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Intersex Variations

Intersex people are born with physical features, such as genitals, chromosomes or genetic features, that don’t fit what doctors expect for either female or male bodies. 

This page answers some common questions about what it means to have an intersex variation.


Watch this video from IHRA on 'What is Intersex?':

What is Intersex?

Young person with short white hair and dark eyes wearing a rainbow mask.  She is also wearing an orange and yellow stripy shirt, blue corduroy Jacket and large pink headphones.

Intersex people are born with or develop innate physical or biological features that do not fit what doctors expect for female or male bodies.

Intersex traits are identified at many different life stages, including at birth and in early childhood, at puberty, and later in life. Intersex people grow up to express as diverse a range of identities as everyone else: they may be LGBT, or they may grow up to be cisgender women or men, or heterosexual.

While intersex bodies are all different, intersex people share many experiences in common, including risks of stigma, discrimination or harm because their bodies are seen as ‘different’.

People with intersex variations use many different terms to describe themselves, including words learned from parents and doctors, and words used to avoid misconceptions and stigma. Some of these words include medical terms, and ‘differences of sex development’.

Tip: You can learn more about what It means to be intersex on the Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) website (external link).

Intersex People and Healthcare

A woman with pink hair wearing a pink jumper lying on a couch.

Many people with intersex variations have similar health experiences.  

Due to experiences of stigma due to their differences in physical or biological features, many intersex people face a number of healthcare difficulties. This can include:

  • experiences of forced or coercive medical interventions, intended to make the bodies of intersex people conform to sex and gender norms
  • psychosocial issues
    and
  • physical health issues.

Some intersex people may also face physical health issues and infertility due to the characteristics of their intersex trait.

Unwanted medical interventions and procedures that took place unnecessarily before individuals can consent can cause significant harm. It is extremely important that Intersex people consent to any healthcare they access, and are not forced to undergo treatments by parents, family members or practitioners. Medical interventions with personal consent can sometimes be helpful.

Tip: You can learn more about your medical rights on our page about Healthcare.
A person with their hand open. The palm of their hand is painted like the intersex flag, with a yellow background and purple circle in the middle.

Discrimination, Bullying and Forced Interventions

Due to differences in appearance, labels and experiences, many Intersex children and young people face bulling and discrimination from peers and even adults. For this reason, parents and doctors sometimes want children to undergo surgeries and medical treatments before puberty. However, this is not always helpful and can be harmful.

All intersex children and adults have a right to live free from discrimination and bullying without medical intervention.

Tip: Learn more about your right to be free from discrimination on our page about Disability and Discrimination.

Important Resources

Guides
WWDA Easy English Book: What is LGBTIQA+?
Easy English book about what LGBTIQA+ means.
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External website
AXYS Australia
AXYS Australia provides support and information to individuals, parents and spouses with an X & Y chromosome variation.
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External website
ReachOut Australia: What It means to be Intersex
A webpage for young people on what It means to be intersex and how to get support.
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External website
ReachOut Parents: Supporting an Intersex Teenager
A webpage for parents of intersex young people.
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External website
Intersex Human Rights Australia
A national not-for-profit company that promotes human rights, health and the bodily autonomy of intersex people.
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External website
Head to Health: Intersex People
A page about mental health support for people with intersex variations.
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Where to next:

External website
Intersex Peer Support Australia (IPSA)
IPSA is a group that offers peer support to intersex people and their families.
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External website
QLife
A website providing anonymous and free LGBTIQA+ peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.
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External website
A Gender Agenda
A service that aims to support the goals and needs of the intersex, transgender and gender diverse communities.
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External website
InterACT: Advocates for Youth
An American based website that provides useful information and resources for young Intersex people, their families and allies.
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External website
OII
A European website that provides useful resources for intersex people in English as well as European languages.
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External website
Intersex Asia
Information about human rights issues for intersex people in a range of Asian languages.
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