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Intersex and Intimacy: Presenting Concerns About Dating and Intimate Relationships

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The intersex label applies to individuals born with medically classified genitalia, gonads and/or chromosomes that are not solely male nor female. The intersex community must navigate the precarious world of dating and intimacy dominated by heterosexual cisgender bodies and schemas. How do intersex people approach dating and what anxieties do they experience when considering relationships with potential partners? The purpose of this research is to depathologize intersex narratives and study intersex people through the lens of social interaction in the context of intimacy. Data were collected from, a website for communication within the intersex community. From 36 original posts, content analysis identified the following themes: condition description, rejection sensitivity, sexuality and attraction, gender presentation, self-deprecation, genital appearance and function, disclosing the intersex condition, finding potential partners, and reproduction and family. Additionally, some posts were written by non-intersex individuals seeking relationship advice. The present research expands on dating anxiety research by identifying the specific set of dating anxieties experienced by intersex persons when approaching intimate relationships.

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  1. The following definitions established by Lorber (2010) and West and Zimmerman (1987), shall be used in this research concerning sex, gender, sex category and sexuality:

    Sex “complex interplay of genes, hormones, environment and behavior,” (Lorber 2010, p. 15) that results in anatomical or “biological” structures used as social determinants of the medicalized body.

    Gender “A social status, a legal designation, and a personal identity. Through the social processes of gendering, gender divisions and their accompanying norms and role expectations are built into the major social institutions of society, such as the economy, the family, the state, culture, religion, and the law—the gendered social order. Woman and man, girl and boy are used when referring to gender,” (Lorber 2010, p. 15). West and Zimmerman (1987) maintain that gender is something people do in social interaction. The concepts of women and their femininity are socially constructed as are men and their masculinity in actions, activities, gestures, and vocal tone.

    Sex Category the label of male or female denoting “the categorization of members of society into indigenous categories such as ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ or ‘woman’ or man,’” justified only by the perception of individuals (West and Zimmerman 1987, p. 133). This is evident in associations of gender-related objects. For example, if a person is wearing a dress, they are typically presumed to have a vagina and thus be a woman.

    Sexuality “lustful desire, emotional involvement, and fantasy, as enacted in a variety of long-and short-term intimate relationships,” (Lorber 2010, p. 5).

  2. Devor and Dominic define trans sexualities to include, “anyone who has a gender identity which differs from the gender they were assigned at birth and who chooses, or prefers, to present themselves differently than what is expected of the gender they were assigned at birth” (2015, p. 181).

  3. Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity conforms to their gender/sex label given at birth.


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The Institutional Review Board of Loyola University Chicago approved the application for the project in April 2014. Their letter stated: On Friday, April 18, 2014 the Loyola University Chicago Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviewed and approved your Initial application for the project titled “Intersex and Intimacy: The intersex experience in intimate relationships.” This project was originally researched and written as a capstone project at Loyola University Chicago under the supervision of Dr. Marilyn Krogh. I re-coded the data and employed the help of a secondary coder 2 years later at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The paper was subsequently reconstructed and edited with advice and guidance from Dr. John DeLamater.

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Correspondence to Sarah E. Frank.

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There are no financial conflicts of interest regarding this paper.

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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

In addition, the IRB determined that documented consent is not required for all participants. The IRB approved the request for a waiver of informed consent.

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Frank, S.E. Intersex and Intimacy: Presenting Concerns About Dating and Intimate Relationships. Sexuality & Culture 22, 127–147 (2018).

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