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“DSD is a Perfectly Fine Term”: Reasserting Medical Authority through a Shift in Intersex Terminology

Sociology of Diagnosis

ISBN: 978-0-85724-575-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-576-2

Publication date: 3 August 2011


Purpose – Intersexuality is examined from a sociology of diagnosis frame to show how the diagnostic process is connected to other social constructions, offer new support that medical professionals define illness in ways that sometimes carries negative consequences, and illustrate how the medical profession holds on to authority in the face of patient activism.

Methodology/approach – Data collection occurred over a two-year period (October 2008 to August 2010). Sixty-two in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals connected to the intersex community including adults with intersexuality, parents, medical professionals, and intersex activists.

Findings – Medical professionals rely on essentialist understandings of gender to justify the medicalization of intersexuality, which they currently are doing through a nomenclature shift away from intersex terminology in favor of disorders of sex development (DSD) language. This shift allows medical professionals to reassert their authority and reclaim jurisdiction over intersexuality in light of intersex activism that was successfully framing intersexuality as a social rather than biological problem.

Practical implications – This chapter encourages critical thought and action from activists and medical professionals about shifts in intersex medical management.

Social implications – Intersexuality might be experienced in less stigmatizing ways by those personally impacted.

Originality/value – The value of this research is that it connects the sociology of diagnosis literature with gender scholarship. Additional value comes from the data, which were collected after the 2006 nomenclature shift.



Davis, G. (2011), "“DSD is a Perfectly Fine Term”: Reasserting Medical Authority through a Shift in Intersex Terminology", McGann, P. and Hutson, D.J. (Ed.) Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-182.



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