What are sex and sex characteristics?

A person’s biological characteristics are typically categorized as male or female. There are a number of characteristics of biological sex, including sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs and external genitalia. Sex is typically assigned at birth. The choice of categorization and definitions of male and female bodies are based on social expectations and social needs.


What does intersex mean?

Intersex is most commonly used to refer to an experience of being born with sex characteristics that don't match the medical norms of male or female bodies. These include primary characteristics, such as reproductive organs and genitalia, and/or chromosomal structures and hormones; and secondary characteristics, such as muscle mass, hair distribution, breasts and/or stature. Intersex variations can be apparent at birth, they can become apparent during puberty, or later in life, for example, when trying to concieve. Sometimes a person might never find out that they're intersex. Intersex people are often subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries, performed without their full informed consent, often in infancy of childhood, when the person is too young to give consent. People with intersex variations do not share a common sexual orientation or gender identity. They may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, heterosexual or asexual, among other possibilities. They may identify as male or female, both or neither. Some intersex people also identify as trans*,   and some add intersex as key qualifier in their gender presentation as, for example, intersex man or intersex woman. Some people adopt intersex as their personal and/or political identity, as a way of making visible their life experiences as intersex people, while other people with intersex variations do not identify as intersex.



How is the terminology used?

“Sex characteristics” or “intersex traits” are terms used when referring to the features that make a person intersex; those terms have also been used in national legislation to protect the rights of intersex people. In some places, “inter*” is used to denote the diversity of intersex realities and bodies.