Medicalization of Intersexuality: History Resources

Classification: Bibliographies | History | Library

Most of the history of medicalization of intersexuality has yet to be investigated. This is pretty close to a complete list of the sources available as of July, 2000.

Some of these books are out of print; if not available at your library, you can often find them available for purchase via ABE Books.

Late Victorian Period

  • Dreger, Alice Domurat. 1998. Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Focusing on events in France and Britain in the late 19th century, Dreger takes us inside doctors’ chambers to see how and why medical and scientific men construed sex, gender, and sexuality as they did, and especially how intersexed bodies—when combined with social exigencies—forced peculiar constructions.


  • Money, John. 1952. Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox. Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge (444 pages). Can be ordered directly from Harvard University’s Widener Library for about $100. Contains discussion of numerous published cases for the period. “The findings are somewhat disconcerting, for one would not have been surprised had the paradox of hermaphroditism been a fertile source of psychosis and neurosis.. The evidence, however, shows that the incidence of the so-called functional psychoses in the most ambisexual of the hermaphrodites—those who could not help but be aware that they are sexually equivocal—was extraordinarily low.”
  • Dickinson, Robert Latou. 1949. Human Sex Anatomy. Baltimore: The Williams and Wilkins Company. A relatively early use of the term “intersex” rather than “hermaphrodite.” Hand drawn illustrations of sex organs show ambiguous genitals lying on a continuum between male and female, rather than as a discrete category. A number of case histories.


  • Kenen, Stephanie Hope. 1998. Scientific Studies of Human Sexual Difference in Interwar America. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of History, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley. Can be easily and inexpensively ordered online from UMI Dissertation Services as publication number 9902118. Chapter 3 (76 pages) discusses Hopkins surgeon Hugh Hampton Young’s clinical treatment of intersex people, which “involved a complex web of scientific and social concerns—concerns that were not conceived of as separate or separable by the medical practitioners themselves… . Some of Young’s criteria for determining surgical action in these cases might now be viewed as socially, rather than biologically, based; but Young understood his own clinical choices in scientific terms by interpreting endocrinological theories about the sexual differentiation of the body as inclusive of psychological characteristics.” Kenen used Young’s patient and correspondence files as well as his 1937 book.
  • Young, Hugh Hampton. 1937. Genital Abnormalities, Hermaphroditism, and Related Adrenal Diseases. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins. The first American treatise on the surgical treatment of intersexuality. Young was the founder and editor of the Journal of Urology, and the founder and director of Johns Hopkins’ Brady Urological Institute, a research and clinical facility devoted solely to the study of genito-urinary problems. This book presents case histories, with extensive illustrations and photographs, of 43 people. According to Kenen, Genital Anomalies is a uniquely important historical source, one which (supplemented by patient records) illuminates the ideas, assumptions, and practices of one of the most prestigious practitioners of medico-sexual decision-making in the United States in the inter-war period.

1950s to 2000

  • Jorge Daaboul (Director, Pediatric Endocrinology, Children’s Hospital of Oakland) delivered a key talk to the American Association for History of Medicine’s annual conference (Bethesda, May 2000), In Does the Study of History Affect Clinical Practice? Intersex as a Case Study: The Physician’s View, Dr. Daaboul said that contemporary medical practice is based upon an implicit, and unexamined, assumption that “intersexed individuals could not possibly live normal lives as intersexed individuals; the only chance for happiness and psychological well being is the establishment of a secure male or female gender identity. There simply is no precedent for intersexed individuals living as normal people in our society.”

But historical cases like those in Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex, noted Daaboul, offer important counter-evidence. Resistance to change is due in part to the extreme reverence in which Lawson Wilkins is held within the discipline that he founded. “Dr. Wilkins had formulated this approach and that several generations of very smart pediatric endocrinologists had implemented it without improvement or modification, therefore it must be right.” An additional factor is “modern medicine’s attitude towards the past. Modern American medicine displays a hubris and an arrogance that leads it to believe that only current observation, analysis and experimentation are valid.”

  • Jones, Howard W., Jr., and William Wallace Scott. 1958. Hermaphroditism, Genital Anomalies and Related Endocrine Disorders. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

From Aristotle to the present day

  • Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2000. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Human Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. We often think of science as beyond the reach of social and political debates, but in fact it is precisely such debates that have dicated the course of scientific research, from the very questions scientists pose to the experimental methods they employ. Modern surgical and chemical technologies—infant genital surgery, hormone treatments—let us re-fashion bodies according to our ideas of what they should be “naturally.”