The Harmful Effects of Intersex Surgery

LGBTQIA, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual. I’m sure we’ve all heard these terms before and have a basic understanding of what they mean. However, the word intersex was just relatively included in the LGBTQIA initialism. What does intersex mean? It is a term that describes certain people who were born with non-discernable genitals which makes it difficult to tell if they are biologically male or female. Because of this, the parents of intersex children decide their sex and gender for them and have them undergo surgery to “correct” the problem.

However, these surgeries are incredibly harmful to intersex children. Parents have their intersex children undergo these surgeries in the hopes that they will lead a “normal” life because being assigned to sex and gender will make it easier for them to assimilate themselves into society. However, this type of surgery can inflict permanent and irreversible physical and psychological harm extremely early in life. According to three former surgeon generals, infant genitoplasty is “not necessary to reduce psychological damage” and, in fact, “can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress” and that the surgeries “violate an individual’s right to personal autonomy over their own future.” In addition to this, there is very little evidence to suggest that the surgeries improved the quality of life for intersex individuals.

One such way in which these surgeries can be psychologically damaging is that there is the possibility of the child being assigned the wrong gender and having to struggle with their identity for their entire life. This may lead to such conditions as severe anxiety and depression and perhaps even suicide.

A way that these surgeries are physically damaging is that the removal of gonads can prevent intersex people from reproducing. They may also have to be on hormone replacement treatments throughout their entire life. These surgeries can also decrease sensation during sex and can cause chronic pain. Clearly, these surgeries are doing more harm than good and they affect intersex people in extremely negative ways.

Mental anguish also comes with these surgeries. According to Human Rights Watch, intersex people who undergo these surgeries express feeling dread because they experience contemptuous language from doctors, repeated genital examinations and photography, and their bodies being exposed to multiple practitioners. This is a very obvious breach of privacy which would not be acceptable in any other circumstance. Because of this, many intersex individuals distrust medical practitioners which makes some experience horror decades after the surgery when trying to find a doctor or avoiding seeking medical help altogether.

Some experiences with medical care for intersex people are that they get laughed at because of their ambiguous genitals, phlebotomists refusing to draw blood from an intersex person, and an intersex person getting sepsis because they hesitated to seek care from a doctor because they did not trust them. Nearly all intersex adults who were interviewed by the Human Rights Watch said that they dread seeking medical care and some avoid it altogether until friends or family members take them to a hospital. There are only two circumstances in which this type of surgery is necessary: one where the internal organs are outside of the body and the other is to guarantee that there is a place for urine to be expelled. Other than these two rare circumstances, genital corrective surgery is purely cosmetic and completely unnecessary.

Clearly, these surgeries are doing more harm than good and they affect intersex people in extremely negative ways. As such, many organizations have proposed to curtail the surgeries or stop them altogether. The American Medical Association proposed to discourage the surgeries until children can consent unless the surgery is medically necessary. The United Nations and the World Health Organization have both condemned these surgeries as the child was unable to consent. Malta, taking this a step further, banned the surgery completely.

Surgery done on intersex children is very often completely unnecessary and physically, mentally, and psychologically damaging. Intersex individuals are shunned, laughed at, and ostracized from others and, because of that, can become depressed, anxious, and suicidal and hesitate to get necessary medical treatment. Intersex surgery can and most often does create significant problems that can haunt people for the rest of their lives. Luckily, organizations such as the AMA, UN, and WHO are attempting to stop these surgeries from being performed on unwilling candidates. If this kind of activism continues, we can hope that non-consensual surgery on intersex individuals will be a thing of the past.


Originally published at TravelPRIDE.