggested to unHerd that they find some way to interview the truly unHerd:. Those who are intersexed.
You are so right about the conspiracy of silence between doctors and families.
Without relatives and doctors who are still living, it is near nigh impossible to track one’s history.
However, inexplicable illness and doctor’s visits at which parent and doctor are talking behind a closed door are not conducive to transparency.
And they were not meant to be.
I am reading that commenters are uncomfortable with TED talks.
Alright, I would strongly suggest that the NOVA PBS documentary on the late Max Beck be viewed.
What I do not understand is that gay people are now accepted as having some intrinsic and largely immutable characteristic which renders them homosexual. And I could see how that can be. How many devout Christians for instance cannot change this in themselves and the motivation to do so is off the charts given Church teachings.
One is an in utero hormonal wash (or lack of wash) of androgens.
It is now considered unacceptable to question said dilemma. We don’t even get hung up on the numbers of gay people who are actually in existence.
But, for some reason, others are microscopically examined as to claims of any kind.
I have been waiting for an answer to this and none has emerged.
Is the point of the essay that intersexed people are over exaggerating their numbers and dilemmas?
Just yesterday, society said the same for gay people:. You are choosing to be gay.