Androgyny Types

Intersexuality is a relatively rare congenital (i.e., present at birth) condition in which physical sex characteristics are not clearly male or clearly female. Intersex may be caused by exposure to abnormal hormone levels (e.g., testosterone, estrogen) before birth.

In a person who is intersex, external or internal reproduction organs and/or secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breast development, body and facial hair) make it difficult to determine his or her gender. An intersexual person has reproductive organs (genitals or genitalia) that are different in structure or appearance than those usually associated with a person of his or her gender.

These differences can be very noticeable or very subtle. Intersexuality may be evident at birth or may become apparent later in life, for example, during puberty.

Children and adults who are intersexual and their family members should receive health care and counseling from a medical care team (e.g., physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) specially trained in sexual disorders. In many cases, support groups can be helpful for people who are affected by intersexuality.

According to most medical specialists, young children who are intersexual should be assigned a gender, but should not undergo genital surgery until they are old enough to decide for themselves if they want to live as a male or as a female.

Intersexuality is not the same as behavioral or psychological androgyny. Behavioral androgyny refers to participation in activities, accepting of roles, and adopting of attitudes that are usually associated with the opposite gender. Psychological androgyny refers to ambiguous or conflicting feelings about one's gender or sexual identity.

Androgynes may not associate with being either male or female and often adapt their appearance to reflect their intersexuality. People who are androgynous may act, dress, accessorize (e.g., use jewelry, hats, and make-up), and style their hair so that their gender remains unclear.

A person who is androgynous may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. They may be sexually attracted to members of either sex, sexually attracted to both sexes, or may not have sex.

Some people who are androgynous embrace a high-profile culture that may be referred to as genderqueer. The androgynous culture occurs throughout the world and is especially recognized in the entertainment industry (e.g., music, fashion). Entertainers often adopt behavioral androgyny to appear gender-neutral and appeal to both men and women. They may present an androgynous appearance and embrace an androgynous culture in public and while performing (e.g., the late Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Prince, etc.)

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 07 Dec 2008

Last Modified: 28 Aug 2015