Male, Female or Intersexed


Caster Semenya has been asked by to undergo a gender test to determine that she is female. This after the eighteen year old South African posted a world leading time of 1 minute, 56.72 seconds in the 800 meters at the African junior championships. Then suspicions raged on after she won the gold medal at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Berlin on Aug. 19.

In the human, there are normally 46 chromosomes, two sex chromosomes and 22 chromosome pairs for which one copy is inherited from each parent at conception. The sex chromosomes are called the X and the Y chromosome. Everyone needs at least one X chromosome to survive. Females normally have two X chromosomes and males typically have one X and one Y chromosome. In the absence of a Y chromosome, babies will develop as females. When the Y chromosome is present, they will develop as males.

Global athletic committees  stopped testing chromosomes in 1999, citing unreliable results. If Miss Semenya agrees to undergo analysis of her chromosomes, she will retain her title only if she is genetically female. The problem however, is what if she or any athlete is found to be Intersexed.

Intersexed or what was formerly referred to as hermaphroditism, is a term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with ambiguous reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit with the typical definition of female or male.

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For example, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) affects sexual development before birth and during puberty. Newborns are genetically male with both XY chromosomes  however as the body develops it is unable to respond to androgens and as a result the individual has mostly female characteristics. Urban legend alleges that the actress Jamie Lee Curtis was born with AIS as well as Kim Novak.


AIS on far right

AIS on far right

Klinefelter’s Syndrome affects males and involves having three chromosomes (XXY). Born anatomically male, at puberty the body matures with female characteristics due to a release of estrogen. Young males will develop breasts, small testes, long legs and lack facial hair.

Although intersexed newborns occur in 1 in 2,000 live births, it fails to be seen what the ruling would be if any athlete’s chromosomes are found to be intersexed.

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