Understanding of intersex: The meanings of umbrella terms and opinions about medical and social responses among laypeople in the United States and United Kingdom.

Hegarty, Peter; Donnelly, Lois; Dutton, Paul Francis; Gillingham, Sara; Vecchietti, Valentino and Williams, Kaz (2021). Understanding of intersex: The meanings of umbrella terms and opinions about medical and social responses among laypeople in the United States and United Kingdom. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 8(1) pp. 25–37.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000413

Abstract

Intersex variations render a person’s body different from both normative male and female embodiment. Medical intervention on infants’ intersex traits is long standing, common, and contested for breaching human rights to bodily integrity and self-determination. Such intervention is justified by the threat of unbearable social stigma, but empirical studies of stigma and public understanding are lacking. Here, U.K. and U.S. participants (N = 271) reported their free associations to three contested “umbrella terms” for intersex and their opinions about diverse medical and social responses. Among the umbrella terms, hermaphrodite prompted most references to nonhumans, intersex prompted most references to social identities, and disorders of sex development prompted most references to children. Participants’ opinions about medical and social responses to intersex traits were more consistently predicted by sexual identity than any other demographic variable; LGB+ participants endorsed social responses more, while heterosexual participants endorsed medical responses more. Beliefs in nonbinary gender and lower right-wing authoritarianism predicted support for social responses and opposition to medical responses and accounted for some sexual identity differences. Social and clinical implications are discussed.

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