Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doctors Are Using a Prenatal Steroid to Prevent Lesbians, Tomboys, and Independent Women

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 12:09 PM

(I should pause first and note that I came across this whole thing via Dan Savage. So, full hat tip to him. It's worth checking out his post about it, which includes lots of good links and analysis.)

Okay folks, this is a little complicated, but it's important.

Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation. [source]

To sum up the science-y stuff: The doctors are offering pregnant mothers a steroid called dexamethasone in an attempt to prevent congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can cause the development of ambiguous genitalia in female fetuses. Later in life, CAH women also show less interest in playing with baby dolls, having children of their own, domesticity, and sexual activity with men in general.

Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms. [source]

Doctors Meyer-Bahlburg and New assume that "normal" behavior for women is bound to marital and child-rearing duties and that deviation from that is abnormal and should therefore be cured. Now that they've discovered the correlation with CAH and found a treatment for that, they think they can prevent "abnormal" female behavior prior to birth. In short, it's

the first systematic medical effort attached to a “paradigm” of attempting in utero to reduce rates of homosexuality, bisexuality, and “low maternal interest.”

I'm reminded of those bumper stickers that say "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

If I need to explain any further why this whole thing is ludicrous, offensive, wrongheaded, backward, and... well, sexist... then I don't think I'll waste my time with you.

What's worse is that this is an off-label use of dexamethasone and the women it's being administered to are not enrolled in any sort of formal clinical trial, which would include ethics oversight.

Medicine — capital M — has long been a tool of oppressing women in the West. That is nothing new. But now the technology has arrived to shape sexual interest prior to birth. Needless to say, the procedure will be met with praise in some circles, perhaps even in respected medical communities.

Let's hope the progressive medical community steps up and puts a stop to this.

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