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Parenting a child with intersex variations

What are intersex variations?

Just as people have variations in height, eye colour and hair type, people also have natural variations in hormones, chromosomes and sexual organs (sex characteristics).

People who are intersex are born with physical sex characteristics that do not fit the stereotypical and medical definitions for male and female bodies. 

Intersex variations (in humans and other animals) have been known throughout history, but many people who have intersex variations (and their parents) experience discrimination, bullying and harm because their bodies are seen as different. 

Around 1.7% of the population is estimated to have intersex characteristics.

This makes people with intersex variations about as common as people who have red hair.

Sadly, intersex variations haven’t been talked about much, but this is changing.20,22

Finding out your child has intersex variations

Finding out your child has intersex variations may come as a surprise to you.

If your child has sex characteristics that are not typically male or female, you may have learnt about their intersex variations at birth (or even earlier during pregnancy screenings).

You may have simply felt joy at the birth of your healthy child or this may have been worrying if you (or the health professionals in the room) were not aware that it is a normal part of bodily diversity. 

Many parents are not aware that their child has intersex variations until their child starts puberty (or does not start puberty).

For some people they don’t find out until they try to have children of their own, some find out by random chance and others don’t find out at all. 

While people with intersex variations may face some health issues, it need not define who they are and it is important to remember that all sorts of people with different kinds of bodies (and genitals) live happy and fulfilled lives. 

Bodily integrity

Historically, children born with intersex variations were subject to surgical and hormonal interventions with no evidence of any benefit.22 

Intersex Human Rights Australia suggests that parents take their time to make informed decisions about their child’s healthcare.

If interventions are suggested, ask about the risks of both carrying out the treatment and doing nothing.

Ask for written evidence supporting this intervention, including information about long-term outcomes.

Seek a second or third opinion and don’t be rushed into making any decisions. Ask about waiting until your child can make the choice for themselves.

The best thing you can do for your child is to be open and honest with them about their intersex variations.21

In the past, driven by a desire to protect their child, parents (and doctors) may have held back information.

Being open shows your child that having an intersex variation is a normal and natural part of bodily diversity and helps maintain their trust in you. 

Visit Intersex Human Rights Australia for lots of useful information and support for parents.

For an excellent peer support organisation go to Intersex Peer Support Australia.