What is intersex?

Want to learn more about intersex but not sure where to start? This is the page for you. Think of it as a guide and space to find out more…


Defining intersex…

An intersex person is someone who is born with a variation of sex characteristics (VSC).

Intersex is therefore related to an individuals sex characteristics, rather than their gender identity, or even their sexual orientation.

The term describes bodies that have traits which are considered to be different to what is traditionally seen in the male or female body.

The difference will be in the person’s biological sex characteristics which can include their hormones, chromosomes, genitalia or even internal organs such as testes or ovaries.

As a result, the definitions of what is usually described as male or female become problematic and narrow for people who naturally fall outside these descriptions based on their sex characteristics.

The issue is not that a person with intersex characteristics is not female or not a male. It’s that they have a difference in the development of their sex characteristics, which may not usually be seen in the majority of people with more typical bodies

Intersex is an umbrella term and there are many types of intersex variations a person can be born with. Intersex covers biological traits which can be identified at birth, during puberty or later on in life.


Things to consider…

It’s important to know that you can’t tell if a person is intersex just by looking at them.

  • Some people may use a different term to intersex and do not feel like the word ‘intersex’ describes them or represents them.
  • A person may choose to use a specific variation name, VSC (Variation of Sex Characteristics) or even DSD (Difference, or Disorder of Sex Development).
  • Intersex surgeries are performed to change a person’s traits or alter their body, they are not always medically necessary and are sometimes done for social or cultural reasons.
  • Intersex Genital Mutilation occurs when irreversible cosmetic surgeries are performed on an individual without their fully informed consent.
  • Being intersex is not necessarily a “third sex” or alternative category. This is a issue of debate even within intersex communities.
  • An intersex person may still identify as female, male, trans or even non-binary.
  • Intersex people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual or any other orientation. Having an intersex trait is not related to a person’s sexuality.
  • Including intersex as part of the “LGBT+” community is another issue of debate. However, some intersex people feel that due to similar shared experience such as discrimination and medicalisation, it should be included.
  • Intersex traits are natural. It is not something you choose to be.
  • For some people, being intersex or having a variation in their sex characteristics may mean they have medical concerns but not everyone does.
  • Unless they have shared it themselves, do not ask a person what their variation is: respect their privacy.
  • Do not make assumptions about a person who tells you they are intersex, let them share their own story if they are comfortable.