Hermaphrodite vs Intersex
The two terms Hermaphrodite and Intersex have been used synonymously before the mid-years of the last century. However, they have been explained in the scientific literature so that it would be convenient to understand the difference between these two terms. Since the mid-1990’s, it has been important to some in the intersex community to use the word intersex to describe us instead of hermaphrodite. Although some continue to use hermaphrodite, the vast majority of us are preferring to be called intersex people instead of hermaphrodites. This blog summarizes the most interesting and important facts about both hermaphrodite and intersex to help the reader understand.
Organisms that have both male and female reproductive organs are called the hermaphrodites. In other words, characteristics or both male and female are present in one individual, in hermaphroditism. Hermaphroditism is more common among plants than in animals, but there are many dominant hermaphroditic invertebrates. Snails would be the best-known examples of hermaphroditic animals. It is interesting for one individual to be both a father for one and a mother for another.
There are two types of hermaphrodites, known as Sequential and Simultaneous, based on the periods that their sexual activities take place. Either one of the two biological sexes becomes active at a particular time while the other reproductive organs are inactive. Birds and fish are sequential hermaphroditic animals, while there are many plant species belonging to this type. Simultaneous hermaphrodites have both male and female reproductive systems active at the same time, but the self-fertilization has been usually avoided. From the animal world, Earthworms provide good examples for simultaneous hermaphrodites. There are also pseudo hermaphrodites like hyenas, as well, in which both biological sex have a penis. When it comes to human hermaphroditism, it is mainly known as intersex, and this phenomenon is a natural bodily variation in humans.
This is a gynandromorph peacock. Gynandromorphism is a type of intersex status found in some species, notably birds and insects, but not in humans. The animal in question is male on one side of its body and female on the other. In this case, the peacock is also albino on one side. Just one more beautiful, natural intersex variation in nature!
Intersex in Humans
Intersex is a natural bodily variation in humans where the sexual characteristics are varied from the typical endosex/dyadic (not intersex) male and females. Intersex variations, in humans, can involve sex chromosomes, hormones, genitals or reproductive systems in humans.
The common chromosomal genotypes of the sexual phenotypes in male and female are XY and XX respectively. However, the karyotype chromosomal makeup can sometimes be different in human intersex individuals.
In intersex individuals, it is not only about the alterations in the genotypes, but also the genital variations, hormonal variations, and sexual phenotypes that are involved. Sometimes a person born intersex might start their life as one sex, and change in adolescence.
Some authors describe that natural bodily variations could take place in more than 40 types in humans with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS, Partial AIS, Complete AIS), Congenital Adrenal Hypoplasia (CAH), Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and Turner Syndrome (TH), being the three most common among those. There are so many ways a human can be born intersex, the medical world clearly can’t even identify all the variations although they have tried. We do know that over 1.7% of the population is born with intersex variations and this would equal out to about 127.5 million people in the world, with our Earth’s population being at 7.5 Billion.
However, some intersex individuals are usually not reproductively fertile, as they do not have the optimum conditions to sustain the life of another inside their bodies. It would be important to note that some intersex people are fertile and can reproduce and have children. In the past, “Disorders of Sexual Development” has attempted to replace the term intersex. However, most all intersex advocates, activists, educators and even the United Nations, would rather we use the term “intersex” and “natural bodily variations”. The medical community needs to stop medicalizing the way they refer to people born intersex since most of us do not require any medical intervention at all. Right now there is a huge movement to stop genital mutilation and the unnecessary non-consensual corrective surgeries in intersex children.
What is the difference between Hermaphrodite and Intersex?
• A hermaphrodite has the presence of a full set of male and female reproductive characteristics, and can even have both eggs and sperm in one individual, and is considered naturally occurring in nature.
• In a hermaphrodite organism, one individual could become a father with sperm, for one, and mother with their eggs,. However, intersex human individuals are incapable of such triumphs.
• Humans can only be intersex due to their inability to be viable with both eggs and sperm, while plants and some species of animals can be hermaphrodites too.
• Hermaphrodites are always viable for reproduction, while some intersex individuals are not always able to reproduce and may be infertile.
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