We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Ambiguous Genitalia?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
TheHealthBoard is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At TheHealthBoard, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Although the cry of “It's a girl!” or “It's a boy!” is what most people expect in the birthing room, sometimes the sex is not immediately obvious, because the infant has ambiguous genitalia which may share characteristics of male and female genitalia, making it difficult to determine the sex of the child. In this case, it may take some time to determine the infant's genetic sex, and to decide what steps to take.

A number of different things can lead to ambiguous genitalia. One is a chromosomal abnormality, of which there are quite a number, which leads to unusual development of the sex organs during fetal development. People with chromosomal abnormalities might have, for example, XXY sex chromosomes. Several congenital conditions such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia can also lead to ambiguous genitalia.

Other things can include abnormalities in hormone levels during development, random variations which occur during fetal development, or exposure to medications taken by the mother. All of these factors can cause things such as an enlarged clitoris in girls, along with other variations in the female genitalia which may make the sex of the baby unclear, while boys may have penises which are smaller than average, or variations in the formation of their testes which could lead to confusion when attempting to determine the infant's gender.

In many cases, ambiguous genitalia are not dangerous, and they are primarily addressed due to concerns about socialization. In other instances, they are linked with dangerous genetic conditions, in which case they are a symptom of a larger problem. For this reason, doctors like to take their time when finding out why an infant has ambiguous genitalia, so that parents will know the complete story, which will allow them to make the most informed decision possible about what to do.

When ambiguous genitalia are caused by a dangerous condition, that condition needs to be treated or addressed before moving on to the issue of the genitalia, while in cases in which such causes have been ruled out, the genitals may be the primary concern. Treatments available for ambiguous genitalia include hormones to encourage the genitals to develop in one direction or another, or surgery to address variations in the formation of the genitalia. Surgery is also sometimes necessary because occasionally abnormalities in the formation of the genitals lead to problems such as a closed urethra.

There is some debate over the treatment of ambiguous genitalia. Organizations which advocate for people known as “intersex” because they are not specifically male or female have raised concerns about situations in which parents may be forced to pick a sex for their children. In cases where a child has a clear genetic sex and minimal treatment is needed to encourage the genitals to form in alignment with that sex, treatment is less controversial. But when extensive surgery or other measures are needed, some organizations have suggested that children should be allowed to grow up and make their own decision. Parents who opt for this choice are relatively few, in part because of the very serious concerns about the social problems a child or young adult with ambiguous genitalia can face. In some cases, intersex children who have been assigned a sex at birth later take on a different gender identity.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
TheHealthBoard, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

TheHealthBoard, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.