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Hermaphroditic is the adjectival form of the noun hermaphrodite. Hermaphroditic living things have both male and female physical characteristics, usually reproductive organs. There are hermaphroditic animals, including hermaphroditic humans, and hermaphroditic plants.
The term came into usage between 1350 and 1400. It takes its name from the figure of Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes. As the legend goes, a nymph fell for Hermaphroditus and asked the gods to be with him forever. Their bodies fused to become one creature, half man and half woman.
Being hermaphroditic may be typical of a particular species, as with earthworms, snails, and most flowering plants, or unusual, as with hermaphroditic humans.
When being hermaphroditic is typical, the plants and animals have both male and female reproductive organs. In humans, a hermaphroditic person may have ambiguous genitalia or genitalia that doesn’t match the reproductive organs. They may also have both ovarian and testicular tissue. This tissue may be separate or fused in what’s called an ovotestis. Hermaphroditic humans may also have male and female sex chromosomes.
Parents often decide to raise hermaphroditic babies according to the most dominant genitalia. Surgery may be performed to make the genitals look more masculine or feminine at this time. However, surgery is becoming less common with concerns the wrong choice may be very damaging for hermaphroditic individuals later in life. Hormonal therapy can also help reinforce the gender of hermaphroditic people, either in conjunction with surgery or as a standalone solution.
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