What’s sex life like when you’re intersex?

What's sex life like when you're intersex

“I’ve never understood the idea in society that people should be ashamed of gender differences like that.”

About 1.7 percent of people on this planet are born with intersex characteristics, an umbrella term for sexual traits—such as external sex organs, internal reproductive organs, and chromosomal configurations—that don’t align with society’s artificial binary concepts of male or female bodies. Some of these characteristics are visible at birth: for example, genitalia that are markedly different from the norm or difficult to classify as male or female. Some make their presence known at puberty, when people don’t develop quite as they thought. Some are so internal and subtle that they are only identified during an autopsy. In any case, it’s usually impossible to tell if someone has intersex traits just by looking at how they are in everyday life. However,their sex lives.

To be clear, an intersex characteristic is not a medical condition or a disability. It’s just one of the many natural variations in the diverse way human bodies look and operate. Some factors that lead to intersex variation, such as atypical hormone production, can sometimes also cause serious medical problems that require treatment, but most of the differences themselves are purely neutral.

However, society’s obsession with categorizing people into one or two binary genders at birth – and erasing or ignoring anything that complicates binary simplicity – means that many people with intersex traits grow up with the notion that there is something wrong with them and that they are not he should never talk about it. They are also often pressured or forced to “normalize” to fit typically male or female anatomy: All over the world, children with visible intersex traits are subjected to unnecessary and often harmful surgeries to reshape or remove their genitalia , with the aim of making them look “normal” and apparently helping them integrate into society.

A large number of people with intersex characteristics do not feel that these characteristics have much effect on their sex life. But several intersex differences can lead to unique experiences of sex and pleasure. And many “normalizing” surgeries can drastically reduce or eliminate a person’s genital sensations and/or lead to chronic pain and dysfunction in erogenous zones.

Because of the extreme culture of shame and silence surrounding these traits and experiences, it is difficult for people with intersex traits – or struggling with the effects of unnecessary surgery – to learn about their bodies, are less articulate and have a harder time communicating about their sexual desires and needs. Popular prejudice and stigma, as well as the risk of someone reacting badly to diverse genitalia or to a body that doesn’t function in the ways you’d expect it to, also make it difficult for some people with intersex traits to feel comfortable to explore intimacy or feel sexy and sexual.

In recent decades, several intersex organizations have formed to fight against pathologizing, stigmatization, and to help people with intersex characteristics find community and support. But most of their public fight and education has (rightly) been focused on stopping harmful and unnecessary surgeries — so there’s still not a lot of public information about the problems people with intersex characteristics may run into when navigating gender and how to manage them.

To bring more visibility to these issues and experiences, VICE spoke with Addy Berry, an intersex woman, and her wife, Leea, to find out how they approach sex and intimacy. Every intersex experience is unique, so Addy and Leea’s story is not universal. But Addy also studies the sexual … Read the rest