The Impact of Culture on Sex Assignment and Gender Development in Intersex Patients

The appearance of the external genitalia is the major determinant of the social sex, which is announced at or shortly after birth. In the absence of normal development of the external genitalia, definitive gender assignment and its announcement have to be postponed. While over the past 20 years the pathogenesis of most disorders causing abnormal development of the genitalia have been elucidated, our knowledge regarding the impact of these defects upon the psychosexual development is rather rudimentary. This information, however, is needed not only to establish criteria for correct sex assignment but also to design relevant outcome studies. Culture is an important part of the context in which decisions are made on sex assignment of patients with abnormalities of the external genitalia. Cultural differences in dealing with intersexuality and intersex individuals not only influences the patient's own psychosexual development but also medical decisions regarding sex assignment and consecutive management. There is evidence that attitudes concerning gender and sexuality, including the acceptance of intersexuality, differ significantly between various cultures. Thus cross-cultural studies might allow a new approach in dealing with intersexed persons, their families, and their social background, a most important aspect considering the recent discussions and criticisms of patients and individuals affected with intersex disorders.