Mental Challenges Accompany Disorders of Sex Development

By Rick Naurert PhD
May 12th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
Mental Challenges Accompany Disorders of Sex Development

New research finds children born with disorders of sex development (DSD) often struggle with peer relationships — in additional to the expected physical challenges.

The term “disorders of sex development” covers a range of conditions, from physical malformations of the genitalia to hormonal conditions like complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, which results in a physically female body but an XY chromosomal makeup.

In the new paper, psychology professor William M. Bukowski and his co-authors Elizabeth McCauley and Thomas Mazur examine the potential effects that these disorders can have on children’s and adolescents’ peer relationships.

To do this, they reviewed existing studies that explored adjustment in individuals with DSD, with a focus on the importance of peer relationships for elements like socialization, self-concept, and confidence.

They then examined the ways in which individuals with DSD are put at a disadvantage because their physical differences make them feel separate from their peers.

The paper appears in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research.

“If you’re not like other people, then the likelihood of forming positive relationships is lower,” says Bukowski. “I always feel that I should apologize for that finding, but it’s the way things are.”

So what can be done to increase the chances that these children have the same social experiences as their peers?

Bukowski says one positive step would be to raise public awareness of the diverse nature of the physical body, including genitalia. “For someone to say, ‘I’m not like other people’ — no one is like other people! There’s an enormous variability. I think this is something young people should be more aware of.”

Another positive step would be to provide practical support and coping mechanisms for DSD-afflicted individuals. “For example, having stalls in locker rooms where they can dress privately,” says Bukowski. “Lots of schools have done this, but not all.”

The creation of support groups where people with DSD can share information and get to know each other is also a positive move — one that Bukowski says is becoming more frequent and effective through the use of social media.

In the paper, Bukowski and his colleagues conclude that there is also much scholarly research to be done in this area. They suggest possible research directions, including a long-term study that would follow people with DSD over several years, and further investigation into factors that help promote feelings of similarity in spite of physical differences.

Source: Concordia University

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.