DES Follow-up Study
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 DES exposure on these characteristics in 2,684 men and 5,686 women participating in the NCI DES Follow-up Study.
DES Follow-up Study, National Cancer Institute, bibliography_Psychosexual_summary, 2003.
Image credit neilcraver.
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
Psychosexual characteristics of men and women exposed prenatally to diethylstilbestrol, US National Library of Medicine, Epidemiology, NCBI PubMed PMID: 12606880, 2003 Mar.
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.
We evaluated DES exposure in relation to psychosexual outcomes in a cohort of 2,684 men and 5,686 women with documented exposure status.
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.
Overall, our findings provide little support for the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to DES influences the psychosexual characteristics of adult men and women.