Some children are born with ambiguous genitalia, which is generally described as being “intersex.” There are a lot of different reasons why a child may be born with genitalia that doesn’t seem to fit into a general “male” or “female” category. The outcomes can also be as varied as the reasons behind the intersex birth. From a divided scrotum to a labia that looks more like male genitalia than female, sometimes the results are very clear. Some people, however, don’t even realize that have ambiguous genitalia throughout their entire life and it is only discovered that they were intersex during their autopsy.
Statistics on Ambiguous Genitalia
1. If all forms of differentiation are included, then the number of intersex births globally comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births.
2. If just ambiguous genitalia is considered, the estimated birth rate is 1 in 4,500.
3. With few exceptions, babies with ambiguous genitalia are physically healthy.
4. The percentage of the population that is affected in some way by ambiguous genitalia: 1.7%.
5. As much as 4% of the human population may be intersex in some way.
6. Over 90% of intersex children are assigned to the female gender.
7. About half of all intersex children that have surgery to assign a specific gender wind up with sexually sensitive tissue that has withered or died.
8. Many adults who have ambiguous genitalia suffer from depression or intense anger because of a lack of genital sensations. They are three times more likely to experience depression and related disorders than people with a clear gender assignment.
9. Ambiguous genitalia can signal a medical emergency if the condition is the result of a rare form of a genetic disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
10. There are over 150 different defects that can cause ambiguous genitalia.
11. The risk of becoming a victim of a personal attack because of their gender is doubled in people who are classified as intersex.
12. Almost 90% of those who are intersex have experienced at least one form of stigma or discrimination in the past year.
13. About 70% of intersex males and 85% of intersex females have seen a counselor or psychiatrist during the previous 5 years.
14. The number of young people who are dealing with depression at some point during the course of the year: 160,000.
15. 1 out of 4 people who are intersex will suffer from at least one anxiety-related disorder over the course of their life.
Being intersex isn’t usually a problem for the child born with this condition, but the diagnosis can be delayed because there are several definitions in place for what qualifies a child as having ambiguous genitalia. This isn’t very surprising since there isn’t really a medical definition of what qualifies someone as having an unclear gender. Nature doesn’t define where being a man ends and being intersex begins. The same is true for women.
The problem is that in medical science, we tend to want a defined term that can be applied to people. Ambiguous genitalia doesn’t usually provide these defined terms. This means that the statistics of intersex individuals is broken down into various categories based on the observations or symptoms that someone may be experiencing. Many of the statistics you’ll find here are based on obvious intersex births and do not include subtle differences that may also classify someone as having ambiguous genitalia.
Issues and Complications
The problem with being intersex isn’t with the child who is born with ambiguous genitalia. It is in the fact that we as a society have decided on some level that they don’t fit in or belong. This makes these individuals feel like they are inferior and they question their identity.
Part of the problem may very well be the religious foundations that are present within many of today’s cultures. The three major religions of the world today believe that God created a man and a woman. When you’re an intersex individual, that kind of eliminates the whole “belonging” feeling that people with an assigned gender automatically have.
It’s also likely one of the primary reasons why parents tend to force a gender onto their children. That gender tends to be female with ambiguous genitalia because, as one doctor has so eloquently put it, “it’s easier to dig a hole than build a pole.” The penis size of an intersex infant is actually one of the biggest reasons why the female gender is often chosen. Parents and doctors don’t want their child growing up believing that their small penis is a problem.
All of this adds up to one conclusion: intersex individuals are just fine the way that they are. We don’t need to assign genders to them. They are their own person and they can decide who they are and want to be in life. By forcing something that may be completely unnatural onto them, we could be ruining their health.
Testing is available that can help to determine the gender of a child in some instances, but this testing can also end up being ambiguous with its results. Instead of forcing hormones into a child or requiring them to behave a certain way in the hopes that they’ll conform, it’s might be time to introduce a third gender into the conversation. In the beginning, God created man, woman, and intersex individuals. Does that mean that a feeling of superiority may be removed from many cultures? Yes. That’s a change that needs to be made. As soon as an intersex individual is bullied because of their gender, a choice they had no input in making, we are not exhibiting the love that the religious foundations of our society demand.
If as a society we are willing to look, listen, talk, and encourage others to seek help, then awareness can grow. Until that happens, we will simply be putting people down instead of building them up.