A controversial prenatal medical treatment could have the unintended side effect of reducing the chance that a child becomes homosexual, writes Shari Roan in a fascinating article in the L.A. Times. The hormone pill is designed to treat the few women each year who find out that their female child will be born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare condition that means the child could have masculinized genitalia.
Doctors usually surgically correct the infant's genitalia after she's born, but some medical professionals are advocating prenatal hormonal treatments for mothers to reduce the chance that the child will be born with masculinized genitalia in the first place.
The Times notes a 2008 study by pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Maria New (who did not comment for the article), which found that a higher percentage of women with the condition who are not treated with hormones identify as bisexual or homosexual:
[...] New and her colleagues administered a sexual behavior assessment questionnaire to 143 women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia who were not treated prenatally. They found that most were heterosexual, but the rates of homosexual and bisexual women were markedly higher in women with the condition — especially those with the most severe conditions — compared with a control group of 24 female relatives without congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Meanwhile, children who were treated with the hormone while still in their mothers' wombs "were more likely to be shy," while the untreated girls were "more aggressive." Those who did not receive the prenatal hormones also displayed "traditionally masculine gender-related preferences in childhood play, peer association and career and leisure choices."
No study has shown that the more "feminine" characteristics displayed by the prenatally treated girls means there will be a lower incidence of homosexuality among them. But New has had to defend herself from critics who say she is purposefully trying to prevent lesbianism with an experimental treatment.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Advocates for Informed Choice groups tell the paper that the hormone should be used sparingly because little is known about its potential side effects. Officials with the group worry doctors will use the drug's apparent effect on sexuality as a selling point for parents.