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Presenting on Intersexuality-- A Template

Katie Randall's picture

After our unit on De/Meaning Sex and Gender, I knew I wanted to focus my web event on intersexuality. It’s a form of biological diversity of sex which most people don’t hear about until college, and many not even then.

So I started thinking—when would it make sense for students to first be introduced to intersexuality in an academic setting? I thought back to my own education in biology and the answer, to me, was middle school. In my middle school we had a unit in biology class which was basically “puberty education,” although I don’t remember what its official title was. We learned about the physical changes that male and female bodies go through in puberty—in other words, the changes our own bodies were going through right then. This would have been the perfect time to mention that not everyone would exactly fit into one pattern or another—that chromosomal sex, primary sex characteristics, and secondary sex characteristics don’t always match up. But this was never covered—not in middle school, high school or beyond.

I know that not everyone is given information about sex characteristics or the reproductive system in middle school, or even later. But to me the timing felt right.

I included the permission slip because I think that for many schools this would be part of the process of giving such a lecture.


Sample permission slip:

Next week, as part of your child’s biology class, your child’s teacher will be ending the unit on the human reproductive system with a lecture on intersexuality. We are aware that some parents find this information controversial and prefer that it not be addressed in a school environment, so students will only attend this lecture with parental permission. Please see attached the text of the lecture.

Students who do not view the lecture will spend a free study period in the library.


I, (print name here)_____________ as the parent/ guardian of

(print child’s name here) _______________ give permission for my child to attend Intersexuality: when Biology Comes in More Than Two Categories.

Signature: _______________ Date: __________________


Intersexuality presentation.ppt97 KB


Kaye's picture

intersex ed

You raise an interesting question about when to introduce the concept of intersex in school, but I remain curious why you consider middle school, when so many children feel anxious about their sexual development, to be the appropriate time.  I agree with you that middle schools would give parents the option of exempting their children from a unit on intersex, so it was a nice touch to include a sample permission slip.

Creating a powerpoint to convey the information makes sense, especially since many teachers would not know much about intersex.  However, a powerpoint is a visual medium and needs graphics, cartoons, diagrams, etc. to complement any text.  In addition, this particular powerpoint does not seem geared toward the audience you hope to reach.  Not only is there too much text, but I suspect that some of the terms you use (primary sex characteristics, testicular tissue, progesterone) would be unfamiliar to 11-13 year olds. I think it would be helpful if you looked at some biology textbooks for 6th-8th graders--I imagine that the education program has some in their resource room--so that you could make this more accessible and engaging to middle schoolers.  Also, the web has many helpful sites to educate adolescents about puberty and they could provide guidance in how to present some basic information, which you could then challenge or extend.

What I found most promising about your presentation were the questions you posed:

Think about what makes you a boy or girl: is it only your body? Most people consider themselves boys or girls, men or women, because of what they like to do, how they like to see themselves, and how other people see them.

What do you think? Can something very unusual still be normal? And if it isn't normal, does that make it bad?

Here you're urging them to think about gender, normativity, and values.  All of which are important issues for adolescents to consider. 

I think title for your lecture mistates the issue, for it's not "biology" that comes in more than two categories.  Rather, the problem is that we try to fit sexual diversity into only two categories of male and female.  Also, your statement on slide #2 that "intersex is a term which groups together a huge number of different physical conditions" seems at odds with slide #4 when you say that this is rare, occurring 1 in 1,500 births.  However, my major concern is that your presentation would heighten the anxiety that many adolescents feel as they enter puberty earlier or later than some of their classmates.  Stating that intersex children are often diagnosed with “disorder of sex development” or that "any time these many traits don't match up in a person that person may be intersex" links differences in sexual development with pathology.

Be careful--middle school is not an easy time for most students.


Serendip Visitor's picture

By the time you hit 11-13 you

By the time you hit 11-13 you more likely have already experienced those secondary characteristics. Some grown folks still think its necessary to have all the characteristics linked to one sex. They still think XY only appears in male-assigned person. I have heard comments from grown folks, picking on those who look androgynous, saying they should 'pick a sex'. Right after becoming 'openly intersex', I got laughs from 16-18 year olds. I was stared at like some freak and asked by people who have never talked to me asking about my genitalia. Just because you are intersex, that does not mean you have ambiguous genitlia. Btw, no one in my school, yes even the 18 year olds, knew what 'intersex' is. Yet everyone knew what 'bisexual' meant. My point? Educate as early as the child knows about puberty about this subject. Sure intersexuality might be pathologized now but at least they would already know about it. Autism is pathologized, yet should we not educate kids about that?