Guest Essay

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 1035-1042

First online:

Hurdling Over Sex? Sport, Science, and Equity

  • Nathan Q. HaAffiliated withInstitute for Society and Genetics, University of California Los Angeles
  • , Shari L. DworkinAffiliated withDepartment of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Nursing, University of California San Francisco
  • , María José Martínez-PatiñoAffiliated withFaculty of Science Education and Sport, University of Vigo
  • , Alan D. RogolAffiliated withDepartment of Pediatrics, University of Virginia School of Medicine
  • , Vernon RosarioAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
  • , Francisco J. SánchezAffiliated withDepartment of Counseling Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • , Alison WrynnAffiliated withDepartment of Kinesiology, California State University, Long Beach
  • , Eric VilainAffiliated withInstitute for Society and Genetics, University of California Los AngelesDepartment of Human Genetics, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles Email author 

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Between 1968 and 1999, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required all female athletes to undergo genetic testing as part of its sex verification policy, under the assumption that it needed to prevent men from impersonating women and competing in female-only events. After critics convinced officials that genetic testing was scientifically and ethically flawed for this purpose, the IOC replaced the policy in 1999 with a system allowing for medical evaluations of an athlete’s sex only in cases of “reasonable suspicion,” but this system also created injustice for athletes and stoked international controversies. In 2011, the IOC adopted a new policy on female hyperandrogenism, which established an upper hormonal limit for athletes eligible to compete in women’s sporting events. This new policy, however, still leaves important medical and ethical issues unaddressed. We review the history of sex verification policies and make specific recommendations on ways to improve justice for athletes within the bounds of the current hyperandrogenism policy, including suggestions to clarify the purpose of the policy, to ensure privacy and confidentiality, to gain informed consent, to promote psychological health, and to deploy equitable administration and eligibility standards for male and female athletes.


Sex testing Gender verification International Olympic Committee Sports Ethics