Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hermes and Aphrodite-Hermaphrodites

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2012 Olympics

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license Source: Tab59 from Düsseldorf, Allemagne

The South African 800-meter runner Caster Semenya was the flag bearer at the 2012 Olympics. She won her 800 semifinal in 1 minute, 57.67 seconds to advance to the final. In the end, Caster won a silver medal for the event.
Now sites like Slate are asking Did Caster Semenya Lose the Women's 800 Meters on Purpose?
Quoting the article, "Why would someone intentionally perform below their standard in the biggest race in four years? One South African track and field observer suggested that it might be “scandal avoidance”—her 2009 triumph brought such unpleasant consequences that she’d just as soon avoid further scrutiny, and an Olympic silver medal brings considerably less attention than the gold."
Will it ever end?

Caster Semenya during World Championships
Athletics 2009 in Berlin

Caster Semenya

Question heard around the world was whether South African runner Caster Semenya was male or female. Interesting fact her sex was never questioned until she won 800-meter gold medal last month in Berlin at the world championships. The girl is 18 years old in her formative years, and may still be going through puberty.  Now has all her personal private medical information as public information for the entire world to know.  Hermaphrodites search on the Internet reveals many XXX rated sites, giving a negative opinion to a very medical condition. The medical profession seldom uses the term hermaphrodites any longer, preferring Disorders of Sexual Development which is what happens to the fetus.  According to reports by CBS News Sports,  Caster Semenya has no womb or ovaries and her testosterone levels are more than three times higher than those of a normal female. Tests were ordered to determine whether she has what's being called "a medical condition."  The symptoms associated with intersex will depend on the underlying cause, but may include:
Source Diabetic fetopathy associated with
bilateral adrenal hyperplasia & ambiguous
genitalia: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports.
2008; 2 : 251. doi:10.1186/1752-1947-2-251
  • Ambiguous genitalia at birth
  • Micropenis
  • An enlarged clitoris) 
  • Partial labial fusion
  • Apparently undescended testes (which may turn out to be ovaries) in boys
  • Labial or inguinal (groin) masses -- which may turn out to be testes -- in girls
  • Otherwise unusual appearing genitalia at birth
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Delayed or absent puberty
  • Unexpected changes at puberty


Androgenic hair growth, pubic hair, in males and females.
A boy goes through five stages of sexual development during puberty. Boys normally start to show the physical changes of puberty between the ages of 11 and 14, which is slightly older than when girls start puberty. The male sex hormone called testosterone and other hormones cause the physical changes. By age 18 growth of facial hair begins.  Adult height is reached. Penis and testicles have reached full adult size.  Pubic, underarm and leg hair are adult color, texture and distribution.  Overall look is that of a young adult man. Many girls are fully developed by the age of 16, but others will continue to develop through age 18. Adult height is most likely reached.  Breast development is complete. Pubic hair forms a thick, curly, triangular patch.  Ovulation and menstruation normally occur regularly. By and large the look is that of a young adult woman.  (Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

Disorders of Sexual Development

According to Medline/NIH the term hermaphrodites was created with joining the names of a Greek god and goddess, Hermes and Aphrodite. Hermes was a male god, and Aphrodite a goddess of female sexuality, love, and beauty. More recently the medical condition is referred to disorders of sex development (DSD), which better describes the disorder.  DSD is a group of conditions which is described as a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals (the testes and ovaries).
The cause of the disorders is due to variations of the chromosomes which is internal.  Chromosome analysis requires counting the number of chromosomes, and looking for structural changes in chromosomes. Sample cells to perform the test can come from almost any human tissues.  Hormone levels such as testosterone levels are tested, along with hormone stimulation tests.  Other blood tests performed are electrolyte tests.
Investigators are looking four basic chromosome characteristics:
An erect penis with the micropenis condition

The individual has the chromosomes of a female, the ovaries of female, but external genitals that look male. This condition is known as 46, XX.  It’s usually the result of a female fetus exposed to excess male hormones before birth. The labia (folds of skin of the external female genitals) fuse, and the clitoris enlarges to appear like a penis. Normally this individual has a normal uterus and Fallopian tubes. This condition is also called 46, XX with female development of male sex characteristics, or a newborn baby has increased male characteristics at birth (virilization). It was referred to as female pseudohermaphroditism.  If this condition is caused by aromatase deficiency the condition may not be noticeable until puberty.  Aromatase is an enzyme that normally converts male hormones to female hormones.  If the body has too much aromatase activity it can lead to excess estrogen (female hormone); too little to 46, XX intersex.  At puberty the XX children, who had been raised as girls, may begin to take on male characteristics. 46, XX can result from other causes.

The individual has the chromosomes of a male, but the external genitals did not form completely or are clearly female.  This condition is known as 46, XY. Internally, testes may be normal, malformed, or absent. The disorder is also called 46, XY with male development of female sex characteristics (undervirilization). It was referred to as male pseudohermaphroditism.  Forming normal male external genitals depends on the appropriate balance between male and female hormones such as testosterone formation. Individuals with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency don’t have the enzyme needed to convert testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). There are as many as five different types of 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. Some of the babies develop normal male genitalia, some develop normal female genitalia, and many have ambiguous sex organs. There are other causes of this disorder such as androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS).

 In many individuals with true gonadal disorder the reason is unknown but in some animal studies it has been linked to exposure to common agricultural pesticides. The person has both ovarian and testicular tissue. The chromosomes may be XX, XY or both.  The external organs may be male, female or undefined. This disorder is what people commonly call true hermaphroditism.

Abnormal chromosomes can cause other disorders of sexual development.  Children born with 45, chromosomes don’t have the required X or Y. Others have extra sex chromosomes such 47, XXX or 47, XXY.  There may be problems with sex hormone levels, overall sexual development, and altered numbers of sex chromosomes.

47,XXY Klinefelter's syndrome
is very rare, only about 10 cases.
Physical examinations such as endoscopic examination have to be used to verify the absence or presence of a vagina or cervix. Ultrasound or MRI are used to evaluate whether internal sex organs are present.

Work Cited

  1. Endocrine Society. Androgen therapy in women: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006;91(10):2697-3716.
  2. Herman-Giddens ME, Slora EJ, Wasserman RC, et al. (April 1997). "Secondary sexual characteristics and menses in young girls seen in office practice: a study from the Pediatric Research in Office Settings network". Pediatrics 99 (4): 505–12.doi:10.1542/peds.99.4.505PMID 9093289.  Newer data suggesting we should be using lower age thresholds for evaluation.
  3. Lee, P. A., C. P. Houk, S. F. Ahmed, and I. A. Hughes. 2006. Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders. Pediatrics 118 (2):e488-500.
  4. Parker KL. Sexual Differentiation. In: Griffin JE, Ojeda SR. Textbook of Endocrine Physiology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2004:167-185.
  5. Sizonenko, PC. Role of sex steroids during development -- integration. in Bourguignon, Jean Pierre & Tony M. Plant (2000). The Onset of Puberty in Perspective: Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on the Control of the Onset of Puberty, Held in Liège, Belgium, 26–28th September 1999. Amsterdam & New York: Elsevier. ISBN 0444502963.
  6. Stewart PM. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg HM, Shlomo M, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 14.
  7. Styne DM, Grumbach MM. Puberty: ontogeny, neuroendocrinology, physiology, and disorders. In: In: Kronenberg HM, Shlomo M, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, eds.Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 24.
  8.  Vilain E, Achermann JC, Eugster EA, Harley VR, Morel Y, Wilson JD, and Hiort O. 2007. We used to call them hermaphrodites. Genetics in Medicine 9 (2):65-66.

Comments 8 comments

creativeone59 profile image
creativeone59 3 years ago from Gold Canyon, ArizonaLevel 3 Commenter
very good hub, I thought about wrting about t myself but beat me to the punch.thanks for sharing. creativeone59

angelfrmcanada profile image
angelfrmcanada 3 years ago from Canada
Well done Claire!! I even learned some things I didn't know. ;)

BkCreative profile image
BkCreative 3 years ago from Brooklyn, New York CityLevel 4 Commenter
Wow! - you have put together an outstanding hub here! I will bookmark it so I can share it as it explains in depth any questions we may have.
You raise a good point - I'm sure many athletes are made this way but as long as they don't win it is not an issue.
I remember Maya Angelou discussing being a hermaphrodite. But I still never made the connections of Hermes and Aphrodite - interesting.
Thank you for spending so much time putting this together!

dashingclaire profile image
dashingclaire 3 years ago from United StatesHub Author
Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I will always try to provide quality work. Yes, BkCreative there are 1000's of people in the world w/this medical condition. I expect more than a few are athletes. Thanks again

Waren E profile image
Waren E 3 years ago from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............
Caster Semenya case is really sad,she was humiliated internationally by the release of such personal information,
personal info which only she should have access to, and all her hard work and accomplishments as an athlete hangs in the balance,whats even more shocking is the way most people condemning her all over the web,some people of the world can really suck!: (
She should sue those responsible big time $18000000!>:(
As always Great hub Clair!

dashingclaire profile image
dashingclaire 3 years ago from United StatesHub Author
Dear Waren E agree with your comments. Caster Semenya is still a teen which is hard enough, but she travels to foreign countries and has to cope with all the attentions. She's 18 with the rest of her life ahead. What taboo does all this have for her? We know there are evil people in the world, BUT you reap what you sow!

micropenis 23 months ago
I never realized that the condition micropenis is actually some kind of desease. I can imagine that effected men have serious trouble finding a partner. Very interesting hub.

dashingclaire 23 months ago from United StatesHub Author
These are medical conditions and/or disorders. Anyone with the conditions might have concerns.