Skip to Content

Are hermaphrodites born with both parts?

The simple answer is yes, hermaphrodites are born with both male and female reproductive organs. However, there are varying degrees of hermaphroditism and the genitalia present at birth can range from ambiguous to fully formed sexual organs of both sexes.

What is a hermaphrodite?

A hermaphrodite, also known as an intersex person, is someone born with reproductive organs that are not strictly male or female. There are a variety of intersex conditions that can cause a person to be born with both male and female genitalia.

Here are some key facts about hermaphroditism:

  • Around 1 in every 1500 to 2000 babies born will have some form of hermaphroditism
  • There are over 30 different intersex conditions
  • Intersex is an umbrella term – hermaphrodite refers to a specific condition where a person has both ovarian and testicular tissue
  • Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans

The most common intersex conditions include:

  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – the adrenal glands produce excess virilizing hormones
  • Androgen insensitivity syndrome – a genetic disorder reducing the body’s responsiveness to testosterone
  • Klinefelter syndrome – males are born with an extra X chromosome (XXY)
  • Turner syndrome – females are born with only one X chromosome

So in summary, a hermaphrodite or intersex person is someone born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t strictly fit into the typical male or female categories. The external genitalia may be ambiguous or can include fully formed sex organs of both sexes.

What does the genitalia of a hermaphrodite look like at birth?

There are several possibilities when it comes to the genitalia of a hermaphrodite at birth. Here are some of the most common variations:

Ambiguous genitalia

This refers to genitals that are intermediate between typical male and female genitals. They have an ambiguous appearance that makes assigning a sex at birth difficult. Some features may resemble a small penis or an enlarged clitoris. The labia may be fused, appearing more scrotum-like. The urethral opening may be along the shaft as in a penis, instead of at the base. Ambiguous genitals occur in many intersex conditions.


In true hermaphroditism, a rare intersex condition, the person is born with both an ovary and a testicle (ovo-testes). Internal reproductive organs of both sexes are present. The external genitalia can vary between normal male, normal female, or ambiguous.


This refers to an enlarged or otherwise atypical clitoris that may resemble a small penis. It occurs in some intersex conditions like congenital adrenal hyperplasia. The rest of the genitalia is normal.


A micropenis is an abnormally small but normally formed penis. Although not strictly intersex, it occurs more often with certain intersex conditions. The scrotum and testicles are normal.

Normal female or male genitalia

In some cases of intersex, the external genitals may appear entirely female or entirely male. Variations occur internally with the presence of both ovarian and testicular tissue. Androgen insensitivity syndrome can result in normal female external organs but male internal organs.

Overall, genitals in a hermaphrodite at birth can range from normal male or female to fully ambiguous. The variety comes from the complex interplay of chromosomes, hormones, and developmental pathways that determine sex.

What causes hermaphroditism?

Hermaphroditism arises from biological variations that occur as the reproductive system develops before birth. Here are some of the main causes:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities – having extra or missing sex chromosomes such as XXY, XXX, XYY
  • Enzyme defects – lack of certain enzymes can disrupt sex hormone levels
  • Hormone imbalances – over- or underproduction of sex hormones during development
  • Defects in fetal gonad development – errors in the early stages of reproductive organ formation

In a typical male fetus, the presence of the Y chromosome triggers the production of testosterone which drives the development of male genitalia. In a typical female, without the hormonal influence of testosterone, the genitalia develop into the female form. Sometimes this process goes off track due to genetic mix-ups or hormone imbalances. The result is genitalia that are somewhere between male and female.

How is sex assigned with ambiguous genitalia?

When a baby is born with ambiguous genitalia, determining the sex assignment can be challenging. Doctors consider the following factors when deciding:

  • Appearance of the genitals
  • Internal reproductive organs present
  • Genetic and hormonal profile
  • projected gender identity
  • Fertility potential – whether ovaries or testes are present and functional
  • Ease of surgical reconstruction

Based on these criteria, the medical team will assign a sex to the infant and recommend surgical procedures and hormone treatments if needed. Historically, the chosen sex was often kept secret and the genitals were reconstructed to match. Today, a more open approach is favored when dealing with intersex individuals and families.

How common is hermaphroditism in humans?

True hermaphroditism, where a person has both ovarian and testicular tissue, is very rare. Fewer than 200 cases have been reported in medical literature. However, milder forms of intersex conditions are more common, occurring in 1 out of every 1,500 to 2,000 births. Here are some statistics on the prevalence of intersex:

  • Klinefelter syndrome (XXY chromosomes) occurs in 1 out of 500 to 1000 male births
  • Androgen insensitivity affects 2 to 5 per 100,000 births
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia affects 1 in 10,000 to 18,000 births
  • Hypospadias, an abnormal urethral opening, affects approximately 1 in 250 male births

So while true hermaphroditism is very rare, intersex conditions overall affect a substantial minority of births. An estimated 1.7% of the population has intersex traits.

Can hermaphrodites reproduce as both sexes?

In most cases, hermaphrodites are unable to function fully as both sexes when it comes to reproduction. While they may have both ovarian and testicular tissues, there is usually only one predominantly functioning gonad.

For example, someone with true hermaphroditism may have testes producing sperm and ovaries with eggs. However, only one of them tends to be active and functional. They may appear male but lack sperm production, or appear female but not release eggs. Only around a third of true hermaphrodites have organs capable of reproduction as both sexes.

Other forms of intersex follow a similar pattern, with one set of organs being more reproductively functional than the other. So while both types of gonads may physically be present, full dual fertility is uncommon.

What gender do hermaphrodites identify as?

The gender identity of intersex individuals largely depends on how they are raised, similar to the general population. A hermaphrodite raised male will likely identify as a man, while one raised female sees herself as a woman.

However, a small minority, around 5-10%, may experience gender dysphoria and identify with the opposite gender. Rates of gender dysphoria are higher in certain intersex variations like congenital adrenal hyperplasia and androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Overall though, being intersex has less influence on gender identity than social upbringing. Most report comfort identifying with the sex they were assigned at birth, regardless of their atypical anatomy.

Can hermaphrodites get pregnant?

It is possible but very rare for a hermaphrodite to get pregnant, depending on their internal reproductive organs. Theoretically, someone with both functional male and female reproductive systems could fertilize their own ovum and carry a child to term. However, this would require:

  • Ovarian and uterine tissues capable of maintaining a pregnancy
  • Viable sperm production
  • Synchronized ovulation and sperm release
  • A hormonal balance capable of supporting a fetus

Given these limitations, self-fertilization is extremely unlikely. No verified cases of human self-fertilization have been documented. A few unverified claims have surfaced over the years but they lack sufficient evidence.

However, technology could possibly allow self-fertilization in specific cases. Collecting and combining both eggs and sperm in vitro could result in a viable embryo to implant. But again, both functioning gametes would need to be present.

How are intersex conditions diagnosed?

Diagnosing intersex in an infant involves a series of tests:

  • Physical examination – looking at the genitals for ambiguity/abnormalities
  • Blood tests – check chromosomes and hormone levels
  • Ultrasound – examines internal sex organs
  • Endoscopy – visual inspection of urinary tract and gonads
  • CT scan – detailed images of internal reproductive anatomy
  • Biopsy – tissue sample to analyze chromosomes and enzymes

These tests give doctors critical information about the baby’s reproductive health and help guide sex assignment. Follow-up assessments continue through childhood to monitor development and fertility.

In less severe cases, intersex may go unnoticed until puberty when the child fails to enter normal puberty. Genetic testing can then confirm suspicions.


Hermaphrodites and intersex individuals are born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit typical binary definitions of male and female. Their genitalia present with varying degrees of ambiguity and can include both ovarian and testicular tissue. While dual fertility is possible in theory, most can only reproduce as one sex. Gender identity tends to align with how they are raised. Diagnosis usually occurs at birth but mild cases may be detected later in puberty. With compassionate care, intersex people can live full, healthy lives.