Variety in our bodies
How many times have you filled out a form at the doctor’s office and checked a box for “male” or “female”? Pretty simple, right? Except there’s more to biological sex than meets the eye. Researchers are learning that there is tremendous variety in human bodies, including differences among males and females.
Long story short, primary sex characteristics (body parts directly related to reproduction) + secondary sex characteristics (features that develop during puberty) combine in a lot of different ways. Human beings are incredibly diverse, and that variety extends to characteristics such as our tone of voice and whether our facial features are angular or round, as well as other differences in our bodies, such as big or small muscles, large or small breasts, or hips that are narrow or wide.
The variety in our bodies also includes people who are intersex, meaning they have physical characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of either sex. Nature journalist Claire Ainsworth (2015) explains, “[D]octors have long known that some people straddle the boundary [between male and female]— their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another” (Ainsworth, 2015, para. 3). There are a wide range of intersex variations, including some that are visible at birth and others that become evident during puberty.
Read this Q&A from the American Psychological Association to learn more about the different kinds of intersex traits.
Ainsworth, C. (2015). Sex redefined: The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that. Nature, 518,288-291. https://www.nature.com/news/polopoly_fs/1.16943!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/518288a.pdf
APA Task Force on Gender Identity, Gender Variance, and Intersex Conditions (2006). Answers to your questions about individuals with intersex conditions [Pamphlet]. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/intersex.pdf