Sexual Violence and Medical Abuse Against the Intersex Community

Nov 02nd, 2022

By Sarah Bonnes, Program Intern

There is a lack of research and statistical data on the experiences of intersex people, especially on the rates of sexual violence within the intersex population. Intersex is a general term used to refer to a variety of conditions in which someone is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical medical definition of male or female (What Is Intersex? 2008). It is estimated that up to 1.7% of the population has an intersex trait and that about 0.5% of people have clinically identifiable sexual or reproductive variations (Medina & Mahowald, 2021). While sexual violence in intersex populations is largely understudied, there has been an increase in research and attention on medical and sexual abuse of intersex people. Within a society defined by a strict gender binary of male and female, intersex people face not only stigma and prejudice, but also reduced bodily autonomy and abuse as they are treated as if they have a disorder that must be medically or surgically “fixed.”

Due to widespread ignorance and bigotry about their bodies, intersex people are vulnerable to sexual violence and intimate partner violence (LGBTQIA Victims: What Forms of Abuse Are Unique to Intersex Victims?, 2018). For example, an abuser may use intersex peoples’ identities to gain power and control, through means such as threatening to tell people that the victim is intersex without their permission, pressuring them to behave in a way that conforms to specific gender expectations, or pressuring them to undergo surgery or take medications to change their body (LGBTQIA Victims: What Forms of Abuse Are Unique to Intersex Victims?, 2018).

Intersex people have also historically been subjected to widespread medical abuse. The research on this has largely focused on exposing unjust medical practices intersex people undergo to make their bodies fit into society’s idea of gender. Intersex people in the United States and across the world have often been forced to undergo unnecessary medical practices from birth. In recent decades, many doctors have practiced and encouraged early irreversible surgery on intersex children (“I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me,” 2017). These surgical procedures have been justified as medical care and as necessary for the intersex person to have a “normal” life.

The common goal of these cosmetic surgeries is to help intersex children conform to gender and sexual norms (“I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me,” 2017). This reasoning is hetero-centric and cis-centric, ignoring the social construction of gender and how many people do not fit into these constructed definitions. The supposed benefits of the medical procedures performed on intersex people are largely unproven, there are no urgent health reasons generally at stake, and the effects can be harmful (“I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me,” 2017). These surgeries often have various psychological, emotional, and physical impacts on intersex people.

A study conducted by The Trevor Project found that the rates of mental health challenges for intersex youth are disproportionately high in comparison to LGBTQ+ youth who are not intersex, and that acceptance for their gender identity is a strong protective factor for reducing suicide risk for intersex children (“The Mental Health and Well-Being of LGBTQ Youth Who Are Intersex,” 2021).

The medicalization of intersex people due to patriarchal, cis-normative, and heteronormative constructions of gender and sex allow for continued abuse. It is crucial for advocates to be aware of the discrimination intersex people face and be accepting of their gender identity. To learn more about the intersex community, visit the Intersex Society of North America’s website at


“I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me”: Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Intersex Children in the US. (2017). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from:

LGBTQIA Victims: What forms of abuse are unique to intersex victims? (2018, September 12). WomensLaw.Org. Retrieved from:

Medina, C., & Mahowald, L. (2021, October 26). Key Issues Facing People with Intersex Traits. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from:

The Mental Health and Well-being of LGBTQ Youth who are Intersex. (2021, December 3). The Trevor Project.

What is intersex? (2008). Intersex Society of North America.

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