Gendering Genitals: Medical Discourse and Provider Education on Intersex Conditions

Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies


Rebecca Whelan

Committee Member(s)

Evangeline Marcella Heiliger
Greggor Mattson


Intersex, Disorder of sex development, Difference of sex development


People with intersex conditions have long expressed discomfort with the language their healthcare providers use when speaking with them, and many feel mistreated and stigmatized by medical practitioners. To improve care for people with intersex conditions, advocates and providers collaborated on the “Consensus Statement on management of intersex disorders” (Hughes et al., 2006). Despite this, the intersex community still expresses discontent with their care.

I conducted seven semi-structured in-depth interviews with healthcare providers at two institutions. In short interviews with each provider, I asked them questions regarding their education experience as they prepared to care for patients with intersex conditions. As many healthcare providers turn to Pubmed as a source of education, to understand the impact of the Consensus Statement and the language used in one source of education of providers, I conducted a two-part feminist critical discourse analysis on a sample of peer-reviewed journal articles accessible on Pubmed (N = 250 and 75). This analysis investigated the frequency of use of gendering and pathologizing language and how it frames the intersex patient in the literature.

Healthcare providers described a variety of sources of education including textbooks, conferences, colleagues, the internet (including Pubmed), and patients and intersex advocates. Many described not learning about intersex conditions until they were established in their career. From the discourse analysis, there was a significant (p < 0.001) decrease in the use of gendering language in the ten years after compared to the ten years before the publication of the Consensus Statement. Gendering language was often used to describe gender as a symptom and to medicalize gender. There was also a significant (p < 0.05) decrease in the use of pathologizing language in the ten years after compared to the ten years before the publication of the Consensus Statement. Pathologizing language was often used to posit the intersex patients body as an abnormal phenomenon, and policed acceptable boundaries for bodily presentation using stigmatization. Despite the significant decreases in the use of gendering and pathologizing language, people with intersex conditions continue to voice their dissatisfaction with care.

I argue that with greater collaboration with the advocate community, continuing work such as the Consensus Statement may further reform educational material for healthcare providers.


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