Sex Selection


People have always attempted to influence the sex of their children. Until recently, amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling followed by abortion of the undesired fetus was the only effective method. Today, a simple maternal blood test can discover the sex of the fetus at an earlier stage of pregnancy. It is also possible to use in vitro fertilisation and pre‐natal genetic diagnosis to determine the sex of embryos before choosing which embryos to implant in the uterus. Even before conception, one can influence the sex of the embryo through sperm sorting. In some countries, sex selection is used almost exclusively to have boys, but in the West people are more likely to want to ‘balance’ their families than to avoid girls. These developments raise new questions about the ethics of sex selection.

Key Concepts:

  • Interest in sex selection varies across time and culture.

  • Currently available methods of sex selection are all quite burdensome, and include sperm sorting; termination of pregnancy after determination of fetal sex; in vitro fertilisation and preimplantation genetic diagnosis.

  • Sperm sorting enables couples to influence their future child's gender before conception and without embryo destruction.

Keywords: sex; gender; sex selection; sperm sorting; ultrasonography; amniocentesis


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Rothman BK (1998) Genetic Maps and Human Imaginations: The Limits of Science in Understanding Who We are. New York, NY: WH Norton and Company, Incorporated.

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Davis, Dena S(Apr 2012) Sex Selection. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005599.pub2]