12 February 2010

Male, female and everything in-between

If the Caster Semenya debacle can be considered to have had any positive outcomes, it’s the fact that it opened the eyes of many to the fluidity involved in the biology of sex.


If the terribly regrettable Caster Semenya debacle can be considered to have had any positive outcomes, it’s surely the fact that it opened the eyes of many South Africans to the incredible fluidity involved in the biology of sex. Many a previously unsuspecting Saffer who thought that when it comes to the apportionment of human sexual organs there are only two options: strictly male and strictly female, has added the evocative word "intersex" to her or his vocabulary and realised that "things down there" aren’t always that simplistically binary.

The outmoded term "hermaphrodite" was swiftly discarded by most serious commentators, and Semenya’s tragic treatment garnered a lot of genuine compassion for a formerly invisible and intensely stigmatised section of the population.

Health 24’s Great South African Sex Survey of 2010 shows that 0.7% of people who participated - that’s about 7 in 1000 - identify themselves as intersex. If this figure is statistically extrapolated beyond our demographic dataset to the entire population of the country, it would suggest that there are more than 300 000 intersex persons living in South Africa.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. That number would put us in line with intersex prevalence estimates observed in other countries.

Moving along from our biological identities to our self-perception with regards to femininity and masculinity, the survey results throw up many other interesting results. Respondents were asked to put themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = totally masculine and 10 = totally feminine.

The average rating men gave themselves was 2.7, while, on average, women rated themselves as 8.5. This is an intriguing outcome which reflects a somewhat surprising openness among both men and women to consider their feminine and masculine sides, respectively. Only about 55% of men gave themselves a masculinity rating of 1 or 2, while 57% of women assigned themselves a femininity score of 9 or 10.

Perhaps we aren’t all as macho or girly as some boringly archetypal generalisations of men and women would have us believe. Welcome to the 21st Century, where everyone’s in touch with their inner selves!

(Andrew Luyt, Health24, February 2010)


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