Documented consequences of nonconsensually operating on intersex children include chronic pain, nerve damage, urinary incontinence, scarring, loss of future sexual function, sterilization, PTSD, and an increased risk of suicide. In addition, infant surgery that enforces sex stereotypes associated with one gender category can be especially harmful when the individual grows up to identify with a different gender (which is the case for an estimated 10% to 60% of intersex people). These injuries are often irreversible once unwanted surgery has been performed, but they are also avoidable—by delaying decisions about non-urgent procedures until intersex individuals can weigh options, risks, and benefits for themselves, as is modeled by existing affirming care standards for transgender patients.
Despite being relatively common, “intersex” is still an unfamiliar term to many and in fact, many intersex people may not even be aware of their own variations in sex characteristics until much later in childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood. The misguided desire to “protect” intersex youth from the supposed harm of growing up with a noticeable difference perpetuates shame and stigma. Discrimination based on bodily difference, shared by many other inividuals in sexual and gender minority communities, can be especially severe for intersex youth who are also transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming. (Note that being intersex does not inherently make someone trangender or non-binary: while some intersex people are transgender, many others do identify with the sex with which they were raised, and most intersex people identify as either male or female.)
Performing interventions like clitoral surgeries, vaginoplasties, and gonadectomies without the consent of the individual has been deemed a form of torture by the United Nations, opposed by every human rights organization to have considered the issue, outlawed in several countries, and condemned by every intersex-led organization of which we are aware. Medical associations including the Massachusetts Medical Society, Michigan State Medical Society, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Counseling Association have issued policies or statements calling for the delay of medically unnecessary procedures on intersex children to protect their autonomy and well-being.