Pregnant Women Take Drug To Prevent Lesbian or “Masculine” Daughters

With more and more medical innovations that tell us surprising amounts of information about unborn children, the medical ethics of prenatal drugs become significantly complicated.  It seems unproblematic to allow couples to see what gender their child will be, but what happens when pregnant women are informed that their children may have congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a group of inherited disorders of the adrenal gland?  Drugs like the steroid dexamethasone are often prescribed for CAH, which can cause faulty adrenal glands and early signs of puberty in boys, and “ambiguous” genitalia and “masculine” tendencies in girls.  Some are rightfully challenging the use of this drug, calling its necessity and dubious motivations into question.  And much of the reason women are taking it appears to be because of the associations between “masculine” women and homosexuality — whether or not they are doing so consciously, the people who take the drug seem very clearly to want straight, feminine daughters, to the point where they’ll take an experimental drug to get the desired result.

The problematic elements are clear: women are taking dexamethasone (dex) because they are afraid of the “psychosocial problems associated with having ambiguous genitalia” (and here I’m quoting Time), as well as the threat of same-sex attraction, which is less explicitly addressed in the article but is clearly one of the main issues for the people who are prescribing and taking dex.  Regardless of whether CAH can actually influence sexual orientation, the anxiety is reflective of fear of traits that blur gender lines.  Girls with CAH do not exhibit traditionally feminine traits; they behave “tomboyishly” and do not express the same interest in motherhood.  Dex can, essentially, create feminine children who will exhibit “normal” sexual orientations, as well as (and this is pretty shocking) de-masculinize “peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood.”  Yes – this is implying “masculine” and “feminine” career paths, and suggesting that this drug can push girls toward the correct, feminine track.

I don’t know where to start with this.  First of all, the idea of ambiguous genitalia being a problem has led, in the United States, to a shocking number of “corrective” surgeries on infants that, to my mind, seems not far off from the practice that in other countries we call “genital mutilation.”  But here’s the kicker: the drug doesn’t cure CAH, and many women who take the drug are shocked to discover the ethical controversy, mostly centered around informed consent, that surrounds the drug.  New York doctor Maria New has been leading in prescribing the drug, but her methods are extremely ethically dubious.

The impetus to prescribe and take dex is, clearly, spurred by a severe anxiety about the idea of giving birth to daughters who, whether or not they are lesbians, blur gender boundaries and challenge traditional conceptions of what is masculine and feminine.  The solution, though, is not to take an unnecessary drug, but to rethink the way we deal with gender so that “masculine” daughters with “ambiguous genitalia” are no longer such a source of fear that women will take an experimental, off-label drug to “cure” them.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

398 comments

Lisa B.
Lisa B5 years ago

Real N, You don't pay thousands of dollars to have a sex change operation because it's a "fad". I have two very good friends, one has and one is saving her money up for it. I also have a really good friend who came out to his folks much to their displeasure. My friend suffered the remainder of his high school years to find happiness with a very nice young man. This also is not "fad" behavior.

The "choice" comes when someone "experiments".

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Charli S.
Charlotte S5 years ago

For those who believe we "choose" to be gay....I'd like to ask the question When did YOU CHOOSE your sexual orientation? I have many straight and gay friends and none of them can tell me when they chose their sexual orientation....I always knew I liked men. How about you??

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Catt R.
Catt R5 years ago

Real N. loving someone is a choice, on that you make each day.... sometimes each moment. Finding someone sexually attractive is not a choice. Your statement that being lesbian is a fad is totally off the mark. Perhaps you are bisexual and think that everyone is like you perhaps you had a lesbian encounter and have not since found another female attractive.... perhaps you fell in love with the entity without regard to the gender ??? One can not assume that all others have the same thoughts and feelings as you yourself do. The one thing I do understand is that the more folks there are to love the more love to go around. May your world be full of love and warmth.

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Christina M.
Christina M.6 years ago

I was born with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, salt wasting type. I turn 19 soon and I am a lesbian. I had surgery at birth due to the common CAH trait of ambiguous genitalia and... I'm so happy I did. I can't imagine how much more different I would have felt, how self-conscious I would have been when I realized I was even more different than I am now. I take prednisone and florinef and without it, I'd probably die, as far as I know. 1. I am very interested in being a mother, actually, I'm excited and I can't wait til the day comes where I have one, but as a college student, I can't at this time. 2. I do enjoy sports, playing and watching. 3. I will wear a dress and make myself look pretty at dances, because I don't mind. 4. I enjoy dancing, that's feminine right?

To be ignorant and say that all girls with CAH will be a lesbian, is ridiculous. I'm not a lesbian by choice, I'd never choose to be ridiculed, stereotyped, and bullied by people, I AM a lesbian, I was born a lesbian. But to give people drugs because it could potentially make their daughter straight is ridiculous. 99% of the people I know with CAH are heterosexual, me and another girl are lesbians. Let your child just be them, why infect a pregnant woman with drugs, don't they say to avoid drugs when you're pregnant?

Stop this ignorance, stop trying to poison pregnant women and just let them have their child. I have CAH, it's not all that bad. The worst parts are the blood tests and the crappy immune system.

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For Real N.
For Real N.6 years ago

And Mengele brought some major breakthroughs in medical research. So what if he killed some people in the process? At least they had the decency to admit what they did. Governments give laws to raise the accepted level of nuclear radiation per human up to a couple of times the danger level in order to undertake experiments on unknowing civilians and cover up such experiments.
Which is worse? Killing some war prisoners to develop chemotherapy (Mengele) or killing, mutilating and mutating thousands of civilians and their descendants with nuclear radiation to develop more effective nuclear weapons?

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For Real N.
For Real N.6 years ago

Being a lesbian is not even a choice. It's a fad and a lame excuse that some girls take because they had a couple of relationships with guys that did not turn out to be the love of their lives. Women were made to be together with men or alone, such as men were made to be together with women or alone. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

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Monica K.
Monica K6 years ago

This article frightens me so much, I'm sick to my stomach! First of all, it says that it's given to women who's children MAY have CAH - well anyone's child may have CAH. Secondly, they are saying that "tomboyish" girls are somehow undesirable, so athletic, active, curious females are undesirable. That it 'cures' females who are not interested in motherhood or are attracted to their own gender and influences their social interactions and career choices! Have they finally found a drug that will turn women into mindless brood mares who only want to stay in the house or in the herd, look 'feminine', have babies and not challenge men in any way? How can a drug given before birth influence the choices made by adolescents and adults? It must affect the brain! This is terrifying to me! What kind of a world have I brought my daughter into? I was raised to believe that my choices in life were not limited by my gender, that all things were possible if I had the intelligence and drive necessary to accomplish my goals. Now I find out that for other women all that can be changed by a drug given to their mothers? God help us all!

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Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

Buzz A: You rule, too!

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Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

Vicki G: You rule!

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Darlene C.
Darlene C6 years ago

So I may not have this condition but I would like to say experimenting with any type of drug while your pregnant can harm your unborn baby! I was a "tomboy" as the say when I was a child. I NEVER played with dolls and I actually pulled the barbie doll heads off my cousins dolls so I could use them as grenades for GI Joe. This did not MAKE me gay. I am not even bisexual. I am married and have 2 children. Was I like every other little girl who wore dresses, yes. I just didn't dress like them. Being gay I do believe is a choice but then again this is my opinion. Not enough may be known about why people like others of the same sex but should we shun them for that NO! Let your kids be what they want and don't make a choice for them before they are old enough to choose for themselves just because you as a parent, don't want to feel embarrassed. I love my kids and I want them to be happy. anything I can do to help them achieve that I will. Even if that means they choose a non-heterosexual relationship.

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