Sex Hormones Found To Have Little Or No Effect

July 20, 1998

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Researchers have found little or no effect on adolescent sexual behavior after giving test subjects sex hormones over a nearly two-year period.

"This data certainly disagrees with the common perception of millions of parents over the years," says one of the study's authors, Howard Kulin, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Penn State's College of Medicine. "To say that behaviors of adolescents are being mediated simply by increasing hormone levels, is not correct.

"There may be small sex hormone effects, but we know that social factors such as peer pressure probably have a much larger impact. It is a great oversimplification to blame behavior solely on hormones."

Kulin and his colleagues studied 55 adolescents being investigated for delayed puberty. Boys were given testosterone and girls were given premarin for three month periods and then given a placebo for three months. This pattern was repeated for the entire study using increasing hormone dose levels to approximate normal pubertal development.

"When we give kids a hormone and then take it away, we can compare results from treatment and non-treatment periods and then ascribe any behavior change to the specific regimen employed," says Kulin.

The study involved patients who required hormone therapy for their development. He explains that, ethically, children with normal development could not be used because they would not need additional hormones.

The researchers' paper, "Effects of Estrogen or Testosterone on Self-Reported Sexual Responses and Behaviors in Hypogonadal Adolescents," is published in the July issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (83: 2281-2285, 1998).

The Penn State researcher states that, while very little overall effect was seen during the periods of administered hormones, some changes in behavior were reported by study participants. For boys, there was a significant increase in nocturnal emission and touching behaviors at the mid and high hormone doses. For girls, there was an increase in "necking" caused by the administration of estrogen at the late pubertal dose. Information was gathered by subjects filling out questionnaires about their behavior.

In addition to studying sexual behavior in this group of adolescents other behaviors including mood, aggression, competency and cognition were also investigated. Kulin and his team are awaiting subsequent publications on this additional data.

Penn State

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