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Prenatal Drugs to Prevent Lesbianism?!

Lissa Rankin's picture

photo credit: photoxpress.com

Sometimes I read things that get my dander up with such ire that I simply have to write about them, if for no other reason than to diffuse the charge. This is one of those posts.

Apparently, some scary doctor in Florida is dosing pregnant women with a medication to try to prevent their daughters from becoming lesbians and ensure that they become Stepford wives instead. Yeah, I know. Horrifying. It makes me sick to my stomach.

GI Joe instead of Barbie

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Maria New is using the drug dexamethasone, a steroid medication sometimes used to help prevent ambiguous genitalia in girls born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (a rare condition that can lead to babies born with genitals that appear like part penis, part vulva). But Dr. New is concerned with more than making sure that babies aren’t born with confusing genitals. She also wants to ensure that girls aren’t born liking "dude" things -- like GI Joe instead of Barbie, skateboarding instead of tea parties, career instead of motherhood, girls instead of boys.

As stated on Slog.thestranger.com, “pediatric endocrinologist Maria New — of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University — isn't just trying to prevent lesbianism by treating pregnant women with an experimental hormone. She's also trying to prevent the births of girls who display an 'abnormal' disinterest in babies, don't want to play with girls' toys or become mothers, and whose 'career preferences' are deemed too ‘masculine.’”

Is it a boy or a girl?

Now don’t get me wrong. Ambiguous genitalia is tough. I’ve delivered quite a few babies with ambiguous genitalia (the PC term is “intersex”).  The baby slides out, the nurse wipes the baby off, and the excited mother cries, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

And then there is dead silence in the room. The nurse taps me on the shoulder, so I let go of the umbilical cord, leaving the placenta still inside the womb, to sidle over to the baby warmer, where the baby lies spread eagle under bright lights. The nurse eyes me, that silent question mark we in the medical field perfect to express confusion or concern without alarming our patients. I see that the baby has two labia, and protruding between them is something that looks like a penis. Is it a boy or a girl? We can’t tell.

Communicating this to a parent is not easy. There’s no good way to say, “Your baby appears to have what we call ambiguous genitalia, meaning that we see characteristics of both male and female genitalia. We will need to do a blood test to determine your baby’s chromosomes, so we can sort out what’s going on.”

As you can imagine, this does not go over well. We live in a black and white world. You’re either male or you’re female, right? Well, not always. 

Drugging babies into being less girly

So yes. Preventing this kind of genital confusion might be good. But what makes me crazy about Dr. New’s approach is that she’s not stopping at the purely medical. She’s talking about drugging babies into being girly.

Dr. New and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg of Columbia University, have also been investigating the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation. Regarding women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), the authors write, "Most women were heterosexual, but the rates of bisexual and homosexual orientation were increased above controls . . . and correlated with the degree of prenatal androgenization.”

They go on to suggest that prenatal hormones may influence sexual orientation. “That this may apply also to sexual orientation in at least a subgroup of women is suggested by the fact that earlier research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens.” They “conclude that the findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation.”

They’re not just interested in sexual orientation. In the paper “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes about how women with CAH seem less interested in getting married, having babies, and generally performing the duties of 1950’s womanhood.  As kids, they don’t play as much with baby dolls, and as they grow up, they fantasize less about pregnancy and motherhood and they seem less interested in boys.

According to the researchers, giving pregnant women prenatal dexamethasone might change all this.  

It gets worse.  According to Slog, “in a paper published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, New and her colleague, pediatric endocrinologist Saroj Nimkarn of Weill Cornell Medical College, go further, constructing low interest in babies and men—and even interest in what they consider to be men’s occupations and games—as “abnormal,” and potentially preventable with prenatal dexamethasone.”

Are they serious?!

I just don’t know what to say about all of this. Are they serious? Are they planning on dosing up every pregnant woman with a potentially risky drug to make sure we all grow up like June Cleaver?  This sounds way too much like the Nazi experiments for my taste.

You all know how I feel. Be all you, all the time, and if that means you don’t want kids or you love women or you like dude things and choose a dude career, more power to ya! But that’s just me.

What do you think? How does this sit with you? Let’s chat!

Hoping to protect baby girls everywhere,



Stacey Curnow's picture

Consent, Choice and Freedom

Thank you, Lissa! Thank you so much for informing us about this topic and writing such a heartfelt and thought-provoking article!

I think it's so important that we are informed so that we can share the information with others.

So often for me a topic like this comes down to the issue of consent. Many people simply don't understand that they have choices, and that their children have choices, too.

(One of my favorite quotes about children is from the creator of Non-violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg: "We get into trouble when we think of human beings as children.")

What are presented as cultural norms are just that - cultural norms. They can still be questioned - they need to be questioned - with the intent of finding the solution that is right for all of the individuals involved.

If there isn't a life-threatening situation to address (that requires a life-saving procedure), I counsel parents to hold off on any intervention (like circumcision) until the child can give consent.

There has always been a segment in our society that focuses on controlling others.

I'm SO grateful that this beautiful Pink community focuses on the contrast - and celebrates choice and the freedom to act on it. Much love to you all! s

Stacey is a purpose and success coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your purpose and passion, check out her FREE eBook, The Purpose and Passion Guidebook.

Caren's picture


When I read this I was enraged but not speechless. I can't believe this is a reality. I had a discussion with a friend of mine who is a lesbian, we couldn't stop the ranting of a doctor and a woman to boot that believes in such a thing. It is utterly appalling. What is this world coming to? Drugging babies to be more girlie? Really???

This really turns my stomach. It takes alot to shock me, and this just did. Thanks Lissa, for keeping it real and keeping us informed.


Lissa Rankin's picture


Oh yeah, Heather. As an OB/GYN resident I was forced to do about 5 circs/day ( I HATED them!) As soon as I started my practice, I refused. I just don't believe we should be cutting little boys...but that's just me!

Lissa Rankin's picture

Amen, Heather

I wrote a whole post about the AAP's statement about female genital mutilation and we just realized it may not have gotten posted! (I was gonna link to it here). In that post, I spoke at length about my belief that we should not be circumcision boys either. What's wrong with our bodies the way they're made?

Heather Sobieralski's picture

How refreshing!

Lissa, It was actually my OBGYN that got my wheels turning about NOT circumcising my son. It is such a cultural norm I think I a lot of people just don't even think about it. A great resource is www.intactamerica.com for those who want to learn more. I also wrote an 'intact boys' piece on the Posse Blog a while back. I will try to dig it up. Thanks or sharing your views on this topic I am so passionate about! I like you even more now :)

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Heather Sobieralski's picture

Thank you for diffusing the charge

Lissa, I would like my turn at diffusing a charge. It is a controversial one so I apologize a head of time if I offend anyone. When the American Academy of Pediatrics called for a "relax" in the federal law prohibiting ritual nicks on clitoral skin of young girls, people were outraged. Tens of thousands of messages were sent and the AAP revoked their call. But what about the boys? Why is it ok to cut the genitalia of boys for non-medical reasons. Every child deserves the right to an intact body, period!

Heather Sobieralski

My Mama Mojo

Life Coach for Moms

Lissa Rankin's picture

it's horrible

I know. I'm shocked too. Truly, deeply disgusted by my own profession. Obviously, I don't really believe this is going anywhere. But the fact that it's come this far is so disturbing. What does it say about our culture? And our health care system?

oh my...

Donna's picture


can I just say I'm sitting here in shock? That's about all I can say right now.

Fred's picture


I just don't know what to say about this. It's mortifying at best. I'm very curious as to whether the AMA or the state licensing board can / should weigh in on this. Isn't there such a thing as peer review?

As a practitioner of subtle energy therapy (both Reiki and Cranial-Sacral therapy), my work (and that of other practitioners) often comes under fire by the traditional medical establishment. It is classified as complementary, alternative medicine, but many in mainstream medicine view it as quackery. I will take my approach to holistic wellness over this one any day.

What you have written about here today really is a challenge to the professional ethics of traditional medicine.

It's very sad.

I'm just stunned.

Heather's picture

I'm just in a state of shock

I'm just in a state of shock at the moment. How horrifying. May the universe help these small minded people out of their small minded ways.

Lissa Rankin's picture

I hear you Megan

I was floored when I read this. I thought surely nobody was actually taking this loon seriously. Sheesh. I'm with you. Why can't we just live in love?

Megan Monique Harner's picture

Holy Shit

It has been quite sometime since I have read something and literally been anger into tears, but this did. What the fuck have we come to? (Not that this is the first example, but) We are so far beyond accepting others as individuals we have gone above and beyond to stop what we are uncomfortable with from occurring. Wow. WOW. WOWWW.

Joanne Elliott aka soulsprite's picture

Sad Really...

Why can't some people just see that another's uniqueness may be their gift to this world. How are we ever going to have another Emily Dickenson, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo if our culture wants to "normalize" everyone? These women had interests outside the norm for women in their time, which probably allowed them to follow their souls reason for being.

Like you, I hope no one is taking them seriously.

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