Hermaphroditic Women: Definition, Karyotypes, Human Prevalence, Intersexuality, Society and Culture

In biology, it is an organism that has complete or partial reproductive organs and produces gametes normally associated with male and female sexes.

Many taxonomic groups of animals (mainly invertebrates) do not have separate sexes. In these groups, hermaphroditism is a normal condition that allows a form of sexual reproduction in which either partner can act as “female” or “male.”

For example, the vast majority of tunicates, lung snails, opisthobranch snails, and slugs are hermaphrodites. Hermaphroditism is also found in some species of fish and to a lesser degree in other vertebrates.

Historically, the term hermaphrodite has also been used to describe ambiguous genitalia and gonadal mosaicism in individuals of gonochoristic species, especially humans.

The word intersex has become a preferred use by humans, as the word hermaphrodite is considered misleading and stigmatizing, as well as “scientifically misleading and clinically problematic.”

Since the total estimated number of animal species is 8.6 million, the percentage of animal species that are hermaphrodites is around 0.7%.

Arthropods are the phylum with the largest number of species. Most hermaphroditic species show some degree of self-fertilization.

The distribution of self-fertilization rates among animals is similar to that of plants, suggesting that similar processes are operating to drive the evolution of self-pollination in animals and plants.

Hermaphrodite is used in ancient literature to describe anyone whose physical characteristics do not fit the male or female classifications, but the term has been replaced by intersex.

The term intersex describes a wide variety of combinations of what is considered male and female biology.

Intersex biology can include, for example, ambiguous-looking external genitalia, karyotypes that include mixed XX and XY chromosome pairs (46XX / 46XY, 46XX / 47XXY or 45X / XY mosaic).


Karyotypes found include 47XXY, 46XX / 46XY, or 46XX / 47XXY or XX and XY with ‘Y chromosome sex determination region’ (SRY) mutations, mixed chromosomal abnormalities, or hormone deficiency / excess disorders , and various degrees of mosaicism from these and a variety of others.

The 3 main karyotypes for true hermaphroditism are XX with genetic defects (55-70% of cases), XX / XY (20-30% of cases) and XY (5-15% of cases), the rest being a variety of other chromosomal abnormalities and mosaicisms.

Clinically, intersex people are currently described by medicine as suffering from disorders of sexual development, a term strongly contested. This is particularly due to a relationship between medical terminology and medical intervention.

Intersex civil society organizations, and many human rights institutions, have criticized medical interventions designed to make intersex bodies more typically male or female.

Some people who are intersex, like some people with androgen insensitivity syndrome, appear to appear entirely female or male, often without realizing that they are intersex.

Other types of intersex conditions are identified immediately at birth because those with the condition have a sex organ larger than a clitoris and smaller than a penis.

Some humans were historically referred to as true hermaphrodites if their gonadal tissue contained testicular and ovarian tissue, or pseudohermaphrodites if their external appearance (phenotype) differed from the expected sex of the internal gonads.

This language has fallen out of favor due to misconceptions and pejorative connotations associated with the terms, as well as a change to genetics-based nomenclature.

Intersex is in some caused by unusual sex hormones; unusual hormones can be caused by an atypical set of sex chromosomes.

A possible pathophysiological explanation for intersex in humans is the parthenogenetic division of a haploid ovum into two haploid ovules.

After the fertilization of the two eggs by two sperm cells (one carrying an X and the other carrying a Y chromosome), the two fertilized eggs fuse to form a person who has dual genital, gonadal (ovotestes) and genetic sex. .

Another common cause of intersex is the crossing of the “Y chromosome sex determination region” (SRY) from the Y chromosome to the X chromosome during meiosis.

The “sex determination region of the Y chromosome” (SRY) is activated only in certain areas, causing the development of testes in some areas by starting a series of events beginning with the up-regulation of SOX9 and in other areas that are not active (causing ovarian tissues to grow).

Therefore, the testicular and ovarian tissues will be present in the same individual. Fetuses before sexual differentiation are sometimes described as female by doctors who explain the process. This is technically not true.

Before this stage, humans are simply undifferentiated and possess a Müllerian duct, a Wolffian duct, and a genital tubercle.

Human prevalence

There are no documented cases in which both types of gonadal tissue work.

Although fertility is possible in true hermaphrodites, a case in which both gonadal tissues function has not yet been documented, contrary to the misconception that hermaphrodites can impregnate.


Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sexual characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitalia, which, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions of bodies male or female ».

Such terms have fallen out of favor; in particular, the term “hermaphrodite” is considered misleading, stigmatizing and scientifically misleading.

Society and culture

M.C. v. Aaronson

The US legal case of MC v. Aaronson, promoted by intersex civil society organization with Southern Poverty Law Center, appeared in court in 2013.

The child in the case was born in December 2004 with ovotestes, initially determined to be male, but was subsequently assigned a female and placed in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services in February 2005.

The physicians responsible for MC initially concluded that the surgery was not urgent or necessary and MC had the potential to identify himself as male or female, but, in April 2006, MC underwent feminizing medical interventions.

He was adopted in December 2006. At 8 years old at the time the case was taken, he now identifies as a man. The status of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

“As a CM, there is no way of knowing whether the child will eventually identify as a boy or a girl. Instead, the doctors decided to assign her a female MC and change her body to fit her stereotype of what a girl should look like.

The defendant in the case, Dr. Ian Aaronson , had written in 2001 that “feminizing genitoplasty on a baby who could eventually be identified as a boy would be catastrophic.”

The defendants sought to dismiss the case and seek a qualified immunity defense, but these were rejected by the District Court for the District of South Carolina.

In January 2015, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision and dismissed the lawsuit, stating that it “did not mean” lessening the serious harm MC claims to have suffered.

The Court did not rule on whether or not the surgery violated MC’s constitutional rights. The state lawsuits were later shelved. In July 2017, the South Carolina Medical University was reported to have settled the case out of court for $ 440,000.

The University denied the negligence, but agreed to a “compromise” agreement to avoid “litigation costs.”