DiEthylStilbestrol, a Gender Bender

Excerpted and condensed from It’s My Ovaries, Stupid, pgs. 83 – 107, Scribner, 2003


Diethylstilbestrol, or DES, is a case in point. DES is a highly potent estrogenic compound that was first synthesized in Britain in 1938. Believing that it would prevent miscarriages, doctors subsequently prescribed DES to over 5 million women in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

Later, DES was even more widely used, with the idea that it would create healthier pregnancies and stronger, healthier babies. Its application was further expanded to :

  • include emergency “morning after” contraception,
  • to suppress milk production in women who did not want to nurse,
  • for treatment of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes,
  • it even became a way to stop growth in teenage girls who were becoming “too tall !”
  • DES was added to animal feed to fatten livestock and given to chickens speed their development.

Human ingenuity compiled an absolutely staggering list of uses for DES.

Some Health Consequences of DES

DES Daughters

  • Deformed uteruses, fallopian tubes, and ovaries
  • Lowered egg production
  • Higher rates of infertility, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and premature babies
  • Higher rates of endometriosis, uterine tumors, breast tumors, and pituitary tumors
  • Increased frequency of ovarian cysts and abnormal follicles Immune system problems
  • Abnormal glucose tolerance and glucose utilization
  • Abnormal development of gender-specific sexual behavior in DES offspring (feminized males and masculinized females), suggesting that DES caused abnormal sex differentiation during fetal development

DES Sons

  • Increased genital defects, undescended testicles, and stunted testicles and penises
  • Low sperm counts, abnormal sperm, and reduced fertility
  • Higher rates of testicular cancer at earlier ages
  • Immune system problems
  • Abnormal glucose tolerance and glucose utilization
  • Abnormal development of male sexual behavior

Clearly DES, and more broadly all POPs, can cause a wide range of serious health problems. But it is their specific ability to interfere with sexual development and gender-specific behavioral function that has earned them the dubious distinction of being called “gender benders.”

  • Read the full paper by Elizabeth Lee Vliet, MD, Gender Benders & Endocrine Disruptors around You, herplace, 24 Oct 2004.
  • Image credit Gender Bender.

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