Hormones & The Environment: What We Can Learn from Frogs

If you wanted to know everything about sex but you were ahead of your time–say a teenager in the 1930s–you may have done what a bunch of students at Johns Hopkins medical school did.

Their sources were limited. This was 20 years before both Playboy magazine hit the newsstands and Alfred Kinsey’s sex surveys (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and then Sexual Behavior in the Human Female) topped bestseller lists. It was nearly 40 years before The Joy of Sex, Dr. Alex Comfort’s illustrated sex manual.

So this curious group of students got their hands on the newly released Sex and Internal Secretions, edited by Dr. Edgar Allen, the scientist who discovered estrogen.

Sex and Internal Secretions was a hefty treasure trove of everything anyone back then would want to know about the burgeoning field of sex studies and sex hormones. It took clever word manipulation to drain the juice out of a sex book. Not joy of sex. This was physiology of sex.

Consider this. Frank R. Lillie, a University of Chicago embryology professor, who wrote the first chapter, provided this description of sexual intercourse: Sex “differs from other universal organic functions such as metabolism, or irritability in requiring two individuals for its complete expression,” he wrote. It takes clever word manipulation to drain the juice out of a sex book.

The crux of the discussion among the dozen or so students who met to study Sex and Internal Secretions was about the biology of sex differentiation. Which chemicals, if any, trigger the embryo to become female or male? What controls maleness and femaleness and what do those labels mean anyhow? Was it all to do with something inherited? Hormones? Or something else?

I was thinking about those students when I read —> Read More