2

Several years ago, I read a piece of trivia in a popular science magazine1, which said pretty much exactly:

In the Middle Ages there were many cases where a newborn girl was born with a clitoris large enough to be mistaken for a penis2, and was subsequently assigned as male and raised as a boy. The mistake would became apparent only after she started menstruating and developing breasts.

Recently, I wanted to fact-check that and learn more, but:

  • the magazine didn't cite relevant sources for each piece of trivia,
  • for the life of me I can't construst even a basic Google query which would bring even remotely relevant results.

The magazine was right about several other pieces of trivia3, so I'm reasonably sure that this one wasn't fabricated.

Is anybody familiar with the topic?


1 Fortunately, I still have the magazine. Unfortunately, that magazine is about 550 kilometres away.

2 Which, as I learned in the meantime, is one of the more common intersex conditions.

3 Like Japanese fertility festival featuring an enormous wooden penis sculpture, belief that female orgasms were necessary for pregnancy, or Khoikhoi people having larger labia minora and buttocks.

  • 2
    Welcome to History:SE. Do you at least remember the name of the magazine that carried the article? – sempaiscuba Aug 20 at 19:51
  • It was a special edition of a magazine only available in Poland, in a time before any Polish magazine bothered with online presence. I'm reasonably sure it was called Focus Ekstra, but I'm not all that sure on the year. (Which is why I haven't mentioned it in the post.) – Dragomok Aug 20 at 19:57
  • In jstor.org/stable/10.1086/682954 (free to read if you register) they relate a couple of doctor's recomendations that if the penis isn't a fully functional penis, to cut the superfluous flesh and go on (thus, declaring the person a woman) – Carlos Martin Aug 21 at 5:56
  • 4
    It seems likely that the article was describing situations where intersex individuals were raised as boys, only to then develop feminine secondary sex characteristics. Intersexuality was already well known in the Middle Ages, though generally regarded as a birth defect, and it was thought there would be one dominant gender with which the individual would identify. – Semaphore Aug 21 at 5:56
  • @Semaphore That's my guess too, yes - that's why I mentioned intersex conditions. Shame that the question seems to be stuck in a dead end until I ride back to my hometown and double-check if there are any sources on the back page. – Dragomok Aug 23 at 19:36

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