Sexual Health Q&A

What are disorders of sex development (DSDs)?

A disorder of sex development (DSD) occurs when a fetus develops differently from a typical male or female. Sometimes DSDs are found at birth. Other times, they aren’t noticed until a child enters puberty. According to the Accord Alliance, DSDs occur in about one in every 1,500 births.

There are many different types of DSDs and they may manifest themselves in different ways. Some children are born with ambiguous genitalia. It might not be visually clear whether they are male or female.

Some girls are born with vaginal agenesis – the absence of a fully-developed vagina. Sometimes, girls with vaginal agenesis do not have a fully-formed uterus.

Some boys may be born with a micropenis. They are genetic males and have a fully-formed penis. But the penis is very small. This can happen because of hormonal problems during fetal development.

Treatment of DSDs can vary depending on the type, but may include hormonal therapy or surgery. Counseling is often recommended for children and their families as they adjust to their situation.