Intersex people are born with variations in physical sex characteristics (such as chromosomes, gonads or hormones) so that our bodies do not fit typical medical definitions of female or male. Intersex is fundamentally a matter of bodily diversity; people have diverse bodies, sexes, genders, identities and life experiences. The term intersex was first used by science in the early 20th century; historically, the term “hermaphrodite” was used.
Intersex variations or traits are always congenital and can originate from genetic, chromosomal or hormonal variations. Environmental influences such as endocrine disruptors can also play a role in some intersex differences. The term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics.
Intersex is not about sexual orientation; people with intersex variations have as diverse a range of sexual orientations as non-intersex people.
Intersex is not about transition or gender identity; we have as diverse a range of gender identities as non-intersex people. Intersex is primarily about the body, although intersex people may have an identity that is contingent on our embodiment and natural sex characteristics.
Although figures vary, intersex people represent a significant percentage of the population.
Intersex people, especially those of us who are diagnosed at birth or in infancy, are often the subject of surgical or hormonal interventions to “fix” our sex and make us appear male or female. This is still considered “therapeutic” in Australia, with “psychosocial” rationales. We strongly contend this; there is no firm evidence supporting such interventions.
In March 2017, OII Australia, other Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex organisations, and independent advocates, joined together to publish a consensus statement on our human rights and health issues. Read our joint Darlington Statement.
- Read a longer introduction to intersex in Intersex for allies.
- On intersex and terminology, a useful guide for journalists and writers.
- Defining intersex, a collection of definitions.
- Basic information for prospective parents and parents of newborns, children and adolescents.
- Darlington Statement, a 2017 Australian and Aotearoa/New Zealand community consensus statement on intersex human rights and health issues.
- Videos; non-fiction and fiction books; and posters on intersex issues or themes.
- All FAQs listed – a curated list of key articles on the OII Australia site.
Organisation Intersex International Australia Limited (OII Australia) is a national body by and for people with intersex variations. We promote the human rights, self-determination and bodily autonomy of intersex people in Australia. We develop policy, and provide peer support, information and education. Our goals are to help create a society where our bodies are not stigmatised, and where our rights as people are recognised.
We have made significant contributions to human rights policy and practice in Australia and internationally, resulting in:
- Senate Committee recommendations for major changes to clinical and legal practice, with the development of national policy guidelines within in a human rights framework – see our article about the report Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia (October 2013) and cross-party Senate speeches on the issue (March 2014).
- the inclusion of “intersex status” as a biological attribute in federal anti-discrimination legislation, with the intention of no religious exemptions (June 2013).
- changes to Medicare to remove gender from item numbers for medical procedures (July 2013).
- the introduction in 2017 by the National Health and Medical Research Council of a quality of life test, when IVF businesses consider genetic selection to eliminate embryos with “serious genetic conditions”, as proposed by OII Australia in 2015. Some intersex variations may – inappropriately – be described as serious genetic conditions, and anecdotal evidence has suggested that family members of intersex people may be pressured to use IVF to avoid passing on relevant genes.
- better understanding of intersex human rights issues by international human rights institutions.
OII Australia is a not-for-profit company, recognised by the Australian Taxation Office as a charitable Public Benevolent Institution. It is primarily resourced out of philanthropic and voluntary contributions, along with limited project contracts. We receive no public funds.
- Contact us including for peer support, and/or join our Facebook friends and members support group. Parents and people with intersex variations are warmly welcome.
- Join the organisation.
- Donate to support our work.
- Annual reports.
- Subscribe to receive notifications of new articles via email.
- Enquire about our services, including talks, presentations, policy development and advice.
OII Australia works closely alongside the other major Australian intersex-led organisation, the AIS Support Group Australia. We are a member of the National LGBTI Health Alliance and ILGA. We are the Australian affiliate of Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII), a decentralised global network of intersex organisations.
We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia, their diversity, histories and knowledge and their continuing connections to land and community. We pay our respects to all Australian Indigenous peoples and their cultures, and to elders of past, present and future generations.