Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 33–56 | Cite as

The sambia “turnim-man”: Sociocultural and clinical aspects of gender formation in male pseudohermaphrodites with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency in Papua New Guinea

  • Gilbert H. Herdt
  • Julian Davidson


Continuing controversy surrounding the Dominican Republic studies of 5-α-reductase deficiency and the development of gender identity in male pseudohermaphrodites concerns the roles of culture and biology in determining the ambiguity of gender socialization in an unsophisticated population. The present paper provides a cross-cultural perspective on these problems through description of anthropological and clinical data for a sample (N= 14) of subjects suffering from 5-α-reductase deficiency. Nine of these male pseudohermaphrodites were reared ambiguously as male and five as female. Female subjects changed from the female to male-identified role, but in circumstances of social trauma. The authors find ambiguity here related to the presence of a third sexual category available for sex-assignment and typing. Cultural valuation of the male role makes gender-switching from female to male pragmatically adaptive. The study concludes that social-experiential and cultural factors are significant in the formation of gender identity change in male pseudohermaphrodites with 5-α-reductase deficiency.

Key words

male pseudohermaphrodites gender identity hormones Papua New Guinea 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gilbert H. Herdt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Julian Davidson
    • 3
  1. 1.Committee on Human Development, Department of Behavioral SciencesThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyStanford UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhysiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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