Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 341–351 | Cite as

Syndrome-Related Stigma in the General Social Environment as Reported by Women with Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia

  • Heino F. L. Meyer-BahlburgEmail author
  • Jazmin A. Reyes-Portillo
  • Jananne Khuri
  • Anke A. Ehrhardt
  • Maria I. New
Special Section: Culture and Variants of Sex/Gender: Bias and Stigma


Stigma defined as “undesired differentness” (Goffman, 1963) and subtyped as “experienced” or “enacted,” “anticipated,” and “internalized” has been documented for patients with diverse chronic diseases. However, no systematic data exist on the association of stigma with somatic intersexuality. The current report concerns women with classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), the most prevalent intersex syndrome, and provides descriptive data on CAH-related stigma as experienced in the general social environment (excluding medical settings and romantic/sexual partners) during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. A total of 62 adult women with classical CAH [41 with the salt-wasting (SW) variant and 21 with the simple-virilizing (SV) variant] underwent a qualitative retrospective interview, which focused on the impact of CAH and its medical treatment on many aspects of women’s lives. Deductive content analysis was performed on the transcribed texts. The women’s accounts of CAH-related stigma were identified and excerpted as vignettes, and the vignettes categorized according to social context, stigma type, and the associated features of the CAH condition. Nearly two-thirds of women with either variant of CAH provided stigma vignettes. The vignettes included all three stigma types, and most involved some somatic or behavioral feature related to sex or gender. Stigma situations were reported for all ages and all social contexts of everyday life: family, peers, colleagues at work, strangers, and the media. We conclude that there is a need for systematic documentation of stigma in intersexuality as a basis for the development of improved approaches to prevention and intervention.


Stigma Disorders of sex development Intersexuality Congenital adrenal hyperplasia 



The study was supported in part by USPHS Grant HD-38409 and Dr. Khuri by a postdoctoral fellowship T32 MH18264. Susan W. Baker, Ph.D., served as the primary interviewer. We thank all participants for their contribution of effort, time, and data to this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jazmin A. Reyes-Portillo
    • 1
  • Jananne Khuri
    • 1
  • Anke A. Ehrhardt
    • 1
  • Maria I. New
    • 2
  1. 1.New York State Psychiatric Institute/Department of PsychiatryCollege of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsMount Sinai School of MedicineNew YorkUSA

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