Influencing Your Babies Sex - Could’ve, Would’ve, Should’ve Worked

Is there a natural hormone source that a pregnant woman could get hold of for the purpose of affecting the fetuses sex at birth. Genetically they would be what ever sex they were, but have the sex of the chosen outcome. Given a fetus doses of the right hormones during development, can cause the chosen sex attributes to develop. I’m wondering if the old folk tales of determining sex could have happened, before today’s medical developments. This is not to link to a particular folk treatment, but a question of could a person have done it a hundred years ago. I know Cecil has covered this subject, but not on this particular nuance. I don’t want to know if people knew how to do it, I want to know if someone, could have stumbled upon a natural product that we now know could have done it.

No. There is nothing we know of that can reliably cause a baby’s sex to be as wanted.

Not quite correct.

There is no known way of doing what the OP asked, changing the sex of the fetus after conception (excepting later transexual surgery).

But there are various methods before conception, to try to influence which type (male or female) of sperm matches to the egg. These methods have varying records of success.

For example, there are physical methods of collectiing the sperm, and separating out male or female sperm (centrifuging, etc.) and then inseminating only one group back into the woman.

It is also known that male & female sperm respond differently to the acidity of the vaginal canal. So women have tried douching with basic or acidic douches prior to intercourse, to make the vaginal area more hospitable to one type of sperm, hoping to thus increase the likelihood of conception of the desired gender. Some have anecdotally reported success with this, though I don’t know of any scientific studies on it.

Then there are a whole lot of old-wives-tales, suggesting that things you eat or drink prior to intercourse, or certain positions during intercourse, etc. will influence the gender of the fetus. Again, I don’t know of any scientific studies of any of these.

I’m looking for a food or such that could raise a hormone level to the point of changing the sex. Either by increasing the female production of the correct hormone, or it’s abundance of hormone that is in the item. I believe the hormone would break down in the stomach, but I’m not sure on that point. It still leaves a substance that could increase the woman’s hormone, or some way I haven’t thought of.

That was my area of expertise in graduate school but it was on animals for obvious reasons. You can do it with animals (rats most commonly). The body and brain develop sex characteristics during a series of “critical periods” in development and the sex is basically determined forever. It probably wouldn’t be that hard to turn a genetic male into a phenotypical female. The body and brain default to a female pattern naturally so you just have to stop the masculinizing processes from happening. It happens more frequently than you may think due to a natural receptor problem called androgen insensitivity disorder that stops genetic male fetuses from responding to their own testicular hormones. There is a persistent rumor that Jamie Lee Curtis is a genetic male and has that disorder but I certainly can’t confirm that. I am fairly confident that androgen blockers could keep a male from developing as a male. However, he/she would still have testes and some weird things going on in the genital area but normal people probably wouldn’t know.

A female-to-male would be more tricky. We have the hormones to do it but the route and timing of administration would be very tricky. Some of the critical periods are short and very specific and just the right combination of hormones would have to be available to whatever body or brain part was looking for them at that time. You would most likely end up with a person that was just plain screwed up.

This is all mad scientist stuff of course. Those treatments aren’t available to anyone and shouldn’t be. They certainly weren’t available 100 years ago because nobody understood the sexual differentiation processes. I am fairly sure that scientists have made separators that can pull out male of female eggs and implant them but that is pretty cutting edge and controversial as well.

Why would you suspect such a thing existed?

I suppose if you injected human testosterone or testosterone blocker into the embryo before the sexual tissue differentiates then you could change the phenotypic sex. We know that XY babies with androgen insensitivity exhibit female phenotype. But why would you think there’s a natural substance that a woman could eat that would contain human testosterone, or testosterone blockers?

A method similar to the feminizing of male fish in rivers as an example, but not exactly that way, since it happens after maturity in them from chemicals in the rivers. I also know that some men are genetically women at birth, but this is an accidental occurrence at gestation.

Critical periods are more like on/off switches rather than some curve. The body works very hard to produce the right hormones at the right time to determine phenotypical and brain sex. Unless you want to play the mad scientist role and radically alter what the body is trying to do through drugs, it wouldn’t work. I don’t think you would want to anyway because the result would still have whatever ovaries or tests they started with and the genitalia probably would require surgery to make them look normal after birth. Genetics completely determine the existence of either of those and they are supposed to make the right hormones. You can screw with the processes downstream from that however.

Science is always finding new amazing things, and I wondered if something like this has been found in the last few years.

I am speaking of the phenotypic sex, but didn’t know the term until you used it.

But a lot of non-mammalian animals don’t have genetic sexual differentiation, I don’t know if the fish you are referencing have the ability to change sex, but it’s certainly possible.

And you can feminize human males by giving them estrogen, you can masculinize females by givng them testosterone, this is standard procedure in sexual reassignment. Except these hormone treatments don’t affect the primary sexual characteristics.

Well, if you start screwing around taking hormones during pregnancy (esp. around week 7), you very well might wind up with a transgendered child: studies show that’s when the hypothalamus kicks in, and if dosed with hormones, the body may develop in one direction and the brain in another.

“Ask the girl who owns one.”

Europe did the study over 10 years ago on the phenomenon. It ties in with the drugs in the rivers. A year or two ago the US announced the same results on a study done here after seeing the Europe study. I guess that means the hormone is not broken down in the stomach, so that remains one of the possible paths of implementation. Dah! in the American and Russian vonacular.

The attempt of a Hoodoo or such to influence the outcome, is going the mad scientist route. I’m wondering if someone could have unwittingly influenced the outcome by comsuption of a substance a hundred years ago, even if it was something like the eating of a hundred boar testicles at one sitting.

Sexual hormones, like estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, etc. are sterol based. This means they behave like fats (and they’re derived from cholesterol). Since they’re not proteins (like glucose), they are not broken down in the stomach. I can’t remember off the top of my head (and couldn’t quickly find on the internet) whether they cross into the blood stream through the stomach lining or early in the small intestine. Regardless, this is why oral contraceptive pillls are possible. I could see where some sort of hormone like this could influence the physical appearance of a fetus, but it would not change the actual chromosome count.

In the 1950s and 60s progestin was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages. Depending on the exact formulation, progestins (artificial forms of progesterone) can display androgen-like activity. In the 1950s and 60s, some women given specific types of progestine to prevent miscarriage delivered female (genetically XX) babies that displayed some virilization characteristics. They typically had female internal anatomy but had enlarged clitorises.

I have a potion that I can sell you of for this purpose. It’s expensive, sure, but it is experimentally proven to give you the sex of child you want 50% of the time. That’s a pretty damn good success rate in drug terms, I’m sure you’ll agree.

You’re talking about fertilized eggs (zygotes) right?

The answer to your question is, quite simply, no. No, no, no. No.

You would need a large, stable supply of testosterone. If we’re going to administer it orally, the supply would need to be even larger. Little testosterone can be absorbed orally. This is why bodybuilders a)inject steroids, and b)methylate the oral steroids (so that the stuff isn’t broken down in the liver). Testosterone proper only lasts about a day in the body, which means that the pregnant woman would need to be eating many bull testicles on a daily basis for a significant period of the pregnancy. I remember a study from a while back that found that testosterone levels in the womb affected sexual orientation, so not munching on just the right amount of balls could result in gay, bisexual, or emo kids.

Assuming mother doesn’t turn into a man from all the testosterone first, of course.

Need to remember that a child with XY genotype, but with XX phenotype from the androgen insensitivity syndrome, is sterile. Androgen insensitivity children have a vagina, but it ends blindly, like a one-way street with a dead end. No cervix, no uterus, no tubes, no ovaries. Deep within, testes, which can get cancer. They generally find out what they are a couple of years after puberty, when their bodies have matured into phenotypic females (breasts, pubic hair) but they don’t menstruate. They cannot get pregnant. So they are not fully female by that definition, even if they have beautiful female bodies (and they often have very beautiful female bodies, tall and thin and leggy).

The old books when I was a medical student advocated that if you were a family doctor who was asked by such a girl at fifteen why she wasn’t menstruating, and you found there was no uterus, you should tell her gently that you were sorry, but she would never have children; and leave it at that. Nowadays such a tactic would be considered immoral. Full disclosure. You are a man, my dear. Unfortunately you will always look like a beautiful woman; and your brain, which doesn’t respond to your high circulating levels of testosterone, will be feminine, too. You’re sterile, by the way. Geez, thanks, doc.

No substance exists in Nature that will pull the phenotypic switch all the way from XY male to phenotypic female, as seen in androgen insensitivity syndrome, or from XX felmale to phenotypic male. You can push the train partway off the tracks - female with large clitoris and partly fused labia majora; male with micropenis and incompletely descended testicles. But even a hundred boar testicles in a pregnant woman’s food wouldn’t push the switch all the way.

There is another disease which can pull the switch part of the way from genetic female to indeterminate female or male. It is calling virilizing adrenal hyperplasia. Boys with this are born with normal male genitalia; girls, with genitalia halfway between male and female. This article, if you scroll down a long way (beyond the red ad and the blue prescribing information, has pictures of a mildly virilized and then a strongly virilized baby girl. Note that they do not have normal male genitalia. They have halfway genitalia. Their brains are still female, though perhaps with some masculinized tendencies (we’re not at all clear on what is male or female in the brain except for mating behavior - thank you for the point Eve). They have an additional problem in that they are often born, as a consequence of the partial switch from external female to external male, with “salt wasting”, meaning their bodies cannot hold on to salt and they die because of how much salt they lose in their urine. They need modern medical treatment to survive.

A quick note on male to female parallels in the genitalia: The clitoris is the penis. The labia majora, if fused, become the scrotum. The ovaries are the testes. We both have a gubernaculum to give us a cremasteric reflex although ours goes only to the labia majora. The labia minora have no counterparts.

Fish can do a couple of amazing things humans cannot even in the absence of external pollutants. There are fish species in which adults switch from fertile female to fertile male. No humans can do this. There was no substance 100 years ago that you could eat, breathe, or inject that would accomplish a total phenotypic switch.

If there had been, the resulting child would have been sterile.

There was an episode of House with a patient like this, right?