A report out of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine explains how some doctors give pregnant women particular drugs to decrease their chances of having baby girls who may later identify as lesbian, bisexual or even as tomboys.
The study, authored by Alice Dreger, Ellen Feder, and Anne Tamar-Mattis and available in full online , details the dangerous use of the drug dexamethasone in some instances of fetal engineering. The women used documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act to research a process by which some doctors engage in sex normalization before children are born.
According to the study , doctors identify women who are at risk of having babies with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) , an endocrinological condition that can result in female babies being born with intersex traits, or genitals and brains that more closely resemble a male’s. Doctors give these women the synthetic steroid dexamethasone off-label as early as the first trimester to try to “normalize” the development of the fetuses.
The intervention doesn’t actually prevent CAH, the study points out. It only seeks to alter fetal development in the direction of sex normalization, or intervening to make female babies more feminine. Nearly 90 percent of the fetuses exposed to the drug do not actually benefit from it. The Northwestern report further explains how this intervention is being used in very controversial ways, particularly aggravating gay rights and intersex activists.
“Clinician proponents of the intervention have been interested in whether the intervention can reduce rates of tomboyism, lesbianism, and bisexuality, characteristics they have termed ‘behavioral masculinization,'” the report reads. “The National Institutes of Health has funded research to see if these attempts to prevent ‘behavioral masculinization’ with prenatal dexamethasone are ‘successful.'”
The use of the drug has reminded some researchers of another controversial drug, DES, according to The Advocate . DES was a drug given to women in the 1970s to prevent miscarriages and other problems that could occur during pregnancy, according to the CDC . Eventually it was proven that the drug caused cancer and reproductive abnormalities in children. In particular, male fetuses who were exposed to DES in utero showed higher rates of gender dysphoria than the general population. DES is now banned, though its effects continue to be studied.
The full article from Northwestern is available in PDF or HTML form here .
Camille Beredjick is a journalism student at Northwestern University and the creator and sole contributor ofGayWrites.org, an LGBT news blog.