How Common is Ambiguous Genitalia?

How common is ambiguous genitalia? And, what is it?

Persons with ambiguous genitalia are known as intersex. Essentially, intersex refers to someone who's genitalia does not possess a distinctively gendered morphology. So, how common is ambiguous genitalia?

In men, this might mean having an unusually small penis and in women this might mean having an unusually large clitoris. The causes of intersex conditions are diverse and far more frequent than many commonly believe. However, as intersex people become more willing to openly discuss their condition, the true number of intersex persons is more easily observed by both the medical community and the public.

What causes ambiguous genitalia?

Let's see how common is ambiguous genitalia: There are many reasons why someone can have ambiguous genitalia. One of the most common reasons is the presence of an extra sex chromosome. Trisomy, a condition in which a male has an extra X chromosome, is known to cause micropenis, firmly within the definition of intersex.

Another example of a way that ambiguous genitalia can form is through the inability to produce or process certain sex hormones. Someone born with a Y chromosome may find themselves unable to produce a distinctively male morphology because they are insensitive to androgens.

Beyond those two examples there are other causes beyond chromosomal issues. Some individuals simply do not produce adequate levels of sex hormones to produce clearly defined genitalia. The countless ways that ambiguous genitalia may appear means this condition is far more common than many detractors of the intersex community would like to believe.

Many people believe that intersex persons are rare, but all evidence points to this condition having a relative high rate of occurrence.

Epidemiology of intersex conditions

The frequency at which ambiguous genitalia appears in the population is popularly regarded as rare, but all studies seem to point to more people afflicted with the condition than frequently known today. At least 1 in 2000 persons have ambiguous genitalia, but that number is one of the lower estimates. Most researchers agree that the true number of intersex persons is far higher than commonly believed because many people with ambiguous genitalia are either forced to choose a gender, hiding their condition, or possibly unaware they are in fact an intersex individual.

Lifestyle adjustments ambiguous genitalia may cause

How common is ambiguous genitalia and what are some lifestyle adjustments? Living with ambiguous genitalia can cause a number of serious consequences for those afflicted. Most cultures expect people to conform to either a male or female role and that often means having a strongly gendered appearance.

In order for persons with ambiguous to assimilate into society, they are often required to hide who they really are or risk social exclusion. Another major area of concern for many with ambiguous genitalia is fertility. Intersex persons have varying levels of fertility and this can affect whether or not they have the ability to reproduce. Some intersex persons will undergo fertility therapy in order to help themselves produce children.

How society sees this condition

In many countries, ambiguous genitalia can lead to a life of extreme stigma. Intersex persons are frequently subjected to offensive and degrading insults, harassment, and discrimination. Many find it difficult to obtain employment or to find a partner who will accept them.

In order to improve their lot in life, many intersex people have decided to join up with gay, lesbian, and transgender people in order to strengthen their numbers. This approach has allowed the intersex community to find a place of acceptance among hostile crowds and to improve their standing in life.

Debunking myths about ambiguous genitalia

How often are persons born with ambiguous genitalia and what sort of effects can it have on their lives?

There are many frequently discussed myths regarding ambiguous genitalia. The aforementioned myths claiming that intersex people are rare or cannot function without a specifically assigned gender are common. Beyond those beliefs, many people believe that ambiguous genitalia surgeries are purely cosmetic and that the condition doesn't carry any inherent effects on the individual.

The conditions associated with ambiguous genitalia often produce many physical effects beyond physical appearance. The person's body as a whole is unique in a way that prevents such simple answers from solving everything. Falsehoods like these are common, but easily discredited by the increasingly large number of studies conducted on people with ambiguous genitalia.

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Last Reviewed:
August 23, 2017
Last Updated:
October 12, 2017
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