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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"one having characteristics of both sexes," 1917, from German intersexe (1915); see inter- + sex. Coined by German-born U.S. geneticist Richard Benedict Goldschmidt (1878-1958). Related: Intersexual; intersexuality.


a. (context of an individual English) Having characteristics of both sexes. n. 1 Any of a variety of conditions (in a dioecious species) whereby an individual has male and female sex characteristics. 2 (context biology zoology English) An individual with any of these conditions.


n. one having both male and female sexual characteristics and organs; at birth an unambiguous assignment of male or female cannot be made [syn: hermaphrodite, gynandromorph, androgyne, epicine, epicine person]


Intersex, in humans and other animals, describes variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies". Such variations may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female. Intersex people were previously referred to as hermaphrodites, but the term has fallen out of favor as it is considered to be misleading, stigmatizing, and scientifically specious. Medical description of intersex traits as disorders of sex development has been controversial since the label was introduced in 2006.

Some intersex infants and children, such as those with ambiguous outer genitalia, are surgically or hormonally altered to create more socially acceptable sex characteristics. However, this is considered controversial, with no firm evidence of good outcomes. Such treatments may involve sterilization. Adults, including elite female athletes, have also been subjects of such treatment. Increasingly these issues are recognized as human rights abuses, with statements from international and national human rights and ethics institutions. Intersex organizations have also issued statements, including joint statements as part of an International Intersex Forum.

In 2011, Christiane Völling became the first intersex person known to have successfully sued for damages in a case brought for non-consensual surgical intervention. In April 2015, Malta became the first country to outlaw non-consensual medical interventions to modify sex anatomy, including that of intersex people.

Like all individuals, intersex people have various gender identities. Some intersex individuals may be raised as a woman or man but then identify with another gender identity later in life, while most do not. Most are women or men, while some may identify as both, neither, or in other ways.

Usage examples of "intersex".

The intersex movement aims to put an end to infant genital reconfiguration surgery.

Though I’m a member of the Intersex Society of North America, I have never taken part in its demonstrations.

My psychological makeup doesn’t accord with the essentialism popular in the intersex movement, either.

The Intersex Society of North America wouldn’t be founded until 1993, however.

We need the real freaks—a Human Skeleton, a Fat Lady, an Intersex, things like that.