Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 257-288

First online:

Prenatal exposure to synthetic progestins and estrogens: Effects on human development

  • June Machover ReinischAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Busch Campus, Rutgers College
  • , William G. KarowAffiliated withSouthern California Fertility Institute

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Seventy-one offspring of mothers administered combinations of synthetic progestins and estrogen for the maintenance of at-risk pregnancy were evaluated for their performance on IQ and personality tests. Siblings born of untreated pregnancies acted as controls. Hormone-exposed subjects were partitioned into three treatment subgroups dependent on the ratio of progestin to estrogen administered to their mothers during pregnancy. No difference in IQ was obtained among the three treatment subgroups even when scores were adjusted for sibling score and prenatal and perinatal complications. Responses to the personality questionnaire provided significant differences among the three groups. The group exposed to the progestin regime (progestin alone or in combination with very low doses of estrogen) and the estrogen regime (higher doses of estrogen than progestin) were most dissimilar. Progestin regime exposed subjects were characterized as more independent, sensitive, self-assured, individualistic, and self-sufficient. In contrast, the subjects exposed to the estrogen regime were more group oriented and group dependent. Analysis of difference scores generated by subtracting the score of an unexposed sibling from that of the exposed cosibling provided similar results. A general discussion is presented on the efficacy of hormone treatment for pregnancy maintenance, augmented fetal wastage of males, birth order and treatment, maternal knowledge of treatment and its possible postnatal effects on the offspring, and drug effects on the fetus.

Key words

synthetic progestin estrogen diethylstilbestrol humans personality IQ pregnancy maintenance prenatal