Inside Female Doping

By: Hailey Foster

It is possible that throughout time with the abundance of examples demonstrating the increased corruptness and lack of civility towards certain issues, people can act rather calmly and nonchalantly when in the past, the reaction would have been more genuine. One of these examples falls under the category of athletes using performance enhancing drugs in order to showcase to the world just how impressive their statistics and abilities are. While the realization of some athletes taking these enhancements comes at no surprise, most people will have to agree with the fact that in most of these breaking news stories, the individual who is using these drugs is typically male because that is how society has almost normalized this unfortunate situation. Women athletes do in fact take performance enhancing drugs and supplements, but some of the reasons why may come as a shock. 

Despite the common knowledge that women athletes are less likely to use drugs than their male counterparts, this does not stray from the fact that women will not resort to using them at all. There are many examples of women who fell victim to taking enhancements such as track stars like Regina Jacobs, Kelli White, and most famously, Olympic star Marion Jones, who was stripped of all her gold medals and was sent to prison after it was made publicly aware of what she had done. She was seen as a hero to girls everywhere and even regarded as the fastest woman on earth. As soon Jones admitted her use of drugs to the public eye, many people were quick to judge not only her athletic capabilities, but they took it a step further and took a jab at all of women’s athletic performances as a whole. People believed that Marion Jones could never have achieved her status as an athlete without the drugs and increased production of male hormones, which gave society the very idea that women and girls cannot be athletic on their own. 

Marion Jones stripped of her medals. Courtesy of ABC News

While taking part in drug use is not tolerated in society at all, one reason why women sometimes do fall victim to this action is the fact that throughout history, it took much longer for them to be regarded as stellar athletes. According to Rose Stoloff, a sports editor for The Oberlin Review, he said that young girls and even college athletes, to a certain extent, still constantly have to affirm their athleticism to their male counterparts. 

Circling back to the main idea that women take part in drugs similar to men, according to an article from Outside Magazine, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released a gender breakdown of PED violations which gives evidence that four times as many male athletes tested positive for PED than female athletes. However, this number does not imply that women are less likely to turn to performance enhancing drugs. In fact, women who do turn to PEDs benefit from small doses of them, which gives them a boost in performance. 

“The old files of the German Democratic Republic have shown that their official doping plan targeted females, as those effects had more impact than they did on their male counterparts,” said Olivier de Hon, scientific expert at the Anti-Doping Authority of The Netherlands.

There is some evidence sprouting from documents that indicate doping among World Championship and Olympic track and field athletes is more widespread than most people would have thought. There are indications that female athletes may be doping at similar rates to their male counterparts. 

Annie Skinner, a spokeswoman for the United States Anti-Doping Association, said, “We know that the win-at-all-costs culture exists in all sports, at all levels, and that the temptation to use performance-enhancing drugs to cheat your competitor isn’t limited by gender.” She implies that as long as there is a desire to win, doping will continue to be a threat among men and women. 

This information about women taking PEDs can coincide with the notion that a decent majority of people are against the idea of allowing transgender women to participate in sports, and specifically tailored to compete against cis women. The reason for this correlation is due to the misconception that transgender women have a naturally high level of testosterone, which creates a disadvantage for her other competitors. According to an article from the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, researchers found that hemoglobin, a metalloprotein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the blood, is the key to understanding “unfair competition” in transgender athletes. An increase in hemoglobin increases the amount of oxygen to the muscles, and increased hemoglobin appears to confer a competitive advantage in many sports. 

Testosterone Function courtesy of She Cares website

As many people would have thought that testosterone was the larger culprit at hand, the real answer is hemoglobin. Researchers from the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine have also discovered that “blood doping”, the practice of increasing hemoglobin levels, is banned as are medications that stimulate the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells.   

Courtesy of Brandon Marcello, PhD

Even after discovery of this useful information, the NCAA states that a trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication … may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment. 

As stated previously, women benefit in taking small amounts of steroids. According to an article about gender, steroids, and fairness in sports, there is a proposed hypothesis that states that long after an individual has ceased to ingest steroids, there is still a continuing advantage in performance. In women, once an athlete has stopped taking PEDs, she will continue to notice enhanced performance because a benefit of the drug, in this case, elevated capacity for muscle growth, still persists. The article also states that athletes who have enjoyed elevated levels of testosterone arising from drug use are not clean for decades after they have stopped using them. 

While it is no surprise that women do in fact participate in drug use similarly to men, it is possible that a reason for this stems from the longing of affirmation that male athletes receive. Female athletes are at a lower risk of being tested for doping, but this does not necessarily mean that they will not turn to drugs in order to be regarded as stellar athletes like men. This explanation does not warrant acceptance for drug use within the sports industry, but it does warrant some sort of “understanding” to this exceedingly unfortunate situation. 


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