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We’re not all uniformly XX and XY. Intersex people exist, and that’s not likely to change

“ACCORDING TO SCIENCE & RELIGION THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS,” claims a graphic circulating on Facebook in South Africa and elsewhere online.

“Males have 1 X and 1 Y chromosome,” it reads above a photo of what appears to be a muscled man. “Females have 2 X chromosomes,” it reads above a photo of what appears to be a diminutive woman. (But appearances can be deceptive.)

The graphic then quotes from the Christian bible and Jewish torah: “Male and female he created them …”


Religion can’t be fact-checked. But on the science side, the graphic is wrong.


Gender – or biological sex?

By referring to the X and Y sex chromosomes, the graphic is talking about biological sex, not gender.

Gender is understood to be a social construct: the norms, roles and behaviours associated with women and men. These can change over time as societies change. Sex, on the other hand, describes anatomy.

It’s incorrect that, “according to science”, people exist only in the two distinct chromosomal flavours of XX and XY.

More than this, not all people with XY chromosomes have a typically male anatomy, and not all people with XX chromosomes have a typically female anatomy.

Differences in sexual development

It’s estimated that 1.7% of people across the world don’t fit into the traditionally strict biological definitions of female and male. Some estimates go as high as 4% of the global population.

These people are sometimes described as intersex.

Intersex is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions variously called differences in sex development, disorders of sex development or diverse sex development, all shortened to DSD. Another term is variations in sex characteristics.

Nearly 8 billion people live on our planet. If the 1.7% estimate is accurate, more than a million people (136 million, to be exact) are intersex. And if the larger 4% estimate is right, it adds up to about 320 million people.

But the numbers don’t matter. The fact is that intersex people exist. They are people, like all of us. Denying their existence could cause them harm.

For more information, see the plain language explanation of DSD by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

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