Born This Way?

New Study Reveals U.S. Doctors Using Steroids To Prevent Lesbianism, Intersexuality In Fetuses

O, brave new world that has such practices in it! A recent study published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry reveals a disturbing practice in which U.S. doctors use a non-FDA-approved steroid to prevent lesbianism, bisexuality, tomboyism and intersexuality in fetuses. 

The study — conducted by Northwestern University’s Alice Dreger, American University’s Ellen K. Feder and Anne Tamar-Matis from Advocates for Informed Choice — chronicles the history of the drug dexamethasone in treating pregnant women at risk of carrying a child with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a “disease of the endocrine system that can cause virilization (i.e., development of masculine traits) in female fetuses.”

Because some forms of CAH are very dangerous, every state requires that newborns are screened for it. Women “at risk” of giving birth to a CAH-affected daughter are often identified because they have already given birth to a child with CAH.

First cited in 1984, the use of the off-label steroid has since become part of standard prenatal care, despite a lack of published supporting evidence. Though the FDA has never approved dexamethasone in the treatment of CAH, a clinician is allowed to promote the use of an off-label drug as “safe and effective” as long as the clinician doesn’t work for the drug-maker or as an FDA-approved investigator of the drug.

Dexamethasone treatment cannot prevent an affected child from being born with CAH, but instead causes a fetus to develop in a “more female-typical fashion.”  Some experts posit that prenatal dexamethasone prevents the need for genital surgery in the case of genital abnormalities. However, dexamethasone’s use is often promoted in misleading ways and for purposes that are not legitimately medical, such as the prevention of tomboyism and lesbianism.

New research indicates that prenatal dexamethasone may lead to serious metabolic problems that won’t become apparent until adulthood and its administration is already being called into question. In 2010, Mount Sinai determined that the use of dexamethasone “should require a rigorous informed consent process with detailed documentation that the risks and benefits of this treatment have been clearly communicated to the parents making a decision to engage in prenatal treatment.”

Now if only the FDA felt the same way. You can read the study for yourself here and make sure to leave your opinions in the comments below.

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  • Cam

    I saw that this drug somehow can prevent a condition that causes problems with genitals, and internal issues, and female fetuses developing masculin traits, but I didn’t see anything where it was supposed to prevent lesbianism.

    Please tell me that the author doesn’t assume that if a young girl looks feminine she won’t be a lesbian.

  • Rooney

    There is nothing the desperete wingnuts won’t do to prevent their kids from being queer or not clearly either sex, inclusing killing them, so this doesn’t surprise me.

  • Daez

    If there are no harmful side effects then I am absolutely all for this drug if it can prevent genital and other issues. I will gladly support someone who is intersexual, but if you can prevent such a thing from happening then I’m all for it. Hell, I think most people that have lived their lives as an intersexual would be all for it (at least on some level).

  • Chuck

    Don’t see the problem here… Masculine traits don’t=lesbianism.

  • Paul

    Cool! Who likes lesbians anyway! lol Of course I’m just kidding.

  • Jakey

    “However, dexamethasone’s use is often promoted in misleading ways and for purposes that are not legitimately medical, such as the prevention of tomboyism and lesbianism.”

    Well this is the part I want to know more about. By whom? To what effect?

  • Anon

    “However, dexamethasone’s use is often promoted in misleading ways and for purposes that are not legitimately medical, such as the prevention of tomboyism and lesbianism.”

    This assumes that expectant mothers are discovering they are having healthy female children and requesting a drug to ensure that this, apparently healthy girl, doesn’t grow up to be a lesbian?

    Seriously? It seems from the study that it is used to prevent potentially dangerous malformations of the genitals, and that masculine behaviour is merely a quirk of the condition.

  • eames

    “…New research indicates that prenatal dexamethasone may lead to serious metabolic problems that won’t become apparent until adulthood”

    The article states that it was first cited in 1984. Does that mean it was in use then? if so, what’s happening to those babies now that they’re pushing 30?

  • Max the Communist

    What fresh new Tuskeegee hell is this and why aren’t people suing the hell out of them?

  • Soakman


    I think the implication is that that is what the drug in intended for (preventing the harmful condition). But it may be unethically proffered to women as an anti-lesbian, anti-gender nonconformity drug.

    But also, I’m not sure that being intersexed is a harmful condition in and of itself. I think that there may be suppositions about what “harmful” means, but what I want to know is whether CAH is life-threatening.

  • arianne

    i doesnt sound very threatening but it would be good to avoid if there was a very safe and proven way to do so. it mostly just effects secondary sex characteristics which are not totally important. but that there is no real proof that this drug prevents it in anyway. As for making a child more feminine and therefore less likely to be a lesbian, thats bull. I know more super feminine lesbians then i can count.

    that doctors would present this to expectant mothers as Anti-gay medicine for there unborn daughter is highly disturbing, especially considering the potential risk of the stuff.

    Let your’re child be born as nature intended if it is healthy, don’t dope it up in hope that they won’t find their love and happiness with a soul who also has girl bits.

    enraged. gotta shut up before i rant more.

  • krystle

    Dexamethasone is a synthetic glucocorticoid usually administered for risk of preterm delivery for proper lungs develop. It increases gene expression and results in molecular changes that impact behavior. There is a large scientific literature on the long-term consequences of dexamethasone because of its common use for preterm delivery. Interestingly, dexamethasone does the same thing as a stressed out mother i.e. excess levels of glucocorticoids (cortisol) reaching the developing fetus. So this article suggesting that dexamethasone is now being administered to prevent lesbianism is asinine at best.

  • jack

    Does that mean no more Sally Rides?

Comments are closed.