Babies that are born with both male and female sexual organs, or characteristics of both organs, are called hermaphrodites or intersex. A child who is in an intersexual state is classified in one of three categories: 1) true hermaphrodite – an infant born with both ovaries and testicles and has both male and female sex organs. 2) female pseudohermaphrodite – a genetic female with male external sex organs. 3) male pseudohermaphrodite – a genetic male with external sex organs that fail to develop properly, resulting in female or male/female physical characteristics.
In times past, doctors would perform surgeries without first testing the infant to find out its true sex, and the child would sometimes grow up very obviously a man, with female genitalia. Now, specialists can perform an ultrasound, blood test, chromosome analysis, and even do exploratory surgery to find out the baby’s true sex. The treatment is still controversial, however.
Some believe that surgery and/or hormonal therapy should begin within the first 15 months of life, and others believe these things should be put off until the child is old enough to make his or her own decision about it. There are pros and cons for each side. Either way, any family with an intersexual infant should begin counseling, as should the child when he or she is old enough.
When babies are developing in the womb, they all begin with sex organs that look female. If the baby is male, he begins to produce testosterone, and if the hormone reaches the tissues correctly, the external genitals become a scrotum and penis. Chromosomal or sex hormone abnormalities can produce an infant in an intersexual state. It can also be caused by a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which is a disease that blocks the baby’s metabolism. It is not as uncommon as we might think; about 1 in every 2,000 newborns is born in an intersexual state.
Babies are not born with physical disorders to punish their parents in any way. Although God created the earth perfectly, it soon brought destruction upon itself with the onset of human sin (Romans 5:12). Before the Flood in Genesis chapter 7 that wiped out almost all living things on the earth, people had the potential to live for several hundred years.
After the Flood, human life spans grew progressively shorter, indicating a change in the environment which resulted in damage to the human genetic structure. This also explains why incest was necessary for the population of the earth in Genesis, but was forbidden later in the laws of Leviticus (18:6-18). Now, thousands of years later as sin continues to permeate the world, the human race has been bombarded with every kind of sickness, disease, disorder and birth defect we can imagine.
It is very possible for a child born with both sex organs to grow up to have a healthy view of sexuality and successful relationships. From early on, the child should be taught how valuable, loved and accepted he is by his family and also by God. He or she is not a victim of divine judgment, but God has a plan for each one of us that will bring Him glory, as we can learn from a man who was healed by Jesus Christ:
“'Teacher,' his disciples asked him, 'why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?' 'It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins,' Jesus answered. 'He was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him'” (John 9:2-3).