An ethanol oral self administration paradigm showed the existence of gender differences in alcohol preference in rats: whereas males and females initiated alcohol drinking at similar rates, females maintained their preference for ethanol over a longer duration. Neonatal estrogenization of females, which effectively confers a male phenotype on a genetically female brain, resulted in patterns of drinking that were similar to those displayed by intact male rats, indicating that gender differences in alcohol drinking patterns may be, at least partially, accounted for by sexual differentiation of the brain. To test whether gonadal steroids also exert activational effects on ethanol-seeking behavior, we also examined the effects of gonadectomy alone, or in combination with gonadal steroid replacement therapy. Castration did not significantly alter ethanol consumption in males, although treatment of castrated rats with dihydrotestosterone resulted in a significant inhibition of this parameter. As compared with the situation in intact female rats, ethanol ingestion was significantly reduced in ovariectomized female rats receiving estradiol (E2) and in ovariectomized female rats receiving combined E2 and progesterone replacement therapy. However, neither ovariectomy nor progesterone replacement in ovariectomized rats resulted in ethanol drinking patterns that were different compared to those observed in intact female controls. Thus, dihydrotestosterone and E2, respectively, appear to exert modulatory influences on the male and female rats' preference for ethanol, but further investigations are necessary to determine to what extent these effects result from activational actions on the brain.