Do intersex women have penises? I’m seeing this thrown around a lot, so let’s address it. Firstly, as ever, let’s all remember that intersex is not the same as trans, and the conflation is harmful and ignorant. Now let’s get on with some science…
I’m not even really sure what people mean when they talk about intersex women having penises, as no one will ever explain it, so I’m going to rundown the conditions that I think may be causing this confusion.
They may be talking about virilised women. Virilised women do not have penises. What happens is these women are born with an enlarged clitoris, resembling a penis, and their vagina may be closed. Doctors refer to this condition as 46,XX DSD. The most common cause of this is congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). People with CAH lack a particular enzyme their body needs to make hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. Without these, the body produces more androgens (male sex hormones). If the child is female (excess androgens in a male are not usually considered to be a problem), the raised androgen levels before birth cause the genitals to become more male in appearance. More male in appearance does not mean it is a penis, just to be clear.
CAH can also lead to serious health issues, such as life-threatening kidney problems that need to be treated as soon as possible. It is a physiological and often traumatic condition, and not something that props up gender identities.
Maybe they mean people who have XY (male) chromosomes, but their external genitals may appear entirely female or atypical. The womb may be present or absent and the testicles may remain in the body or not form properly. Doctors refer to this condition as 46,XY DSD. There are several different causes of this condition. One possible cause is androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), where the body ignores androgens or is insensitive to them, so external development is female. See how it says external development is female, ergo not a penis? AIS is also a complex and often traumatic physiological condition, not a prop that proves that someone’s gender identity or validates their inner feelings.
Moving on, some people have neither XY nor XX chromosomes – for example, they may only have one X chromosome (X0), or they may have an extra chromosome (XXY). Their sex organs are normally either male or female, but they may not go through normal sexual development at puberty. For example, a child with female sex organs may not start having periods. Examples of this would be males with Klinefelters (XXY) or females with Turner syndrome (X0). And, guess what? Those males have penises and those females have vaginas. Again, complex and often traumatic conditions, not props in your debate.
Finally, we come to people with a very rare type of DSD who have both ovarian and testicular tissue – for example, one ovary and one testis – and whose genitals may appear female, male or a mix of both. Most people with this type of DSD have XX (female) chromosomes. The cause isn’t usually clear, but some cases have been linked to genetic material normally found on the Y chromosome being found on the X chromosome. Doctors refer to this condition as 46,XX ovotesticular DSD. If the person presents with functional testis and marked virilization, they are assigned male. If they have a functional ovary and internal female development, they are assigned female.
So, in summary, TL/DR, intersex women do not have penises either. You can stop pretending to be offended on our behalf and using us as props in your debate. Thanks.