From the Early Beginnings of Gender Selection

Since time immemorial, people have hoped to influence the gender of babies. Whether they are trying for a boy or a girl, whether they are trying for their first child or eighth child, for millennia couples have attempted to affect what sex their future offspring would be. From totems and moon phases to the complex rituals of timing intercourse used by many today, there is no limit to what a couple will do if they wish to have a child of a certain gender. There have been legends and lore in every corner of the world about what might work to produce a male or female child.

Historically, the preference had been for male offspring, for many reasons: survival, economics, legal purposes, and superstitions. In pre-historical times, it was about survival. Humans existed in small, nomadic groups. They were hunters and gatherers, following the seasonal migration of their game. Under these circumstances, a family with several daughters and no sons would have found themselves at an extreme disadvantage. If existing hunter-gatherers are any indication, there was a division labor based on gender. The men hunted and the women reared offspring and gathered. It is also typical practice that women would form marital bonds with a man from another village, leaving there parents at or right before puberty to join the family of her husband. The young unbalanced family would have had many mouths to feed but only gatherers to help. Once the girls were older, they would move away and no longer support the original family unit. This no doubt motivated many couples to seek methods to have a son to help with the hunt. To have a son that would bring in a mate from another family and enlarge and strengthen the family group. Although there are obviously no written records from this time, artifacts, cave paintings, and graves from pre-history (the Neolithic or New Stone Age) give us glimpses into what went on in that world. Offerings would have been made to gods, circumstances surrounding successful past impregnations in other couples would have been emulated, and soothsayers would have been consulted. It is simply human nature for us to attempt to create causal relationships between our actions and the results of these actions. This basic human instinct generally serves us well and helps us survive but it is unfortunately not of benefit here.

As history progressed, boys were customarily favored to girls for economic and legal reasons. As a vestige of our old hunter-gatherer values, boys were generally the heirs of record. They stayed with the family and their property to help in the fields. Sons provided for their parents in their old age, while daughters would have moved away. Sons kept property in the family group, daughters could not. In many cases, parents incurred the burden of having to provide a dowry for their daughters when they married. The dowry was mentioned in the very earliest writings, such as the code of Hammurabi (1760B.C.), as a longstanding and pre-existing custom. The custom of the dowry has survived into modern times, particularly in India. The dowry has been illegal in India since 1961 but the customs of gender preference it fostered still linger in to this day. The tradition that females needed to be “married out” and became part of their husbands household and the legal issues surrounding inheritance likewise, no longer are present in western society but their echo is still heard. In modern Chinese society, a “one-child policy” combines with these traditional pressures to cause many couples to seek the only effective methods of gender selection available to them (female infanticide and selective abortion).

Some women are also motivated by social pressure and superstitions to produce boys. In many cultures a woman’s entire worth was dependent on whether they could give their family sons. History is flush with tales of monarchs who annulled marriages or divorced their queens (or worse) when they did not produce the prized heir. Women who gave birth to a male heir, especially as the eldest child, were considered a success in their clan or village. Wives who never produced a son were often regarded as failures. Many believed that they were being rewarded for good deeds when they had a son, and that God was frowning on them when they conceived only daughters, or no offspring at all. Fertility and gender outcomes were all pinned on the women; their husbands were typically unaccountable for reproductive results.
Under these pressures, it is easy to see why historically, women wanted to influence their children’s gender and why humans began certain customs to try to make a difference. The sex of offspring had a huge impact on couples’ lives, and to this day still does in some countries. This is at the heart of the social, legal, and economic motivations that have driven people to try to select the gender of their offspring, even from pre-historical times.

Numerous methods have been undertaken for this purpose—some entertaining, some seeming a bit bizarre, many without any logical backing, all basically ineffective. For half of the couples who made a sex selection attempt, however futile, it would have worked and their wishes fulfilled, thus confirming their belief system and perpetuating the mythology behind it.

METHODS TO SELECT GENDER

In historical times, sex selection attempts and folklore took a variety of forms. Early drawings from prehistoric times suggested that sex selection efforts were being investigated by our earliest ancestors.

(HOW?????????) Egyptian hieroglyphs some 4,000 years old note that they believed that women of a “greenish” cast of complexion were “certain to have boys.

And were sought after as wives. Men of ancient Greece were reported to have had intercourse while lying on their right side to improved the chances of conceiving a boy. The Book of Leviticus in the Talmud, instructed ancient Hebrews to place the marriage bed in a north-south direction to help bring about male babies. In 330 B.C., Aristotle prescribed the tying off of the left testicle in men wishing to produce a son.

This practice was continued in 18th-century France, where some believed that female-carrying sperm came from the left testicle.

Gender Selection Theory Historical Source

Following the “Ancient Chinese Birth Chart”—looking at both mothers’ time of birth and the month a child is conceived—will reveal a baby’s gender.

Ancient Beijing, China- Male babies develop on the right side of the uterus and females on the left
Hippocrates- Men having sex while on their right side would result in a boy child
Ancient Greeks- An orgasm by the woman before the man brings about male offspring
Talmud, Leviticus- Child’s sex would be the same as the sex of the most active partner during the procreative process. Tying a string around left testicle to make a boy and around the right one to make a girl
Aristotle- Copulation with the heads of the couples pointed north favor the birth of a male child
Anaxagoras- Using a particular position for sexual relations would produce a valued first son Ancient Chinese

Other methods for attempting to influence babies’ gender have included German husbands taking an axe to bed with them at night; either the man or the woman initiating sexual intercourse (depending on which gender was desired); women sleeping in bed either to the left or the right of their husband; and following the ancient Chinese calendar or astrological charts to time conception. Interested in more? It is said that over the years, couples have tried such folk methods as having intercourse in dry weather or when there is a north wind; the man wearing boots to bed or hanging his pants on the right bedpost; or the woman wearing male clothing to bed on her wedding night.

In Europe, France has a particularly rich tradition with regard to gender selection. French wives tales indicate that to ensure the conception of males, one could recite certain chants, wait for a certain phase of the moon or a rising tide, or eat particular food.

The lunar conception method has been attempted in many parts of the world: Sex during a full moon was supposed to increase the odds of conceiving a girl, while a quarter moon was said to work for a boy baby. In the beginning of the 20th century, scientists at the Embryological Institute of Vienna prescribed a high-protein diet as a means of conceiving males. Applying this advice, the Czarina Alexandra of Russia reportedly followed this advice with famous futility, producing four consecutive daughters before finally having son.

Another reported custom was Pacific Island women dressing in men’s clothes to try to produce male offspring.

CURRENT ATTITUDES AND DEMAND

Although many of the aforementioned sex selection methods are discounted in modern times, others continue to this day, along with several more current ones. There is nothing new about humans’ desire to choose the sex of their future children. What is new today is the technology that is now available to reliably achieve this goal and the resultant interest that it is sparking.

One issue that plays into the current climate of sex selection demand is the trends of delayed child bearing and reduced family size. If a couple only plans to have just one or two children as the biological clock ticks on—or they end up needing assisted reproductive technology (ART) anyway—many choose to try stack the deck to increase the chances that they’ll end up with a balanced family, welcoming a bundle of blue or a bundle of pink at the end of the nine months. In most cases, it is no longer feasible or desirable to have child after child in an ongoing quest for that hoped for boy or girl . Many couples are choosing to spend the money on ART and sex selection to help produce their family of blue and pink, rather than to wait for nature to bless them with both a boy and a girl, which may never happen.

For more than three decades, the average age of women giving birth has shifted steadily upward. The average age for American women to have their first baby has increased by about four years. As women continue this trend, and choose to start families later, well into their 30s and, for some, early 40s, the delayed childbirth is going to have an even more significant effect on the demand for ART. The need for artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) continues to grow. And more fertility clinics are beginning to offer sex selection along with this reproductive technology.

In certain cultures, gender continues to play a huge role in society. The Asian community invariably values male offspring in a family, and many couples will prefer to conceive sons if they could, especially in their home countries. In China, partly because of the family-size limits imposed on citizens, there is a purposeful dearth of females. Daughters are tragically lost through sex-selective abortion, through excess infant mortality, and through neglect, mistreatment, or abandonment of very young girls. In Indian cultures, there is still a big push to conceive a son for the family. In India today the most common methods of gender selection are infanticide and second-trimester abortion. This later practice often is accomplished under primitive conditions to the peril of the mother. The targeting advertising to Indian immigrants in the United States by some sex selection fertility services points to the continual need of these families to produce male heirs for the family line.

Americans seem to prefer both boys and girls, according to some surveys and data from gender selection centers. In the United States and Canada, many women are longing for that mother-daughter bond and are the ones proactively pursuing gender selection technology for their next child, whom they hope to be a girl. In American fertility clinics, girls are being selected more than boys. Couples from Canada appear to be requesting female babies more than boy babies. For many women, it’s more of an emotional issue than anything else.

Longing for a Daughter
“Every time I heard of someone having a girl I would just break down and cry. I just wanted to have one so badly. I knew I would love a boy, but the thought of never having a girl was just too much for me to think about.” —ANDREA K.

Gender selection technology is becoming something that, as a society, we can’t turn back from. The reproductive technology is out there, it’s available, and it’s only going to become more widespread. Public demand for selecting gender, and for “family balancing,” is growing.

FAMILY BALANCING

Much of the demand for gender selection technology is due to the desire for couples to achieve “family balancing.” Many of the couples who go to fertility clinics for high-tech sex selection—and all of the people who qualify for the MicroSort family balancing clinical trial—are current parents who want to add some “blue” to their offspring of “pink” or to produce a female presence in a family full of boys. The MicroSort gender selection technology was not intended for childless couples who only want one gender in the family; it provides family balancing for couples with mostly one-gender families who want to offset the sex ratio a little at home. Couples go to MicroSort centers and its collaborating fertility clinics in order to “stack the deck” more in favor of the less-represented gender.

Looking for Some Balance
“I did MicroSort to balance out my family. I had two boys and wanted to fulfill my desire of raising the opposite gender, and I wanted my boys to know what it is like to be raised with the opposite gender”. —KRISTI S.

Another Perspective on Balancing
“We each came to the marriage with one daughter. I have my girl and I want the boy for my husband, really. He really wants a boy, and he’s really into sports. It’s not that your kid’s going to be everything you want them to be, but you know, it’s having a buddy to play with football with. When I’m painting nails with my daughter he needs a buddy for him.” —CYNTHIA A.

Gender selection technology fills a gnawing need nowadays. Some parents don’t want to grow old wondering what if: “What if I had had a daughter? What would my life had been like?” or “What if I had pursued my dream of finally having a son? Would he be here today?” With today’s modern reproductive medicine, anything is possible. Family balancing is a real option, and for some, this new technology is bringing about miracles.

In Jennifer’s words …
“I dreamed about that miracle. I had two boys and couldn’t give up the hope for a daughter. I wanted a “balanced” family, too. I dreamed of dollhouses and ballet recitals, of sundresses and hair bows, of a pink nursery and a floral tea set. Into the mix of loud trucks, action figures, and balls and bats, we could add some pretty horses, some collectible dolls, maybe a music box or two. Instead of turning many a toy into a weapon, my daughter might play house with her dolls, putting together families instead of making wars. Instead of playing soccer and bringing in mud, she would draw pictures and make glittery things. I longed for that alternative, a different dynamic in my house.

But it was more than just the dolls, sequins, and frilly clothes that I wanted to experience on the other side of parenthood. I wanted to have the opportunity to raise a girl in my lifetime, to have that female bond in my new family that I had shared with my mother, sisters, and aunts. I didn’t want to be the only female in the house, outnumbered by the boisterous males, with no other female perspective. I ached to share my life with a little girl. I also thought it was important for my husband to raise a daughter, and for my sons to experience having a sister. Family balancing brings so many different kinds of joy.”

1 G. N. Allahbadia, “The 50 Million Missing Women,” 2002, Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 19(9), 411–416.
2 D. E. Markle and C. B. Nam, “Sex Predetermination: Its Impact on Fertility,” 1971, Social Biology, 18(1), 73.
3 H. Hoag, “I’ll Take a Girl, Please … Cherry-Picking from the Dish of Life,” n.d., Drexel University publication.
4 J. Elliott, “Artificial Insemination by Donor: Survey Reveals Surprising Facts,” 1979, Journal of the American Medical Association, 241, 1219–1220.
5 W. Rinehart, “Sex Preselection—Not Yet Practical,” 1975, Population Reports, 1(2).