Prenatal “female hormone” administration and psychosexual development in human males

Males were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) and/or to natural or synthetic progesterone

One of the first primary studies of DES sons which focused on their behavioral development , this study explored the hypothesis that prenatal DES exposure in males has feminizing effects.


Considerable data exist from animal research relating prenatal hormone levels to postnatal behaviors in the male. The data from human males are few. One strategy for testing this association is the study of humans exposed prenatally to exogenous ‘pregnancy maintaining hormones’.

Prenatal ‘female hormone’ administration and psychosexual development in human males, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 5, Issue 4, 1980, Pages 269–285,, 1980.

Phallic Symbol credit Carol Fraser © all rights reserved.

Fifty-eight young adult males exposed to one of four hormone regimens were matched against nonhormone exposed controls. There were 17 males exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES), 22 exposed to DES and natural progesterone, 10 to natural progesterone only, and 13 to synthetic progesterone.

Subjects were interviewed for various aspects of psychosexual development, and administered the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI), the Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey (GZTS), the Strong Vocational Interest Blank (SVIB), and the Embedded Figures Test (EFT).

Drug, total dosage, and time of drug administration were significantly associated with several aspects of boyhood, adolescent, and adult psychosexual development on interview and with differences in scales of the psychometric tests.

The most contrasting boyhood behaviors were between those exposed to progesterone and DES. Progesterone subjects tended to recall boyhood behaviors which departed from the conventional male mode toward ‘femininity’. The DES subjects tended to recall the most conventionally ‘masculine’ boyhoods. During adulthood, DES plus natural progesterone subjects reported a high sex drive while synthetic progesterone subjects reported a low sex drive. Erectile failure was more often reported by subjects exposed to natural progesterone only.

Three drug regimens were associated with elevations of the Feminine scale of the BSRI and two with elevations of the feminine scale of the GZTS.

The rates of homosexual behavior were comparable for drug and non-drug-exposed subjects.

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