Progesterone and bisexuality: Is there a link?

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Adapted Media Release

Giving progesterone to prevent
miscarriage could influence baby’s sexual orientation in later life.

Bisexuality is quite common
among men and women whose mothers received additional doses of the sex hormone
progesterone while pregnant. This is one of the findings of a study led by June
Reinisch, Director Emerita of The Kinsey Institute in the US, published in
Springer’s journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study tracked the sexual
development of 34 Danes whose mothers were treated with the hormone to prevent
According to the research
team, progesterone appears to be an underappreciated factor influencing the
normal development of variations in human sexuality and psychosexuality. The
findings warrant further investigation given that little is known about the effects
on offspring of natural variations in levels of maternal progesterone and that
progesterone is widely used to treat pregnancy complications.
Men and women all naturally
produce the sex hormone progesterone. It is involved in women’s menstrual cycles,
and helps to maintain pregnancies and development of the fetus. It plays a role
in neural development and the production of other sex hormones as well as
steroid hormones that help to regulate stress responses, inflammation, and
metabolism in the body. Physicians often prescribe progesterone and its
bio-versions to support the fertilization process, to prevent miscarriages or
premature births, or to increase babies’ birth weights.
The 34 participants in the
study were drawn from the Copenhagen Perinatal Cohort, which comprises
information collected from virtually all children born between 1959 and 1961 at
the university hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. The 17 men and 17 women were
selected because their mothers exclusively received the progesterone lutocyclin
to prevent a miscarriage. These men and women were compared with a carefully
selected control group who were not exposed prenatally to lutocyclin or any
other hormone medication, but who otherwise matched the study participants
based on 14 relevant physical, medical, and socioeconomic factors. The
participants were all in their mid-20s when asked about their sexual
orientation, self-identification, attraction to each sex, and sexual history
using questionnaires and a structured interview with a psychologist.
It was found that men and
women whose mothers were treated with progesterone were significantly less
likely to describe themselves as heterosexual. One in every five (20.6 percent)
of the progesterone- exposed participants labeled themselves as other than
heterosexual. Compared to the untreated group, the chances were greater that by
their mid-20s they had already engaged in some form of same-sex sexual behavior
(in up to 24.2 percent of cases), and that they were attracted to the same
(29.4 percent) or to both sexes (17.6 percent). Both exposed males and females
also had higher scores related to attraction to men.
“Progesterone exposure
was found to be related to increased non-heterosexual self-identification,
attraction to the same or both sexes, and same-sex sexual behavior,” says
Reinisch. “The findings highlight the likelihood that prenatal exposure to
progesterone may have a long-term influence on behavior related to sexuality in
The research team believes
further studies on the offspring of women medically treated with progesterone
and other progestogens during their pregnancies as well as studies examining
the effects of natural variation in prenatal progesterone levels are warranted
to provide more insight into the role that this hormone plays in the
development of human behavior.
Article: Prenatal Exposure to
Progesterone Affects Sexual Orientation in Humans, Reinisch, J.M. et al.,
Archives of Sexual Behavio, doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0923-z, published online 3
April 2017.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.