Question: I hope you can clarify for me a baffling advertisement that ran in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times under the heading: "Gender Selection . . . Now You Have a Choice."
The ad goes on to describe its product, GenderChoice, as "a completely natural product containing no drugs or chemicals, GenderChoice also offers a money-back guarantee (Limited Warranty--see package for details)."
This talk of "a completely natural product" suggests that you can pick the sex of your child through some sort of dietary supplement. Is there any basis for this?--B.B.
Answer: No, not really, but the "completely natural product" reference is a bit misleading, according to ProCare Industries spokesperson Vicki Henry, in Englewood, Colo., which produces and distributes GenderChoice.
The kits--for that's what they are: a pink one for female and a blue one for guess-what--have nothing to do with dietary supplements and "there are no drugs or chemicals involved." They are, primarily, made up of items that break down into three categories: instructions on ovulation prediction, a three-month supply of disposable thermometers and instructions on positioning during intercourse so as to maximize gender selection.
"All of this is based on a 20-year study," Henry adds, "which involved 920 couples and, currently, we have another under way at various major medical centers with another 240 couples. The method ranges from 77% to 98% effective in determining the gender of the child.
"The whole thing is based on tracking the woman's ovulation and timing intercourse to coincide with certain days during the ovulation period when you are more likely to conceive a male rather than a female."
Or vice versa, of course.
Again, according to Henry: "You're more likely to conceive a male if you have intercourse exactly at the peak of ovulation. The male semen, of course, produces both female- and male-producing sperm, and the male-producing sperm doesn't live as long as the female-producing sperm--about eight to 10 hours. So, if you want a girl, you time the intercourse about the third or fourth day prior to the peak."
Positioning--the third phase of the instructional material--has to do with placing the sperm as close to the woman's cervix as possible to obtain a male child, "or at a distance from it to conceive a female," Henry adds.
"It's not really a new concept," she continues. "It's been around for years and yes, it's true, we have a money-back guarantee if you give birth to a child of the sex opposite from the kit you bought. At the same time, though, we underline most emphatically that you shouldn't use GenderChoice if you're not prepared to accept a child of the other sex.
"A lot of doctors, frankly, aren't too receptive to this," Henry concedes, "although family doctors tend to be more sympathetic."
The GenderChoice kits are sold over the counter (locally through Osco Drug outlets, for one) "and $39.95 is the recommended price although, in some markets, they sell for as much as $59.95."
Among the doctors that "aren't too receptive to this" one would have to so classify Jarislov Marik of the long-established Tyler Medical Clinic in Westwood, a 40-year pioneer in the field of human fertility and conception.
Sure enough, however, tracking ovulation as a means of predicting fertility, itself, is well established as the "rhythm" method of birth control that has the endorsement of the Catholic Church, and doing this by regular temperature monitoring is also well established.
Far less clear, however, Marik says, is why the tracking requires a three-month supply of disposable thermometers for a procedure where disposability is a moot point.
"And, while anything is possible in medicine," Marik concedes, the GenderChoice emphasis on such factors as the "male-producing and female-producing sperm," determining the "peak" of ovulation and positioning during coitus are far longer on theory than they are on back-up in the laboratory.
"Through temperature monitoring," Marik adds, "it is possible to establish when the peak of ovulation is reached, but unfortunately--if that's when conception is supposed to take place to obtain a boy--the information is after the fact."
And, while there continues to be discussions and research on determining which sperm are, indeed, male and female producing, the only reliable way to do so (so far), Marik says, "is to either kill the sperm or wait until it dies, and then stain it to detect the presence, or absence, of the sex-producing particle. And so who can tell if the male-producing sperm would have lived, naturally, two more hours or another full two days?"