We present the analysis of the electronic structure for 31 steroids by using HeI UV photoelectron spectroscopy (UPS) and MO calculations. The electronic structure of molecules in the gas phase is related directly to steroid-receptor binding measurements. The results indicate that formally 'inert' σ-skeleton plays a crucial role in diversifying the electronic structures of the title compounds ('ribbon-orbital effect'). This is an attempt to rationalize the biological activity of steroids (represented through steroid-receptor binding) by making direct correlation between spectroscopic and biological data. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.