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Do I tell my boyfriend that I have male and female genitalia?

Dear Alice,

Okay, I think this is really embarrassing, but I have a vagina and testicles. I'm too ashamed to go and talk to anyone about it. My mom always asks me if I'm okay with it, but last time she did, I just ran away. I'm so upset, and I haven't told any of my friends because I know they would make fun of me. I just don't know what to do; I have a long term boyfriend and he always wonders why I won't show him my body. I was thinking about having sexual intercourse with him, but I know he would not want to have anything to do with me after he finds out. I'm not sure if I'm a man or a woman.

Dear Reader, 

While you may feel embarrassed to have both a vagina and testicles, it may be comforting to know that you’re not alone and there are many people in the world just like you. When a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into the male or female sex binary, they are considered an individual with intersex traits. Given how common being intersex is, consider speaking with a health care provider for more information about your body. Additionally, you may choose to speak with a mental health professional for support as you navigate exploring what it means to live in a body with intersex traits. Both of these providers may be able to help you explore the pros and cons of disclosing, as well as your thoughts and feelings around sex, gender, and gender expression. It can be challenging to share this information with your friends or your boyfriend, but just know that if you do, there are ways to go about that can help you feel more comfortable and in control. 

It’s important to note that being intersex isn't a disorder, disease, or medical problem; it's a natural biological variation in a person’s sex. One out of every 100 people that are born have traits classified as intersex. Intersex traits can present themselves in many ways. Individuals may be born with reproductive organs in many shapes, sizes, and combinations. People may even have genitalia that outwardly appears to be associated with one biological sex while having chromosomes that fit a different biological sex. 

You mention being unsure if you’re a man or a woman. People who are intersex often have a range of gender identities and don’t have to declare themselves male or female it they’re not comfortable or don’t identify that way. To help you navigate your own exploration process, it may be helpful to understand the difference between sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression: 

  • Sex: a label that a health care provider assigns to you at birth. It‘s based on the genitals you’re born with and the chromosomes you have (i.e., assigned female at birth (AFAB), assigned male at birth (AMAB), or intersex). 
  • Gender: a social construct based on societal and cultural beliefs about how people should behave often based on a specific sex. Gender is often categorized as male, female, and nonbinary. 
  • Gender identity: how YOU feel on the inside, regardless of the male and female sex binary. This is your internal sense of self and gender whether it’s man, woman, neither, or both. 
  • Gender expression: how YOU present gender outwardly. This can be through clothing, behavior, appearance, or other characteristics. Typically, society identifies these expressions as masculine or feminine—sometimes based on historical norms or gender, but this can change over time and varies by culture. 

Maybe you don’t feel quite ready to have a conversation with your loved ones, but you’d like them to know more about being intersex. There are resources available for adults, youth, parents, and families about what it means to be intersex and how to access support wherever you’re located. If you decide you aren’t ready to talk to your friends or boyfriend about your intersex traits, that’s more than okay too! If you’re looking for places to connect with a community of intersex individuals (& their allies), Interconnect may be a great resource for you. InterACT is also a platform used by individuals in the intersex community to locate support or advocacy groups across the country. 

Just as your mom wants you to be comfortable with yourself, your friends or boyfriend may feel the same way. Whether you decide to tell your friends or boyfriend about your intersex traits, just know that you’re not alone! 

Best of luck! 

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Last updated Oct 13, 2023
Originally published Jun 19, 2009