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Intersex Bodies in Sexuality Education: On the Edge of Cultural Difference


Myths and ignorance regarding intersexuality sometimes result in intersex bodies inhabiting the space of the ‘embarrassing other’ in sexuality education. Utilising Nikki Sullivan’s notion of somatechnics, we seek to untangle how people associated with this category cannot be understood as separate from the technologies of medical and educational institutions that regulate their bodies. Drawing upon data collected from a broader study exploring cultural discourses in school-based sexuality education in Australia and New Zealand, this analysis explores how gendered bodily norms of discipline and regulation intersect. We focus on the pedagogical potential of conversations about intersex and hope to inspire educators to work with and against students’ curiosity for stories about what they perceive to be ‘embarrassing bodies’ and explore how power accrues to particular bodies.


  • Sexual Education
  • Intersex Bodies
  • School-based Sex Education
  • Intersex Issues
  • Department Of Education And Early Childhood Development (DEECD)

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We are surrounded by, and have embodied, the idea that while the vast majority of bodies may not be ill, they are nevertheless ‘wrong’ in one way or another: they have too few (or too many) limbs or digits; they (or parts of them) are the wrong size, the wrong age, the wrong color; they are ‘sexually ambiguous’; they bear the wrong ethnic markers; they inhibit particular identities and/or aspirations; they simply do not seem ‘right’.

Sullivan 2009, 313

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  1. 1.

    This programme attempts to ‘raise health awareness and de-stigmatise “embarrassing” body parts and medical conditions’ (Channel 4 2014).

  2. 2.

    Since 2006 the medical establishment no longer refers to ‘intersex’ when referring to individuals born with intersex variations. Through a highly debatable consensus statement the taxonomy changed within medicine to ‘disorders of sex development’ (Lee et al. 2006).

  3. 3.

    Henceforth, we are using the acronym ‘LGBTIQ’ when referring to ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer/questioning’.

  4. 4.

    See for example, Breu (2009), Burford et al. (2013), DePalma (2013), Herndon (2006), Hird (2003), Jones and Hillier (2012), Jones (2013), Koyama and Weasel (2003), Ollis et al. (2013), Vega et al. (2012).

  5. 5.

    OII Australia is part of Organisation Intersex International with its base in the USA.

  6. 6.

    Also known as the intersex variation uterus didelphys (Hill 2014).

  7. 7.

    SSCV is also co-funded by the DEECD (SSCV 2014b).


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Brömdal, A., Rasmussen, M.L., Sanjakdar, F., Allen, L., Quinlivan, K. (2017). Intersex Bodies in Sexuality Education: On the Edge of Cultural Difference. In: Allen, L., Rasmussen, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Sexuality Education. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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