Hanne Gaby Odiele, 29, was born with undescended testicles, which were removed when she was 10 after doctors warned that they could cause cancer.
Intersex people are born with a mixture of male and female sex characteristics.
According to the United Nations, the condition affects up to 1.7% of the world’s population.
Ms Odiele, originally from Belgium, was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS).
“It is very important to me in my life right now to break the taboo,” she told USA Today in an interview.
“At this point, in this day and age, it should be perfectly all right to talk about this.”
At 10, Ms Odiele had surgery to remove her testes.
“I knew at one point after the surgery I could not have kids, I was not having my period. I knew something was wrong with me,” she said.
She had additional surgery at 18 to reconstruct her vagina.
But she said the procedures caused her distress and she wanted to speak out in part to discourage other parents from putting their children through perhaps unnecessary surgery.
- At 12 I grew a beard and had a period
- Babies born on the sliding sex scale
- When is a woman not woman enough?
“It’s not that big of a deal being intersex,” she said.
“If they were just honest from the beginning… It became a trauma because of what they did.”
Ms Odiele’s husband, John Swiatek, also a model, told USA Today he was “incredibly proud” of his wife for speaking out.
“I am very impressed with her decision to advocate for intersex children in order to give them an opportunity to make up their own minds about their bodies, unlike the lack of options and information Hanne and her family (and many others) were given,” he said.
Her decision to go public about her condition and become a “spokesperson and advocate for the intersex community” has been praised by the fashion magazine Vogue as “an act of enormous courage”.
“Odiele is exploring uncharted territory,” it commented, “[as] it is impossible to identify even one well-known person in any field who is openly intersex.”