Making yourself a mummy – is that possible?
Intersexual people can impregnate themselves?
A hermaphrodite is usually understood to be a form of life that has both male and female sexual characteristics or organs. This phenomenon occurs both in the human world and in the animal world. People often wonder whether a hermaphrodite can impregnate itself. By taking a closer look at the concept and conditions of the supposed bisexuality here, we want to show whether hermaphrodites can really impregnate themselves.
The difference between intersexuality and hermaphroditism is not only a conceptual subtlety. In medicine, the former is understood to mean the biologically unclear expression of a single sex. In practice, this can apply, for example, to a person who has both male and female genital organs at birth, or who has incompletely developed genital organs. Intersexual can, however, also be defined as anyone who has chromosomal, genetic or hormonal abnormalities that indicate a biologically partially multi-gender nature.
In the middle of the last century, gender-reconciling operations were performed on newborns with female and male sex organs in particular. If the penis is incompletely pronounced, the scrotum is not fully integrated and a uterus and ovaries are present at the same time, the penis has often been surgically reduced to a clitoris, a vagina has also been surgically formed and the testicles removed.
People who have undergone such an intervention after birth or in childhood usually live their whole lives with a hormonal imbalance that has to be compensated with medication. Since hormones are an important factor in fertility, the suspicion that hermaphrodites cannot impregnate themselves is already obvious here.
In Germany, the legal situation reserves the right for the parents of a child to determine the sex of the child in case of ambiguity and to release the corresponding operations. However, at the age of 18, everyone in Germany can choose their own gender, regardless of their parents. Intersexual people have been able to choose between the formal categories “male”, “female” and “diverse” since the amendment of the Civil Status Act in December 2018. In addition, the entry can also remain completely free at birth, i.e. no gender can be entered at all.
Pseudohermaphroditism and hermaphroditism – the fine difference
But what about the question of whether a hermaphrodite can impregnate itself in the face of unclear body characteristics or hormone levels? In the animal world “real” hermaphrodites definitely exist. Earthworms, jellyfish, corals and some snail species can actually make themselves mothers without resorting to a conspecific. With fish and mammals this phenomenon occurs only rarely and corresponds to the Pseudohermaphroditismus, as it occurs also with humans.
The addition “pseudo” is used because only externally the impression is given that a functional bisexuality exists and the corresponding hermaphrodite cannot impregnate itself. Medically, the respective organs are never fully functional. For example, testicles in hermaphrodites do not produce fertile sperm, ovaries do not produce egg cells or the hormone balance ensures general infertility.
Self-fertilization – can a hermaphrodite impregnate itself?
No – a hermaphrodite cannot impregnate itself, among other things because all sexual organs must be fully functional. A person, even if he is born intersexually, cannot become pregnant by himself. In the history of medicine there is not a single case handed down in which a human hermaphrodite could impregnate himself. Mostly the idea prevails that human hermaphrodites have both a fully developed penis and a fully developed vagina.
However, if one looks at the development of the embryo in the womb under a magnifying glass, it quickly becomes clear that it is impossible for these respective genitals to grow up at the same time without losing their reproductive ability. And without them, a hermaphrodite can’t impregnate himself.
Around the fifth week of pregnancy, the development of the sex of an unborn child begins. The building instructions for this process are provided by the chromosomes – boys have a so-called X and a Y chromosome, while girls have two X chromosomes. In girls, the clitoris and the inner and outer labia grow from an initial curvature. With boys, this curvature widens more strongly and lets penis and scrotum develop in the long run.
The outer labia in girls consist of the same basic model as the skin of the scrotum in boys. With them, the skin finally grows together and thus surrounds the testicles. The urethra in boys that runs through the penis is made of the same material that forms the inner labia in girls.
The germ-glands incessant to the reproduction form from the seventh pregnancy-week. The final female gonads are ovaries, the male gonads are testicles. Both are placed somewhat differently in the abdomen, but also grow from the same basic set. The chromosomal blueprint gives the specifications for this. In the primordial stage, the gonads are still gender-neutral – depending on the presence of chromosomes, male or female glands are formed.
If this development is faulty or incomplete, an intersexual human being develops. Incomplete development means that the ability to reproduce is not guaranteed, so a hermaphrodite cannot impregnate itself.
In the cases in the animal world mentioned above, on the other hand, bisexuality is chromosomally predetermined – the animals correctly develop all the necessary organs and glands that make self-fertilization possible. Such a true hermaphrodite can really impregnate himself.