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Medical Definition of Hermaphroditism

challenging WMST-L resident science expert

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 08/06/2001

The best evidence I can find documents the occurrence of fewer than 400 true human hermaphrodites

What is the "best evidence" here? It is true that people who are medically viewed as "true hermaphrodites" are rare, they are not that rare. I've seen some medical literature citing that there are about 400 "reported" cases of "true hermaphroditism," but that is because medical journals are no longer publishing any more "cases" of gonadal dysgenesis or ovotestes - when there are 400 cases reported already, no new cases are considered for publication unless there is something drastically new about them. I assume that your figure came from the same source that I'm describing here, and if so you must agree with me that the number of *reported* cases does not indicate the actual frequency of the condition, especially something as stigmatized as this one.

(XX female/ovaries and XY male/testes - this is the definition of hermaphrodite)

XX female/ovaries and XY male/testes sound pretty standard to me... perhaps you meant to say "XY female/ovaries and XX male/testes" instead. Even so, your definition of "true hermaphrodite" is incorrect, even by the classical medical standard that intersex activists are criticizing. The correct definition of "true hermaphroditism" according to the medical community is the presence of both testicular and ovarian tissues (or under-formed variation thereof) within the same body.

Of course, this itself is an old definition that has lost relevance since 1950s. Whether you classify someone's intersexuality as "true" or "pseudo" hermaphroditism, they are put through the same invasive and often unnecessary medical treatment as a price for possessing unacceptable bodies.

Intersex Society of North America defines intersexuality simply as the "congenital anomaly of the reproductive system." This is also the same definition used by the panel at the National Institute of Health that administers the new grant program aimed at developing an outcome research for treatment of intersex children. Plus, soon we will be publishing, in conjunction with supportive pediatric endocrinologists, a new and more useful nomenclature for intersex conditions.

Emi Koyama <>
Intersex Society of North America
(See our teaching kit at
-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.