Is intersex the same as "ambiguous genitalia"?

No, saying someone has an intersex condition isn’t the same as saying she or he was born with “ambiguous genitalia,” because some people with intersex conditions have genitalia that look pretty typically masculine or feminine. So, for example, girls born with XY chromosomes and complete androgen insensitivity syndrome have genitals that look pretty typically female. And some children born with XX chromosomes and congenital adrenal hyperplasia are born with genitals that look thoroughly male. Yet nearly all medical professionals agree that these kinds of conditions are intersex.

Why do we put the term “ambiguous genitalia” in quotation marks? We don’t particularly like the term since, as our Medical Advisory Board member Dr. William Reiner likes to point out, no child thinks his or her own genitals are “ambiguous.” They’re just their genitals. It’s the grown-ups who are feeling ambiguous.

To read more about what can count as “intersex,” go to our FAQ called What is intersex?.