What is Intersexuality?

What does it mean to be intersexual and what causes intersexuality? Plus the difference between intersexual and transsexual.

Imagine being called a "boy" at birth, but realizing as you grew up that you felt more like a "girl" than boy, and that you had genitals that appeared more female than male. That's what happened to Kailana, our guest on the HealthyPlace TV show on Intersexuality. Kailana was born with what then might have been called "hermaphrodism." She had the biology and psychology of one sex, but the genitals and internal sex organs of both sexes. The causes of intersexuality ( the more modern and accepted term) is complicated and involves potential abnormalities caused by both genetics, hormones, and other factors.

Kailana was identified by doctors as a boy at birth in 1970, but later, growing up, doctors ignored her claims that she felt like a girl. "I looked like a boy sort of, I did not feel it," says Kailana. (Read Kailana's blog post - Intersexual: Raised the Wrong Sex)

It was not until her 20s, while a male soldier in the military, that she went to a doctor who recognized the condition and that intersex diagnosis, laments Kailana, "pretty much destroyed what little life I had held onto."

Intersexual vs. Transsexual

Intersexuality is different from what we have talked about previously in this blog, transsexuality. In transexuality, the biology of the sex of the individual is what is commonly recognized as either clearly male or female, but the psychology of the individual is that of the sex opposite of their bodies. They are felt to be one sex born into the body of the opposite sex.

In intersexuality, there is a problem with the genetics and hormones in fetal and later development of the individual such that the actual gender of the person is uncertain, and may be neither all female or male, but with anatomic features of both sexes.

This birth "defect" is rare (less than 1/1000 births), often unrecognized fully at birth, and one that can cause great suffering to the individual and the family.

On our HealthyPlace TV show on Intersexuality, we will learn more about this fascinating, confusing, and troubling condition.

Watch HealthyPlace TV Show on "Being Intersexual"

Join us this Tuesday, November 17. You can watch the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show live (5:30p PT, 7:30 CT, 8:30 ET) and on-demand on our website.

Dr. Harry Croft is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Dr. Croft is also the co-host of the HealthyPlace TV Show.

next: Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): Symptoms and Treatment
~ other mental health articles by Dr. Croft

APA Reference
(2009, September 21). What is Intersexuality?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 22 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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