The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces

Catherine and his cousin Carla, Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

Catherine and his cousin Carla, Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

The discovery of a small community in the Dominican Republic, where some males are born looking like girls and only grow penises at puberty, has led to the development of a blockbuster drug that has helped millions of people, writes Michael Mosley.

Johnny lives in a small town in the Dominican Republic where he, and others like him, are known as “Guevedoces”, which effectively translates as “penis at twelve”.

We came across Johnny when we were filming for a new BBC Two series Countdown to Life, which looks at how we develop in the womb and how those changes, normal and abnormal, impact us later in life.

Like the other Guevedoces, Johnny was brought up as a girl because he had no visible testes or penis and what appeared to be a vagina. It is only when he approached puberty that his penis grew and testicles descended.

Johnny, once known as Felicita, remembers going to school in a little red dress, though he says he was never happy doing girl things.

“I never liked to dress as a girl and when they bought me toys for girls I never bothered playing with them – when I saw a group of boys I would stop to play ball with them.”

When he became obviously male he was taunted at school, and responded with his fists.

“They used to say I was a devil, nasty things, bad words and I had no choice but to fight them because they were crossing the line.”

We also filmed with Carla, who at the seven is on the brink of changing into Carlos. His mother has seen the change coming for quite a while.

“When she turned five I noticed that whenever she saw one of her male friends she wanted to fight with him. Her muscles and chest began growing. You could see she was going to be a boy. I love her however she is. Girl or boy, it makes no difference.”

Child on swing



So why does it happen? Well, one of the first people to study this unusual condition was Dr Julianne Imperato-McGinley, from Cornell Medical College in New York. In the 1970s she made her way to this remote part of the Dominican Republic, drawn by extraordinary reports of girls turning into boys.

When she got there she found the rumours were true. She did lots of studies on the Guevedoces (including what must have been rather painful biopsies of their testicles) before finally unravelling the mystery of what was going on.

When you are conceived you normally have a pair of X chromosomes if you are to become a girl and a set of XY chromosomes if you are destined to be male.

For the first weeks of life in womb you are neither, though in both sexes nipples start to grow.

Then, around eight weeks after conception, the sex hormones kick in. If you’re genetically male the Y chromosome instructs your gonads to become testicles and sends testosterone to a structure called the tubercle, where it is converted into a more potent hormone called dihydro-testosterone This in turn transforms the tubercle into a penis. If you’re female and you don’t make dihydro-testosterone then your tubercle becomes a clitoris.

Foetus at 12 weeks

When Imperato-McGinley investigated the Guevedoces she discovered the reason they don’t have male genitalia when they are born is because they are deficient in an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which normally converts testosterone into dihydro-testosterone.

This deficiency seems to be a genetic condition, quite common in this part of the Dominican Republic, but vanishingly rare elsewhere. So the boys, despite having an XY chromosome, appear female when they are born. At puberty, like other boys, they get a second surge of testosterone. This time the body does respond and they sprout muscles, testes and a penis.

Imperato-McGinley’s thorough medical investigations showed that in most cases their new, male equipment seems to work fine and that most Guevedoces live out their lives as men, though some go through an operation and remain female.

Another thing that Imperato-McGinley discovered, which would have profound implications for many men around the world, was that the Guevedoces tend to have small prostates.

This observation, made in 1974, was picked up by Roy Vagelos, head of research at the multinational pharmaceutical giant, Merck. He thought this was extremely interesting and set in progress research which led to the development of what has become a best-selling drug, finasteride, which blocks the action of 5-alpha-reductase, mimicking the lack of dihydro-testosterone seen in the Guevedoces.

My wife, who is a GP, routinely prescribes finasteride as it is an effective way to treat benign enlargement of the prostate, a real curse for many men as they get older. Finasteride is also used to treat male pattern baldness.

A final interesting observation that Imperato-McGinley made was that these boys, despite being brought up as girls, almost all showed strong heterosexual preferences. She concluded in her seminal paper that hormones in the womb matter more than rearing when it comes to your sexual orientation.

This is still a controversial topic and one I explore later in the film when I meet Mati, who decided from the earliest age that though “he” looked like a boy, Mati was really a girl.

As for Johnny, since he developed male genitalia he has had a number of short term girlfriends, but he is still looking for love. “I’d like to get married and have children, a partner who will stand by me through good and bad,” he sighs wistfully.

Complete Article HERE!

Some of the Most Incredible Facts About the Human Body


That’s right; most of you isn’t even really you. In fact, between 2 and 6 pounds of your weight is actually just bacteria. Feel free to factor that in next time you’re on a diet.

Scientists have discovered that there are small deposits of magnetite in human brains. While they’re not 100% sure why, a leading theory is that the magnetic crystals aid our sense of direction by drawing upon Earth’s natural magnetic fields. Similar deposits can be found in the brains of homing pigeons, dolphins and bats, who all use magnetic fields to navigate.

The muscle that moves your jaw up and down (called the masseter) exerts more pressure than any other muscle in your body — up to 200 psi on your molars! However, we still wouldn’t recommend trying to chomp through a jawbreaker.

You might not be able to run faster, but you can run farther! Human bodies are perfectly engineered for running long distances, and it’s believed we evolved this way in order to hunt more efficiently. In fact, this type of hunting — called Persistence Hunting — is still practiced by hunter-gatherers in Southern Africa. You can see a video of the process here.

There are a few other primates who can toss objects, but humans are the only animals who excel at accurate, high-momentum throwing. Some scientists argue that our ability to throw is very much responsible for our success as a species, as it gave us a way to kill strong animals from a distance. Today it comes in handy as a way to play fetch with your dog.

That’s right, GOLD! However, it’s only 0.2 milligrams of gold, which by today’s standards will net you…less than a cent. But still. It’s real gold. In fact, there are a lot of valuable chemical elements floating around your body, including Rubidium, Boron and Scandium (all valued at thousands of dollars per kilogram). All together, the chemical elements of an average human body are worth about $160.

Of course you know that your fingerprints are unique but, as it turns out, the shape of your ears is, too! Biometrics developers are working on ways of implementing this knowledge in order to easily identify individual people in crowds from CCTV footage or to take attendance in a classroom. If you’re looking for a way to evade this new technology, we recommend wearing a hat, or maybe investing in some Spock ears.

Both the shape and the pattern of bumps on your tongue are entirely unique to each individual. In fact, both your teeth and the bacteria in your mouth are also unique between people — even identical twins! So the next time someone calls you unoriginal, just stick your tongue out at them and show ’em how special you are!

A baby has over 300 bones at birth, but adults have only 206. So what gives? Did you just lose some bones and not realize it? Nope! Actually, many of the bones in a baby’s body fuse together to create bigger, mega-bones (not a medical term), and that’s how you end up with only 206 in adulthood.

Babies are born exhibiting a number of fascinating reflexes, including the ability to walk on a flat surface (as long as the baby’s body and head are supported). Another baby superpower is called the Palmar Grasp, which allows the baby to grab onto an object with surprising strength. In fact, some babies can even support their own weight (although we don’t advise trying to recreate the picture above).

And speaking of superpowers, here’s a shout out to your liver, which is basically the superhero organ of the human body. Your liver performs over 500 functions, including producing bile and cholesterol, removing bacteria from the bloodstream and — of course — clearing the blood of toxins from drugs and alcohol. Keep that in mind next time you complain about working overtime.


And if that’s not impressive enough for you, it’s recently been discovered that your nose can smell at least 1 trillion scents, making it the most sensitive organ in the body by a large margin. However, I think we can all agree that there are some scents you might be better off forgetting.

It’s called the Mammalian Diving Reflex, and it is seriously one of the coolest things your body is capable of. When you splash cold water on your face, your body thinks it’s going for a swim, and prepares accordingly. First, your heart rate slows down 10-25%. Then the blood vessels in your extremities constrict and send more blood to your lungs. As a result, you use up less oxygen and — if you were swimming — would be able to stay underwater longer.

Maybe the Mammalian Diving Reflex is what the people in face wash commercials are actually demonstrating…

Ounce for ounce, human bones can withstand a lot more pressure than steel. In fact, a cubic inch of human bone could bear a load of 19,000 pounds! Bones are also a lot lighter, less dense and more flexible than steel, which makes them a great material for, you know, supporting your entire body. Steel wins when it comes to building materials, though, because using bones would be a little too spooky.

Like, a lot of saliva. In fact, throughout the course of your lifetime, the amount of saliva you produce could fill the Olympic-size swimming pool pictured above…twice. Maybe even more if you spend a lot of time thinking about Warhead candies.

A single strand of hair can support about 100g (which is equal to about two candy bars). But twisted together, one person’s entire head of hair (consisting of about 150,000 individual strands) could support 12 tons of weight — that’s the weight of 2 elephants!

Not only is hair very strong, it’s also virtually indestructible. Aside from being flammable, hair won’t break due to extreme temperatures, and it’s also resistant to a lot of acids and other corrosive chemicals.

Although hair doesn’t easily break, you still lose between 60 and 100 strands of it every day. Think of how many elephants you could be lifting if you didn’t!

This reflex, known as the Photic Sneeze Reflex, is present in 18-35% of the population, and it causes people to sneeze when exposed to a change in light intensity (such as leaving a dimly lit building on a sunny day). Sneezing can also occur in some people after eating spicy foods, or even when they’re full after eating. This phenomenon is not completely understood, but we’re pretty sure it’s the lamest superpower ever.

While your eyes remain the same size throughout your entire life, your ears and nose will continue growing as you get older. This is partially due to the fact that they are made out of cartilage (rather than bone), but is mostly as a result of gravity. So they’re not actually growing as much as sagging. Regardless, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids “all the better to hear you with,” so that’s pretty cool.

Since fat is essentially an endocrine organ, it needs a supply of blood to function. So, as fat is added to your body, your body in turn constructs blood vessels and capillaries to provide blood to the fat cells. For each pound of fat, your body creates 7 miles of blood vessels, and that means your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. This is part of the reason why obesity is often linked to heart disease, and is also part of the reason why we’re having a salad for lunch.

Complete Article HERE!

Family History and Addiction Risk: What You Need to Know to Beat the Odds


You grew up in a family of substance users. You know that your risk for developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol is greater because of this hereditary factor. But what exactly are your risks? And is there anything you can do to reduce your risk?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), the single most reliable indicator for risk of future alcohol or drug dependence is family history. In an article written for NCADD, Robert Morse, MD, former Director of Addictive Disorders Services at the Mayo Clinic and member of NCADD’s Medical/Scientific Committee, says, “Research has shown conclusively that family history of alcoholism or drug addiction is in part genetic and not just the result of the family environment…millions of Americans are living proof. Plain and simple, alcoholism and drug dependence run in families.”

How Family History Affects your Chances for Addiction

Family history affects your chances of addiction in many ways. Genes are one important factor. But alcoholism and drug addiction are “genetically complex.”

Recent research has identified numerous genes, and variations within these genes, that are 005associated with the addictive process. One way genes affect a person’s risk for addiction involves how genes metabolize alcohol. Another is how nerve cells signal one another and regulate their activity. Such changes in genes can be passed down from one generation to another.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for heredity’s role in addiction comes from twin studies and adoption studies. Studies of twins found a 60% rate of similarity regarding addiction in identical twins vs. a 39% rate of similarity in fraternal twins. Studies of children adopted in infancy and studied for addiction risk in adulthood found that biological sons of alcoholics were four times more likely to become alcoholics, even when the adoptive parent had no issues with addiction, so the l factor of family environment was minimal.

But genetic predispositions are not the only factor in predicting the role of family history in addiction risk. Environmental aspects also play a role, even though they may be less significant in some cases.

Researchers have identified several family-related risks for increased vulnerability:

  • Family dysfunction (conflicts or aggression)
  • A parent who is depressed or has other psychological issues
  • One or more parents who abuses or is addicted to drugs or alcohol

Additional social and personal issues that contribute to risk include:

  • Limited social skills
  • Fragile self-esteem
  • Minimal or no support system
  • Personal history of impulsivity, aggression or difficulty managing emotions
  • A history of trauma or abuse (high risk for post traumatic stress)
  • Other psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or bi-polar disorder
  • Friends or acquaintances who are regular users and who provide easy access to drugs or alcohol

Addressing and Reducing Risks

An alternative viewpoint regarding a family history link for addiction comes from a National Institute of Health (NIH) meta-study of 65 published papers documenting 766 study participants who were college or university students. Controlling for alcohol consumption and use disorders, family history was reviewed as the variable. The meta-study found that students who had family histories of alcohol or drug problems did not drink more but they were likely to be more at risk for problems that are associated with drug or alcohol use (ex: causing shame or embarrassment to someone; passing out or fainting; or having problems with school).

The bottom line is that there are still a lot of uncertainties when it comes to assessing drug and alcohol risks as they relate to family history. The good news is that even if you come from a family with a troubled history, or a history of addictions, that does not mean you will automatically become an addict. The risk is higher, but there are ways to prevent that from happening. You can choose to be proactive and greatly reduce your addiction risk.

Here are a few suggestions to reduce your addiction risk:

  • Avoid under-age drinking or substance use; early-onset of use increases risk
  • Choose abstinence or carefully monitor your consumption
  • Avoid associating with heavy drinkers or substance users
  • Manage your psychological health; seek assistance from a mental health provider if you are highly stressed, anxious or depressed
  • Participate in workplace or school prevention programs

Intervention Strategies

Should you already find yourself dealing with an alcohol or drug issue, here are some intervention strategies provided by the National Institute of Health, in their publication, Alcohol Alert:

  • Motivational Interview: This strategy focuses on enhancing your motivation and commitment to changing your behavior, if you are currently abusing drugs or alcohol. Typically you would work with an addictions counselor or mental health professional and discuss your beliefs, choices and behaviors associated with substance use. The purpose of the interview is to help you develop a realistic view of your use, problems associated with it and your treatment goals and expectations.
  • Cognitive–Behavioral Interventions: These strategies are taught by a counselor or therapist, or they can sometimes can be accessed via an online self-help program. They help you change your behavior by helping you recognize when and why you drink excessively or use illegal substances. Cognitive-behavioral approaches challenge irrational expectations about substance use and raise your awareness of how drugs or alcohol affect your health and well-being. They provide tools for mentally and emotionally addressing denial, resistance, self-criticism and shame.
  • Drug-Free Workplace programs: Many workplaces now help their employees who are abusing alcohol or drugs. Lifestyle campaigns encourage workers to ease stress, improve nutrition and exercise, and reduce risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, or drug use. Other programs promote social support and volunteerism. Many Employee Assistance Programs offer employees referrals to substance abuse or other treatment programs, and may help pay for treatment.

Remember, the risk for alcohol and drug addiction does run in families. But you can manage the risk and avoid an addiction problem in your own life. Be proactive in monitoring your substance use, manage your mental and emotional health and seek support if you need it. The final outcome will depend on you and the choices you make today, not on your history.
Complete Article HERE!

Homophobia linked with psychoticism and dysfunctional personality traits


Gay pride london

People taking part in the annual Pride in London Parade on 27 June

Homophobic attitudes have been linked with psychoticism, a psychological trait present in several severe conditions that can also contribute to heightened states of hostility and anger. Researchers say this is the first time psychological and psychopathological characteristics and the prediction of homophobia have been assessed.

Led by researchers at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, the team asked 551 university students, aged between 15 and 30, to complete several psychometric tests to examine the psychological factors that could correlate with homophobia. Using questionnaires, they assessed homophobia levels, psychopathological symptoms, defence mechanisms and attachment styles.

“Homophobic behaviour and a negative attitude toward homosexuals are prevalent among the population,” they wrote in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Despite this, few researchers have investigated the psychologic aspects associated with homophobia, as psychopathologic symptoms, the defensive system, and attachment styles.”

Researchers found that people who scored highly on the psychoticism tests were more likely to have homophobic attitudes. This was also true of those who have immature defence mechanisms – which are the coping techniques helping people reduce anxiety produced by threatening people or uncomfortable situations. People who have immature defence mechanisms tend to be difficult to deal with. Finally people who have a fearful style of attachment, in that they find it difficult to form attachments, were also more predisposed to homophobic attitudes.

In contrast, the findings showed people with depression, neurotic defence mechanisms and a secure style of attachment had a lower risk of being homophobic. “If we suppose that subjects with a high level of psychoticism perceive external reality as a threat and project their anger, for example, against homosexual people, people with depressive traits could direct the anger mainly at themselves,” they suggest.

Concluding, the team say homophobia is a huge social problem involving specific personality features in subjects. They said the findings highlight a “remarkable association between dysfunctional aspects of personality and homophobic attitudes” and that this association could lead to victims of homophobia. “Moreover, our study follows a controversial issue regarding homophobia as a possible mental disorder, and it also discusses the possible clinical implications that cross inevitably into the area of psychiatric epistemology.”

Lead author Emmanuele A Jannini, president of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine, said: “After discussing for centuries if homosexuality is to be considered a disease, for the first time we demonstrated that the real disease to be cured is homophobia, associated with potentially severe psychopathologies.”

 Complete Article HERE!

The Virginity Myth

Name: Tia
Gender: Female
Age: 19
I have a problem. I’m still a virgin, but my bf thinks I’m not. It’s really my fault he thinks this, cuz I told him I was all experienced and everything. We’ve been going together for about 8 months already and I really want my first time to be with him, but how am I going to act all experienced when I don’t know what I’m doing.

That sure enough is a pickle you got yourself into darlin’. You’ve got some ‘splanin’ to do Lucy!

Funny, because I’m more likely to hear from young women who are not virgins, who want to know how they can fool a new partner into thinking, they are. I guess we can chalk up all this deception and confusion to the powerful associations every culture imposes on virginity…female virginity, that is.

virginityLike most things sexual there is a huge double standard between the cultural and personal importance of virginity between the sexes. The cultural expectations about virginity are also tied to age as well as gender. For example, our society expects its 16-year-old girls to be virgins. To be otherwise, at that tender age, would be a scandal in most communities. But a 35year old woman who is still a virgin is considered an old maid — or worse, a dyke — in our society.

Of course, things are more fluid when it comes to boys and men. On the one hand, a 16year old boy, who is not a virgin, may raise some eyebrows in most communities. But many others in those same communities would praise him for being a stud. On the other hand, a 35year old man who is still a virgin is not only the butt of jokes — or worse, a queer — but he’s also more of a disgrace to his gender than an old maid is to hers. Funny how that works, huh?

I hasten to add that there is a lot to argue with in terms of these arbitrary cultural norms, and I encourage ya’ll to argue away. God knows I do! And you don’t have to buy into them either. God knows I don’t! But till things change these norms are the norms, like it or lump it.

I’d love to know why you felt the need to deceive your BF in the first place? Do the people you hang with, prize sexual experience over sexual innocence for a woman of 19? And what are the expectations of your group regarding a 19year old guy? I’ll bet the expectation is that he not be a virgin. Right?

Well you can see why a lot of people, not just you Tia, find this whole thing just too damned complicated. And rather than adding to the confusion or the deception, I encourage you to come clean with the BF about your cherry.Sign-Virginville-VillageOf

Here’s why I think this is the best policy. First, if the BF is sexually experienced, it will be very difficult for you to hide the fact that you’re not. Besides, like you said in your message to me. “I really want my first time to be with him.” Tell him that, sweetheart! No man is gonna turn that down…ever. Simply put, that is the most sexually charged and treasured sentence in any language.

Begin the big talk with your man like this. “Baby, I got something real special to tell you. You know how I’ve been sayin that I’ve been with other guys and shit? Well that was just my way of keeping all the other guys from pestering me for my junk. Baby, the truth is that I haven’t had sex before now. And the best part of this is I’ve decided that I really want my first time to be with you. My cherry belongs to you, baby”

Like I said, Tia, no man is gonna turn that down. The BF will be so flattered you won’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. Clearing the air like this will also allow you to relax when the magic moment finally happens. And relaxation is the key to enjoying yourself. And you should enjoy yourself.

Good luck

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