Intersex is the term used to define general inborn physical characteristics which do not correspond with society’s conventional binary view of gender. It can be understood in genetic, hormonal or anatomical terms.

Signs of being intersex can manifest shortly before birth, in infancy or during puberty. They also sometimes remain undiscovered. Inter* is described in many ways. Please take a look at our glossary if you would like to know more about the different terms and names.

How many intersex people are there?

This question is difficult to answer. The number of inter* people in Germany has never been officially documented. Moreover, the most appropriate ways to define intersex, male and female are being continually debated. Scientific research suggests that the number of inter* people among the general population lies at between 0.02 and 1.7 per cent.

Comparatively speaking, there are

  • nearly as many twins in Germany as there are inter* children.[1]
  • there are approximately the same number of red-haired people as there are intersex people.[2]

Being intersex is therefore not as rare as you would think. Yet not many people know about it because it has been a taboo subject for so long.

Variations in sex characteristics are not an illness.

Intersex is not an illness and does not generally pose a threat to health. However, some variations can be associated with specific health risks. Intersex is described by medicine by means of diagnoses. Medicine also uses the general term “disorders/differences of sex development”.  However, the term DSD has been criticised by organisations and activists because it gives the impression that there is something wrong with the bodies of intersex people and that they are somehow “faulty” and therefore require some form of treatment.

Does intersex need to be treated?

No. Intersex in itself does not require treatment. Because intersex bodies can be very different from each other, it is important that intersex people know their bodies well and know about the types of services that are provided on an individual basis. Unfortunately, cosmetic procedures are continually offered nowadays which do nothing to improve health, but can in fact achieve the opposite effect.[1] You will find information surrounding discussions on human rights here. You will find further information on health matters here.

[1] In 2017, 1.8% of all births in Germany were twins or multiple births (German Federal Statistical Office).

[2] Approximately 1 to 2% of German citizens are naturally red haired .

[3] Cf. Schweizer, Katinka/Richter-Appelt, Hertha (2012): Die Hamburger Studie zur Intersexualität In: Schweizer, Katinka/Richter-Appelt, Hertha: Intersexualität kontrovers. Giessen: psychosozial Verlag. pp. 187–205.

If, through your work as a journalist or producer of media content, you are in a position to report about intersex, there are certain aspects you need to take into account. We have drawn up a list of the most important issues here.

Talk with rather than talk about

Intersex people are in the best position to talk about themselves, to explain which aspects are relevant to them and how they want to see their concerns represented. Find out about the organisations that represent intersex people, the terms that are used, the demands that have been stated and the themes that are particularly relevant for intersex people. Do not talk about intersex people, instead talk with them.

Even if many people have questions concerning the often-discussed all-gender toilets or civil status, these topics are often not as relevant to intersex people as issues such as the right to protect their own bodies and social recognition.

Terms and their effect

Avoid terms with negative connotations, such as “disorder”, “defect” or “abnormality”. Also avoid evaluative terms such as “ambiguous”, “too small/too big” or “atypical”. These types of terms enforce the idea that there are primarily “men” and “women” and that intersex is therefore something deficient or unnatural.

  • You should instead use terms such as “gender diversity” or “variations in sex characteristics”; challenge binary gender norms.


Avoid drawing comparisons or confusing intersex with trans* or homosexuality.

  • Make it clear that being intersex is an inborn physical characteristic. It does not mean that conclusions can be drawn about the gender identity or sexual orientation of an intersex person.

It is also necessary to avoid making comparisons with other cultures, mystical creatures or the animal kingdom in an attempt to somehow “naturalise” intersex. If you do this, you are communicating that being intersex is something “exotic” or “mystical” and nothing to do with reality.

  • You should instead explain the concerns and requirements of intersex people in the here and now.

Recognition and not trivialisation

Avoid trivialising human rights violations that have been committed against intersex people.

  • Make it clear that human rights violations have been committed against intersex people who have been subjected to surgical procedures without their consent which were carried out on the basis of false beliefs or because medical professionals failed to provide adequate information. At the same time, avoid presenting intersex people in a one-dimensional way so they are only portrayed as victims.

The United Nations estimates that up to 1.7% of the population is intersex. This figure is not highlighted by the media. It is therefore important to consider that by reporting in an inclusive and respectful way, you can help to support intersex people and make their concerns and requirements more visible.

The information on how to portray intersex people in the media is based on observations made by Andreas Hechler. Please click here to view an interesting article which focuses on the problems concerning the way intersex is reported and tackles the issue in a critical and concise way. You might also find the dos and don’ts for educators interesting.

Intersex people have not often been seen in the public arena. They are rarely represented in series, books or on television.

We have brought together here a number of accounts by intersex people and their families who have shared various aspects of their lives with us.

There are a number of videos, articles and projects on the subject of intersex on the internet. We have listed a few them here: OII Europe (Organisation Intersex International, Europe) has gathered together the testimonies of inter* people from across Europe in the section of their website called #MY INTERSEX STORY. If you look on the project page, you will find videos and information about the project. Inter* people from across the whole of Europe tell their stories in the book. (The website and testimonies are in English)

The Interface Project, which was founded in 2012, portrays the various everyday realities of intersex people. The people introduce themselves in short videos and give accounts of their lives. Each video is accompanied by a transcript.

The TV programme Auf Klo on the public youth TV channel funk has a guest called Audrey from Switzerland in one of its episodes. Audrey talks about various experiences, such as the medical procedures, that she underwent as a child and teenager.

(The videos are in German, French or English. Most of them also have German subtitles..)

You can watch other videos by Audrey on her YouTube channel (Audr XY).

There is a video on Planet Schule, a website that provides education about the media, in which Lynn from Berlin explains what it is like to be intersex.

OII Europe’s YouTube channel includes a video entitled “My intersex story”.

(English with German subtitles.)

The German TV channel WDR also aired a segment in which a mother is interviewed about what it is like to have an intersex child.

Ted Talk by Emily Quinn – The way we think about biological sex is wrong (English with German subtitles). Emily Quinn is an author, graphic artist and an activist with InterAct. The books Inter*Trans*Express and Identitätskrise 2.0 are a collection of short stories, poems and drawings on everyday life and the protest activities of a “gender outlaw”. Both books describe personal experiences and highlight the viewpoints of inter* people.

Here is a list of further materials by intersex people:

Books and websites

This anthology includes short, personal stories by intersex people from all over the world:

Short stories, poems and drawings by an intersex person:

Websites on which intersex people tell their stories:

Other websites and pamphlets on Inter*:

  • Regenbogenportal – an online information service on same-sex lifestyles and gender diversity. An extensive range of useful and informative texts on the subject of intersex produced by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ).
  • Inter* und Sprache. a pamphlet relating to the antidiscrimination project by TransInterQueer.
  • If you want to explore the subjects of acceptance and diversity in more detail, you can find lots of recommended children’s books in the pamphlet Akzeptanz für Vielfalt.

Video clips

Recommended movies/documentaries:

Comics and graphic novels

The word “allyship” conveys the idea of connectedness, solidarity and support. In this context, allies are people, who are not intersex themselves, who support and campaign on behalf of inter* people and address their concerns.

We would like to highlight a number of ways in which it is possible to prevent discrimination against intersex people and to become an ally of inter* people. We would also like to explain a few things that need to be taken into account when considering the subject of “allyship”.

First of all, it is necessary to understand that people have different ideas about what it means to be an ally. Even though standing up for the rights of groups of people facing discrimination is commendable and worthwhile, it is sincerity, the type of action and tenacity that really count. It is not enough for an ally to simply describe the situation; the main objective should be to act and behave in an appropriate way.

Combat discrimination – everyone can help

The concept of binary gender is deeply rooted in many societies and is perpetuated through social practices. The practice of allowing intersex children to be operated on at an early age and to have their gender “aligned” with a prescribed norm stems from the deeply-held conviction that there are only two genders and all other perceptions of gender deviate from this and would not be accepted by society. Due to the concern that children would suffer discrimination over the course of their lives and would feel “defective”, numerous operations are carried out without the consent of inter* people instead of taking action against discrimination elsewhere. Fundamental changes, such as a change in public attitudes, are required to alter this situation. Here are a few tips on how to act in a supportive way and to show solidarity:

  • Talk openly. The more intersex is discussed and is better understood by society, the less invisible and stigmatised inter* people will be. Talk about the subject among friends, family and colleagues. Do not tolerate false or discriminatory statements.
  • Take gender diversity into account when you choose which words to use and throughout your everyday life. For example, you can try to speak in a gender-neutral way. Bear in mind that inter* people can identify as either binary or non-binary, just like endosex people. It is generally advisable to never to make assumptions about a person’s gender/gender identity based on a person’s appearance. It is more considerate to speak about and with people using their name and therefore avoid using gender-based personal pronouns (he/she, his/her, him/her etc.) until the people concerned have specified their preferences.

You can also talk to expectant parents you know about intersex and generally avoid asking expectant or new parents about the sex of their child. It is much more important to enquire about the wellbeing of the child and its name.

  • Support activists and/or organisations. There are a number of organisations with a great deal of expertise. They are part of a strong network and involve intersex people themselves, so it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. (Examples include:,,,
  • When supporting disadvantaged groups, it is important to focus on the people being discriminated rather than on yourself. Although you are naturally allowed to express your sympathy and dismay, you should remind yourself and others that you are lucky that you can fit into societal norms and can therefore enjoy a number of advantages. Share your advantages with inter* people by providing your support.
  • Do not pressure inter* people to spend their time drawing attention to matters such as gender construction. The needs of intersex people should be paramount.
  • Include the subject of inter* and the perspectives of inter* people in your work.

You can read more on the following websites:

Cosmetic operations on intersex children are carried out to this day. The number of operations on the genitals of children that do not correspond with the expectations of parents and medical professionals is not declining despite the campaign efforts of support groups and activists.[1]

Many organisations, such as the UN, Organisation Intersex International (OII), Amnesty International etc., define these surgical procedures as human rights violations because the children are not able to make decisions about their own bodies. These organisations believe that informed consent should be required from anyone who undergoes surgery. Parents should only be able to decide if their child should be operated on if the child’s health is at risk.

In addition to operations carried out without consent, there are other areas which can be considered as violations of human rights. For example, when the right to grow and develop in your own way is being violated or it becomes difficult to access your own health records.

Human rights, which are enshrined and protected by human rights law, presuppose that all people should be protected from discrimination and have the right to a private life. They should also be able to achieve the best level of health possible, and to be self-determined and recognised as individuals.

The human rights of intersex people are violated if

  • intersex is classed as a disorder.
  • surgical procedures are carried out on inter* children without consent.
  • informed consent is not taken seriously.
  • the right to grow and develop in your own way (particularly in terms of gender identity) is not respected.
  • it is difficult to access medical records.
  • it is difficult to join sports clubs and other organisations due to discrimination.

You can read a comprehensive report by OII Germany about human rights violations here.

In its survey (2020), the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) also asked inter* people about their experiences of discrimination. These can be viewed in detail on the FRA website. The LSVD has briefly summarized the data.

Amnesty International has also focused on the subject of intersex and human rights. On the Amnesty International website, you can also read stories by inter* people whose rights have not been and are not being protected.

You can also find some suggestions of what you can do to protect the human rights of inter* people in the document solidarity and support.

[1] Hoenes, Josch; Januschke, Eugen; Klöppel, Ulrike (2019): Häufigkeit normangleichender Operationen „uneindeutiger“ Genitalien im Kindesalter. Follow-up study. Berlin: Centre for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies.

What is gender and how many genders are there? These questions have existed for as long as human beings have inhabited the Earth. For a long time, gender was determined by the genitals and then more specifically by the presence of the testicles (gonads). Since chromosomes and hormones were discovered about 150 years ago, gender is now based on four components: chromosomal, hormonal, gonadal and the external sex organs. We generally talk about intersex/variations of sex characteristics when not all of the four components follow the same lines, however, there are no clear boundaries which define where inter*, male or female begin or end. Medicine is continually trying to define this. The medical definition currently encompasses a host of different diagnoses which are defined as DSD disorders/differences of sex development.

The standard approach in medicine is to describe situations in terms of diagnoses. However, the use of the word diagnosis immediately draws associations with illness; variations of sex characteristics are not illnesses. Using these terms in a non-medical context has been strongly criticised. You can find out more about this and other terms in our glossary.

This video from the TV programme Quarks shows how gender develops.