Document Type

Independent Study Project

Publication Date



Western culture has a tendency to value binaries and discreet categories that separate its social structure and provide a sense of order and organization. The value placed on binaries and categories may be advantageous in some aspects, but when it starts to infringe upon the legal and medical rights of individuals not easily placed in either binary category, it can become less advantageous.

A baby is usually classified as either male or female shortly after birth, and all future legal, social, and economic actions and rights of that individual are more or less decided according to this classification. A problem with this system arises when children are born that do not neatly fit into either classification. These intersex individuals may be treated as abnormal in many spheres of their lives, which may have detrimental effects on their psyches. In the past, children determined to have ambiguous genitalia, defined as not fitting into either sexual classification, have often undergone infantile surgery in order to correct the ambiguity. In many ways, this surgical correction has had a major influence on the social and legal futures of these individuals, since a significant portion of Western culture depends on maintaining a sexual binary. One could say Western society may need to be more widely educated regarding the occurrence of medical conditions that may result in ambiguous genitalia and how to effectively integrate effected individuals into legal and social systems.

Because medical professionals are classifying the sex of each individual that is born and are faced with how to best treat intersex conditions in the context of a patient’s physical, psychological, and legal needs, the medical community may need to consider adopting a strategic guide for effectively treating intersex individuals. The first section of this paper presents a few of the predominant genetic conditions that affect sexual development compared to typical sexual development. The second section aims to discuss how individuals with these conditions are typically approached in a clinical environment and discuss potential improvements in treatments. The final section examines a few societies in which intersex individuals are effectively integrated into the legal and social spheres and how they may serve as examples for how Western society might improve its treatment and classification of intersex individuals.


Independent Study Project, Biology Department, Wofford College



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