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“Private Parts”

“Shhhhh! They are called “private” parts for a reason!”

Every plant, animal, and, needless to say, human has genitals so we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about them, especially with youth who are often under- or misinformed about endless variations of sex anatomy and functioning. Despite the two “standard” versions of a penis and a vagina you see in textbooks, penises and vaginae (pl. of vagina) come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. From depictions of diminutive, symmetrical labia to scarless uncircumcised 7″ penises to perfectly hemispherical, small breasts and nipples to the absence or “decorative” application of pubic hair, narrowly defined images of sex anatomy serve to reinforce the gender and sex binaries. These limited representations have other real consequences as well, such as contributing to shame about one’s own anatomy, leading to painful physical exams by healthcare providers unaware of genital variation due to lack of exposure, and/or resulting in people seeking painful and expensive cosmetic surgeries for bodily perfection. As a medical illustrator that specializes in sex anatomy for mass education and social justice purposes, it is critical for me to visualize all varieties of genitalia to expand the understanding of natural bodily differences, represent the bodies of people (such as trans and intersex folks) who are erased from most medical education/imagery, and dismantle the scientifically disproved notion of two genders and sexes.

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Intersex Health Illustrations

There are two sexes, right? WRONG! At birth, a doctor assigns an infant a sex (and therefore, a gender) based on the appearance of the genitals: a “protrusion” less than 3/8″ is considered a clitoris (and therefore the child is a “female”) while a “protrusion” greater than 1″ is labeled as a phallus/penis (child is assigned “male.) Those whose external “protrusion” falls between these limits or those who have other “non-typical” genital or gonadal anatomy and/or non-XX/XY chromosomes are branded as having a “Disorder of Sex Development” (DSD), though many in this biocommunity prefer the term intersex, though this term as an identity label is in flux. There are over 40 natural variations of sex found in humans that affect the genitals, gonads, and/or genetics of a person and more than two sexes are commonly found throughout the animal kingdom. With rare exception, these differences are not life-threatening. Despite this, parents of intersex children are often pressured by physicians to submit their child to genital “normalization” surgeries, which are often kept as a secret from the child. Progress is slowly being made around the world to end these unnecessary procedures though many are hesitant to abandon the sex binary.