A new form of birth control

If homosexuality is determined by prenatal hormones, is there a way to force your fetus to be straight?

Published June 19, 2008 11:30PM (EDT)

Earlier this week, Sarah Hepola wrote about a report indicating similarities between the brains of gay men and straight women, prompting one British physician to conclude that "if you are gay, you are born gay." If you, like me, read that statement as a good thing -- as in, "Well, now that we've settled that debate, can gay people please be treated like human beings?" -- then, unfortunately, you've got another thing coming.

What I failed to consider was that if you think of homosexuality as an inherent "problem," then there's really no acceptable cause for it. Finding out that people might be "born gay" just means you've got to start your intervention efforts earlier. Or at least that's what William Saletan suggests in an article in Slate called "The Gay Culture War Is About to Turn Chemical."

Saletan writes that the authors of the aforementioned brain study "point to evidence that homosexuality may be caused by 'under-exposure to prenatal androgens' in males and 'over-exposure' in females." In other words, it might have something to do with the hormonal environment in the womb. To which I say, a little more androgen, a little less androgen ... can't we just call a lesbian a person and be done with it? Apparently not. "Where science leads, technology follows," Saletan writes, describing researchers in Oregon who tried to use hormones to change sexual orientation in sheep. (When the efforts failed, they decided they probably should try again with stronger doses.)

You can probably see where this is going. "Would hormonal intervention work in humans?" asks Saletan. "Should we try it?" He quotes the Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as writing that "if a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use." According to Saletan, Mohler told the Associated Press that "morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other 'medical problem.'"

The Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of the press that puts out the pope's work, puts it even more bluntly: "Same-sex activity is considered disordered," Saletan quotes him as saying. "If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb ... that respected the dignity of the child and the mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science."

Or, alternatively, a perversion.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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