In biology, a hermaphrodite can be defined as any animal or plant that has both the male and female reproductive organs. Many plants and animals, particularly invertebrates, possess hermaphroditic characteristics and they have the ability to act as a male or a female. The term “hermaphrodite” is applied to human beings who possess both male and female genitalia, however, this biological condition is very rare among humans.
Types of Hermaphrodites
There are three types of hermaphrodites: “true,” “female pseudo-hermaphrodite,” and “male pseudo-hermaphrodite.” The main difference among these three hermaphroditical types is the nature of the sexual organs. Some hermaphrodites have a more dominant sex organ, while others have a combination of both sexual organs with no clearly-defined dominant organ.
A true hermaphrodite is someone born with both ovarian and testicular tissues. The external genitals of a true hermaphrodite are often ambiguous and do not perform as normal genitals. The main cause of this condition has not been established. Nevertheless, it is believed that the mutation of the sex-determining gene and the fertilization of an ovum by two sperms are possible causes.
A female pseudo-hermaphrodite has ovaries but, has male or ambiguous characteristics externally. The main cause of female pseudo-hermaphroditism is congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition in which excessive production of androgens (male sex hormones) takes place in a developing fetus because there is insufficient production of other types of hormones. Aromatase deficiencies and maternal androgens are other causes of female pseudo-hermaphroditism.
A male pseudo-hermaphrodite has testicles and female ambiguous external characteristics. The secondary sexual characteristics may also portray feminization and less virility. The main causes of male pseudo-hermaphroditism include reduced tissue response to testosterone, maternal ingestion of estrogens, errors in the production of testosterone, and defects in androgen-dependent tissues.
Hermaphrodites in Society
Most hermaphrodites encounter numerous challenges in their lives and how their treatment varies across different cultures. Some societies prevent hermaphrodites from participating in certain activities, such as as sports or politics. In some ancient African and Asian cultures, hermaphrodites were considered a bad omen or a curse and were killed at birth. In other ancient cultures, hermaphrodites were regarded as semi-gods. Today, medical enlightenment and advancement in human civilization have worked to ease the social burdens on hermaphrodites through greater acceptance and experience in physical and psychological treatments.
Hermaphrodites have always been subjected to stigma and ill treatment due to their abnormal biological condition. Some religions even label hermaphrodites products of sin. Various support groups have formed to assist hermaphrodites and help them lead productive and fulfilling lives. These groups offer hermaphrodites a sense of community and opportunities to share their experiences, seek advice, learn, access information about medical options and more.
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