By Dr. June M. Reinisch, Ph.D.
Dear Dr. Reinisch: Since my wife always had an inclination towards premature deliveries, she had to be specially treated during all of her pregnancies. When she was pregnant with our second daughter she took anti-miscarriage hormones. Our daughter is now 23-years-old. Several months ago it became obvious to us that she was in a lesbian relationship. She has revealed to us that she feels completely unable to be attracted to men. We have to accept this -- she will, of course, continue to be one of our beloved children. The question, however, I have put to myself is: could the pre-natal treatment with anti- miscarriage hormones have influenced the sexual behavior of our daughter?
Dear Reader: Your question touches on the subject of an ongoing research project at The Kinsey Institute; that is, if and how medications and hormones given to women during pregnancy affect the development of their offspring. Our Prenatal Development Projects have been collecting and analyzing data regarding the physical, emotional and intellectual characteristics of both exposed and comparable unexposed individuals. Since the discovery of sex hormones, scientists have theorized about their relationship to homosexuality. In 1953, Kinsey argued that the use of testosterone as a treatment for male homosexuality was ineffective and completely unjustified (because although testosterone increases sex drive it has no effect on whether a person is attracted to or falls in love with a male or female). Since 1971, scientists have compared the adult hormone levels of male homosexuals and lesbian women to heterosexuals, and it is now known that there are no differences. Recently, researchers have directed their investigation of the effects of hormones on sexual orientation to the prenatal period. This research is primarily based on the results of animal studies, since true experiments using drugs or hormones cannot be conducted with healthy pregnant women and fetuses. Studies with laboratory animals have revealed that sex hormones do influence sexual differentiation (masculinization or feminization) of parts of the brain and behavior (both general and sexual). However, there are some problems with simply applying findings about animal development and behavior to humans. First, animal mating behavior and human sexual orientation are not the same thing. Second, although male rats who experience testosterone deficiency prenatally may display ``feminine'' sexual behavior, female rats who are exposed to testosterone early in their prenatal development do not necessarily express ``masculine'' sexual behavior. Finally, when female animal subjects are given hormones which predominate in males, they are born with masculinized genitals. In humans, lesbian women have normal genitals appropriate to their gonadal and genetic sex. In the past, women were often given progestins and/or estrogens for treatment of high-risk pregnancy. The few available studies indicate no increase in the rate of homosexuality in offspring of women treated with progestins. With regard to estrogen, several studies on the synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol have been conducted. Two studies found no differences in marriage rates when DES daughters were compared to unexposed women. One study did find a slightly increased number of DES women who had fantasized about or participated in homosexual and bisexual behavior as compared to unexposed women. This finding has not yet been repeated and so must be seen as very tentative. Even if this finding is confirmed by further research it is important to emphasize that the vast majority of the 30 prenatally DES-exposed women were exclusively or nearly exclusively heterosexual. Finally, much more research is needed to clearly reveal what role, if any, hormones (given during gestation) may play in the development of sexual orientation. In any case, it is important to remember that most homosexuals were not exposed to hormone medications during gestation and most of the individuals who have been exposed are heterosexual. I applaud your continued love and acceptance of your daughter. And I want to emphasize that it would be incorrect as well as pointless to feel responsible for her sexual orientation. Finally, it is important to find out exactly what your wife was prescribed when she was pregnant in order to be informed about any possible long term effects of the medication. An excellent resource for parents of lesbians and gay men is the national support group Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (Parents-FLAG, P. O. Box 27605, Washington, DC 20038, 800-638-4200). I encourage you to contact them for more information and support.
(Dr. Reinisch is director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University-Bloomington.)
Copyright 1992, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.