Doctors Finally Rethink Harmful Surgeries on Intersex Children

intersex surgeries
credit: Katie Rainbow

After so long of activists challenging doctors to stop performing medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies and youth, it seems like the medical community is finally ready to listen.

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Family Physicians offically came out with a statement opposing surgeries performed on intersex children’s genitals are telling doctors to only perform such surgeries if the child is facing an “imminent and substantial risk of developing a health- or life-threatening condition.”

Intersex refers to a range of individuals who are born with genitalia that does not specifically match the textbook definition of ‘male’ or ‘female’. However, for many decades, doctors have performed surgeries on children — before they are old enough to consent — in order to “fix” them. In many situations, doctors tell parents that the surgeries are necessary, even if the children are in no medical danger at the time.

And even worse, the surgeries can often result in emotional and physical trauma to the children. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign released a report that said,

“The results are often catastrophic… [The surgeries] can inflict irreversible physical and psychological harm.”

This harm can often include depression, suicidal thoughts, and sterility.

Model and intersex advocate Hanne Gaby Odiele knows this all too well. Hanne was born intersex and had her testes removed when she was only 10 years old and had no idea what was happening.

“I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period. I knew something was wrong with me.”

As an adult, she’s joined advocacy group interAct, which works to promote policies and laws to protect intersex youth. Hanne has said,

“Like so many others I’ve suffered physical and emotional harm because I was born with a body that isn’t clearly ‘male’ or ‘female.’ I’m proud to join interACT as we fight to stop unnecessary surgery and other harmful treatment on intersex kids.”

Despite the new statement released by the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are still no federal laws on the books outlawing medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children. However, with more and more recognized organizations condemning the surgeries (World Health Organization and the ACLU are on the list), hopefully, we are closer than ever to getting the surgeries banned in the United States.


Intersex Model Hanne Gaby Odiele Recalls Having Testes Removed at Age 10

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.