by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.
What we now call ‘intersex’ conditions – children born with a whole variety of biological variations that can result in ambiguous or mixed gender – have long been interesting because of what they might tell us about how genes and hormones effect not only physical characteristics but also behavior. For example, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is a condition that affects genetic females. Medical specialists believe it results from over-exposure of the female fetus to androgens – male hormones. CAH girls not only sometimes exhibit some male body characteristics – they also tend to be tomboys and, as adults, while most are heterosexual a higher than expected number are lesbian or bisexual. Makes one think about the role of hormones is sex-stereotyped behavior – and sexual orientation.
But a physician named Dr. Maria New is promoting the use of a drug called dexamethasone for women carrying CAH girls to use while they are pregnant. This drug is not FDA approved for this use and has never been tested in pregnant women before. But it is increasingly used to prevent ‘abnormal behavior’ in CAH girls. As Sharon Begley reports in Newsweek,
New and a colleague suggest that women having little interest in babies and men, and being drawn to traditionally male occupations and games, is “abnormal.” Moreover, they argue, that abnormality might be prevented with prenatal dexamethasone. “Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized” in CAH girls and women, they write. “These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior … We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization …” in CAH girls.
So……Dr. New wants to make CAH girls ‘normal’ – i.e., girly girls attracted to men and ‘female’ professions. She hasn’t yet said it could be used to insure this behavior in non CAH females, but it sure conjures up those fears to me. And as a feminist – it’s not mainly the sexual orientation part that scares me. It’s the “career and leisure time preferences” and “aggression” parts that remind me of Stepford wives. Today, Dexamethasone for CAH girls, tomorrow, a little pink pill for all of us.