“Do you need a vagina for medical reasons?”
How health professionals draw the line between ‘medically necessary’ and ‘cosmetic’ interventions in response to atypical sexed embodiment
Medical interventions on the bodies of people who have atypically sexed bodies – that have been called both ‘intersex’ and ‘disorders of sex development’ have been controversial for decades. Contemporary human rights perspectives increasingly call for suspension of interventions that are not ‘medically necessary’ but are conducted for ‘cosmetic’ reasons. The present research examines how 24 health professionals involved in intersex/DSD care in the UK and Sweden make sense of this distinction with regard to the interventions performed in their teams. Health professionals were asked to locate and to describe interventions along a continuum defined by ‘medically essential’ and ‘cosmetic.’ Clinicians responses were quantified and their talk about the interventions analysed to reveal implicit thinking about the desired psychological outcomes of intervention and implicit medical ethics.
Peter Hegarty is a Social Psychology professor at the University of Surrey in the UK.