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  1. Morgan Carpenter1,
  2. Katharine B Dalke2,
  3. Brian D Earp3
  1. 1 Health Ethics, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
  3. 3 Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Brian D Earp, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 1PT, United Kingdom; brian.earp{at}

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Endosex, in contrast to intersex, refers to innate physical sex characteristics judged to fall within the broad range of what is considered normative or typical for ‘binary’ female or male bodies by the medical field, or to persons with such characteristics1 (p. 437). In this short contribution, we explain the origins and increasing use of this little-known term and discuss its practical and ethical relevance to medicine as well as to scholarship from a range of disciplines concerned with individuals’ sexed embodiment.

There is growing awareness in many quarters of the term intersex—used within some discourses to refer to clusters of bodily attributes (as in ‘intersex traits’, also termed differences of sex development or variations of sex characteristics)1 or more broadly to persons (as in ‘intersex persons’) whose bodily attributes differ from the dominant clinical, biological, or legal paradigms that categorise and differentiate female and male bodies. Intersex traits have historically been stigmatised as monstrous, morbid or tragic, justifying surgical and hormonal ‘fixing’.2 Persons born with the attributes named with these terms, even if physically healthy, therefore risk unnecessary pathologisation and medicalisation, prompting interventions, often non-voluntary, into their bodies to make them appear or function in ways that are deemed more typically female or male. In addition, some legal and social systems automatically associate persons with these traits with third categories of sex—neither female nor male—which may or may not align with their sex designation at birth, sex of rearing, personal experience or self-conception (see Coda). Being seen as intersex or being judged to have …

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  • Twitter @morgancarpenter, @kbdalke, @briandavidearp

  • Contributors BDE wrote the first draft based on conversations with KD and MC. MC and KD contributed substantial writing and editing. All authors then further revised and approved the final version.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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