Intersex Medical Experimentation: The Fourteen Days of Intersex

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ON the Seventh Day of Intersex we draw your attention to intersex medical experimentation – medicine’s propensity for experimenting on the bodies of intersex people.

What is intersex?

Intersex people are people who, as individuals, have congenital genetic, hormonal and physical features that may be thought to be typical of both male and female at once. That is, we may be thought of as being male with female features, female with male features, or indeed we may have no clearly defined sexual features at all.

Why are intersex people subjected to experimental surgeries and medication?

The simple answer is to make us “normal”, however that may be construed. In order to take a body with unusual physical features and give it the appearance of being the same or very similar to other bodies, surgeries and other interventions are needed.

All intersex people vary one from the other. Our bodies are inclined to be more variable when we are compared to other intersex bodies because of the random way genes, hormones, environmental influences and their effects work.

Are doctors getting “better” at surgery on intersex bodies?

Arguably not. The failures are not as catastrophic nowadays, but a failure is a failure and every failure is borne by the individual subjected to the unsuccessful medical intervention for the rest of their life.

Although surgeons might learn some lessons each time they operate on us, every surgery is in its own way an experiment. Surgeons can never be sure how effectively they have “converted” us to “normal”. We might have very different ideas about our gender roles than the one the doctors guessed at for us. They may have converted our genitals to be female looking when we in fact think of ourselves as male or even as non-gendered.

They may have done clitoral reduction and left that organ insensate. They certainly will have reduced sensation to some degree as all surgery does. They might have been unsuccessful in creating the thing they were aiming at, with our bodies often healing and growing in unexpected ways, and so the surgeons have to go back again and again with repeated corrections. Each time they create more scars and reduce sensation even more so that in the end a useless mess is all that is left.

How do doctors find out if their surgery works?

They only ever try this on children. They make no such inquiries with adults and especially not adults over the age of forty. Older intersex people are referred to as “lost to researchers”.

With intersex kids as young as eight, with breathtaking inappropriateness, researchers ask them about sexual function and sexual enjoyment. Some medical practitioners subject children as young as five to sexual stimulation to see if the surgically constructed phallus or clitoris is sensate to some degree.

Hospital ethical committees certify these experiments because they are being done on children considered to be “disordered” or “disfigured” and who have been placed on a birth defects register. The language of disease that has been constructed around intersex enables such surgical experimentation.

For us in the long term…?

From studies conducted in the UK with limited funding and a small group of participants, it has been found that intersex people who have been subjected to surgery have sexual intercourse less frequently and that when they do, they enjoy it less. Other research by Drs Minto and Creighton show that intersex children fare as well if not better without surgery than those who are subjected to it.

It is illegal under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child to subject infants to unnecessary, non-consensual medical experimentation.

Hey doctor, leave those kids alone!

Gina Wilson
Chairperson, Organisation Intersex International Australia Limited (OII Australia)