A study from the University of Rochester Medical Center says that boys who are born to mothers with above average levels of phthalates are more likely to exhibit feminine behaviors. Phthalates are the chemicals found in plastics that make them soft and flexible. Boys born to mothers with high exposure to phthalates were found to be less interested in roughhousing or playing with typical male toys. This new study offers new information to add on to a previous study done by Shanna Swan, the lead author of the study. Swan’s past study found that some boys exposed to phthalates in the womb experience subtle changes in the size and anatomy of their genitals. Although the phthalates appear to be capable of disrupting hormones, the girls Swan and her team studied were unaffected by exposure to phthalates. This is likely because phthalates mimic the female hormone estrogen. Phthalates are deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, but they are banned by federal law for use in toys such as teethers, bath items, soft toys, dolls, and plastic figurines. They are, however, found in most households in products such as food packaging, household products, and personal care items such as lotion.
“Softeners in plastics may affect masculinity in young boys, study says” Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2009
“Plastic chemicals ‘feminise boys’” BBC, November 16, 2009
Student Researchers: Lynn Demos, Ben Solomon, Steve Wojanis
Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, Associate Professor of Media Studies, DePauw University, Associate Professor of Media Studies, DePauw University
Evaluator: Lynn Bedard, Assistant Professor of Biology, DePauw University