To Your Good Health

Recognizing the many differences in sexual development

Keith Roach, M.D., syndicated columnist

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 78-year-old man. Yesterday, I read that I am considered intersex because urine does not come out the end of my penis, but rather under the penis shaft. This does not surprise me much, but I am really curious about it. I want to see a psychiatrist just to talk about it. What do you think? — Anon.

ANSWER: Hypospadias is a common condition where the urethral meatus (the opening where urine comes out) is on the underside of the penis. About one male per 200 has this condition.

There are many, many DSDs, or differences in sex development (the term “intersex” is no longer used in medical literature, but some people with DSDs choose to describe themselves that way), which are conditions people are born with in the genitourinary system and reproductive systems that sometimes affect sex determination and differentiation. The terms used in this field are changing, as is the understanding of the complex biology. It is not as simple as many think .

Some of those born with hypospadias have other conditions that are commonly thought of in the large group of DSDs. A common, and usually relatively minor, difference in sex development does not have to change your identity.

I am in favor of talking to a psychiatrist, therapist or other mental health professional to discuss your concerns. Questions about the function of the penis, whether urination or sexual, should be presented to a urologist.

DEAR DR. ROACH: Your recent column mentioned the need for a lot of calcium for bone health. As I understand, bones also contain a lot of phosphorus. Why is it that we do not get phosphorus supplements? — K.O.S.

ANSWER: Phosphorus is needed for phosphate ions, which, along with calcium, are the key mineral ingredient of the bone. Phosphate deficiency is quite uncommon in healthy people, since phosphate is found in many foods such as meat and dairy products, beans, lentils, nuts and cereals. Low phosphate is commonly found in unusual kidney diseases or hyperparathyroidism, but some gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases may also cause a low phosphate level. High phosphate is much more common in people with chronic kidney diseases, so much so that medicines to prevent phosphate absorption are universally used in people with severe kidney disease, and a low-phosphate diet is recommended.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.


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