Psychosexual characteristics of men and women exposed prenatally to Diethylstilbestrol

DES exposure possible effects on psychosexual characteristics remain largely unknown

DES Follow-up Study Summary

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These 2003 study findings provide little support for the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to DES influences the psychosexual characteristics of adult men and women.

Animal studies suggest that estrogen affects the developing brain, including the part that governs sexual behavior and right and left dominance. We examined the potential impact of prenatal Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure on these characteristics in 2,684 men and 5,686 women participating in the NCI DES Follow-up Study.

Information on marital status, sexual behavior, and handedness was reported by subjects on a questionnaire. Responses indicated that DES neither influenced sexual behavior nor resulted in an increased likelihood of homosexual contact. In sons, DES was unrelated to the likelihood of ever having been married or of having a same-sex sexual partner in adulthood, age at first intercourse and number of sexual partners. DES Daughters were slightly more likely than unexposed women to have ever been married but were less likely to report having had a same-sex sexual partner, having had their first sexual intercourse before age 17 and to having had more than one sexual partner.

DES Daughters were just as likely as unexposed women to be left-handed. DES Sons were slightly more likely to be left-handed than unexposed men. Overall, about 17% of women reported a mental illness, but we found no evidence that it was more frequent in the exposed than the unexposed women. Mental illness was not assessed in the men.

2003 Study Abstract

BACKGROUND:
Between 1939 and the 1960s, the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) was given to millions of pregnant women to prevent pregnancy complications and losses. The adverse effects of prenatal exposure on the genitourinary tract in men and the reproductive tract in women are well established, but the possible effects on psychosexual characteristics remain largely unknown.

METHODS:
We evaluated DES exposure in relation to psychosexual outcomes in a cohort of 2,684 men and 5,686 women with documented exposure status.

RESULTS:
In men, DES was unrelated to the likelihood of ever having been married, age at first intercourse, number of sexual partners, and having had a same-sex sexual partner in adulthood. DES-exposed women, compared with the unexposed, were slightly more likely to have ever married (odds ratio [OR] = 1.1; confidence interval [CI] = 1.0-1.4) and less likely to report having had a same-sex sexual partner (OR = 0.7; CI = 0.5-1.0). The DES-exposed women were less likely to have had first sexual intercourse before age 17 (OR = 0.7; CI = 0.6-0.9) or to have had more than one sexual partner (OR = 0.8; CI = 0.7-0.9). There was an excess of left-handedness in DES-exposed men (OR = 1.4; CI = 1.1-1.7) but not in DES-exposed women. DES exposure was unrelated to self-reported history of mental illness in women.

CONCLUSION:
Overall, our findings provide little support for the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to DES influences the psychosexual characteristics of adult men and women.

Sources

  • Psychosexual characteristics of men and women exposed prenatally to diethylstilbestrol,NCBI, PMID: 12606880, Epidemiology. 2003 Mar;14(2):155-60.
  • NCI, DES Follow-up Study Published Papers.
More DES DiEthylStilbestrol Resources

Author: DES Daughter

Activist, blogger and social media addict committed to shedding light on a global health scandal and dedicated to raise DES awareness.

6 thoughts on “Psychosexual characteristics of men and women exposed prenatally to Diethylstilbestrol”

  1. This study creates a completely false impression that all is well with DES sons.

    The study itself doesn’t appear to be public access, but reading the summary on the DESfollowupstudy website:
    https://www.desfollowupstudy.org/bibliography_Psychosexual_summary.asp

    it appears that they’ve scrupulously avoided looking at effects on gender identity and instead focused entirely on sexual orientation.

    What DES appears to have done to a significant number of DES sons is to cause their brain to develop as female instead of male. The way this manifests itself later in life is that you develop a strong internal sense of being a woman rather than a man, despite having a male body. It doesn’t necessarily affect who you’re attracted to, in fact, probably the majority of the (natal) DES sons I’ve chatted to who now identify as women are nonetheless attracted to women, and married earlier in life and have children.

    ” In sons, DES was unrelated to the likelihood of ever having been married or of having a same-sex sexual partner in adulthood, age at first intercourse and number of sexual partners. ”

    That may well be true. However, by asking the wrong questions, they’ve managed to completely hide the fact that a lot of DES sons are struggling with gender related issues.

    Aside from ignoring the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are two completely separate things, I think part of the problem could be that there’s been a lot of genuine confusion about the effects of estrogens on brain masculinisation. Due to a quirk of nature, brain masculinisation in rodents is actually driven through estrogen receptors. When testosterone enters the fetal rodent’s brain, aromatase converts it into estradiol and it’s the estradiol that drives the masculinization of the brain. Rats exposed to DES during the critical window for brain development end up with male brains.

    However, that’s not what happens in human beings (or other primates it seems). In us, brain masculinization is driven directly through the action of testosterone and DHT on androgen receptors. What I think has happened with DES is that it’s blocked fetal testosterone production, and it’s the absence of testosterone that caused female brain development to take place.

    Most researchers were probably looking at the results of experiments on rodents, and expecting to see evidence of male brain development in DES daughters, not female brain development in DES sons. Hence, they’re likely to have structured their research so that they were looking in the wrong places.

    Hugh Easton

    1. Many thanks Hugh.
      I had “classed” that study into the DES various studies section.
      As you might know, I’ve found another 7 studies more specific on DES and gender identity.
      The extremely valuable input and pertinent analysis I get from commenters like you always boost my energy to keep on digging for more studies – even if some are old and misguiding – perhaps also for historical and comparison purposes…
      Thanks again

  2. Hope someone or a son with prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol can help me locate a paper written on a connection between DES and Autism like symptoms. My DES exposures started at 10 weeks into the first trimester as a result of heavy bleeding, doctor give my mother 1 shot of DES in the on a winter evening back in 1960, the next morning the was a heavy snow storm doctor agreed to come to my mothers home and give her another shot because the bleeding started again in hope of stopping a miscarriage, bleeding did stop and was told to start taking a DES pills daily the rest of her pregnancy. Recently had an attorney look over my recent neuropsychological test results after reading it the disability attorney tells me in 2016 that I have autism. I already have all the other signs of DES problems, hoping to tie DES to brain injury, seen a study going on at Harvard University started in 2016 but think its still on going, if anyone knows of any other places I can print out something to give my attorney or the SSD federal judge doing my hearing, my short term memory problems and other DES damage have made my life so full of stress DES has been a nightmare for me since the first shot! Thank you for your time. Appreciate anything you can provide. Hope des daughters can forward it to me or just post it in this blogger.

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