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What are babies born with both genders called?

Babies who are born with both male and female anatomical characteristics are referred to as intersex. Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. Some intersex traits are apparent at birth, while others may not become noticeable until puberty or later in life.

What causes intersex?

Intersex conditions arise when there is some form of variation in the biological process of sexual development. This can occur due to differences in chromosomes, hormones, or anatomy. Some common intersex variations include:

  • Klinefelter syndrome – individuals have XXY chromosomes
  • Androgen insensitivity syndrome – individuals have XY chromosomes but are resistant to male sex hormones
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – individuals have XX chromosomes but are exposed to high levels of male sex hormones in utero
  • Hypospadias – males are born with the urethra opening somewhere along the underside of the penis rather than at the tip

These variations occur naturally and are not considered medical problems. However, some intersex traits may require medical attention to maximize the child’s wellbeing.

How common is intersex?

It is difficult to determine the exact number of intersex people, as many variations may go undetected. However, experts estimate that around 1-2% of the population is born with intersex traits. This equates to millions of people worldwide.

What gender are intersex babies assigned?

After birth, intersex babies are typically assigned a legal sex of either male or female. This decision is based on a complex evaluation of the child’s chromosomes, hormones, internal and external anatomy. The assigned sex will determine how the child is raised and which legal rights they will have access to.

Unfortunately, this binary system often does not fit the realities of intersex bodies. Activists argue that intersex people should have the right to choose their legal gender. Some urge doctors to delay medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants until they are old enough to decide for themselves.

How are intersex conditions treated?

After diagnosis, intersex people may receive a range of medical treatments. Some common interventions include:

  • Hormone therapy – to masculinize or feminize the body
  • Surgery – to alter the appearance of ambiguous genitalia or internal organs
  • Gonadectomy – removal of ovaries or testes
  • Genital mutilation – clitoral reduction, vaginoplasty, etc.

Many activists argue these procedures are medically unnecessary and performed to ease parental distress or enforce binary gender norms. Performing irreversible surgeries on children who cannot consent remains highly controversial.

What issues do intersex people face?

Intersex people may face a range of social challenges and mental health issues, including:

  • Stigma, shame, and secrecy surrounding their condition
  • Bullying, abuse, and discrimination due to their differences
  • Gender dysphoria if assigned sex does not match gender identity
  • Trauma and PTSD from unwanted medical procedures
  • Infertility due to removal of reproductive organs
  • Exclusion or erasure from legal frameworks and public policies

Support groups like Interact Advocates for Intersex Youth exist to provide community, counter stigma, and campaign for intersex rights.

Recent developments

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of intersex issues worldwide. Some key developments include:

  • The UN and EU have condemned unnecessary intersex medical interventions
  • Malta became the first country to ban non-consensual modifications to sex characteristics in 2015
  • Some countries now allow a third gender option on legal documents
  • Doctors are reassessing the ethics surrounding intersex patient care

There is still substantial progress needed to fully recognize and protect intersex rights. However, with strong advocacy and education, the intersex community is driving change on an international scale.


Babies born with intersex traits represent the natural diversity of human sex characteristics. Though intersex people face numerous challenges, recent human rights advances demonstrate that cultural attitudes can evolve. With compassion and understanding, we can create a society where intersex individuals are valued, respected and able to thrive as their authentic selves.