Posts Tagged ‘disorders of sex development’

Ambiguous Anatomical Differences

January 18, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon, At first glance, nothing could be a clearer way of distinguishing the sexes than by anatomical differences. All one would need to do was to determine how the person urinated. Standing up, male, squatting or sitting down, female. An XX individual will have ovaries and a vagina; an XY individual will have testes and a penis. But there are individuals born with ambiguous gentalia or who later develop secondary sexual characteristics at odds with their assigned gender. These individuals were viewed as intersex anomalies or disorders of sex development (DSDs) requiring medical management, possibly including very early surgical interventions.

In a 2105 article in Nature by Claire Ainsworth called attention to the fact that sex can be more complicated than it at first seems. She found that individuals could have mixed sets of chromosomes (some cells XY, some XX). It was found that this was not a rare occurrence. The evidence that expression of the gonad-determining genes could continue postnatally undermined the concept of core physical sex differences being hardwired. This suggests that manifestations of biological sex occur on a spectrum, which would include both subtle and moderate variations, rather that as a binary divide.

In a 1993 article titled The Five Sexes Anne Faust-Sterling suggested that we need at least five categories of sex to cover intersex occurrences. She felt that this grouping should include males with testes and some female characteristics, and females with ovaries and some male characteristics, as well as “true” hermaphrodites, with one testes and one ovary. Some suggested that gender should not be determined by genitals, but certainly the existence of more than two categories (however defined) should be acknowledged.

Apart from ambiguous anatomical differences, there are behavioral and preference differences in homosexuality. Homosexuality is found across all cultures. What differs is the degree to which it is tolerated, persecuted, or accepted.

At one time it was thought that the hippocampus and the amygdala were larger in males than in females. Subsequent research has encouraged the revision of this position to one of there being no substantial differences when other factors are considered.

These comparisons occurred in a variety of areas and it became clear that there were neither black and white differences nor shades of gray. With further research the difference diminished and the dichotomies disappeared.