Health and Wellness

Puberty blockers make transgender teens feel better about themselves

A doctor writing with a teen patient and another patient. Maybe the dishy doctor is writing a prescription for puberty blockers, as described in the article? It's a mystery... well, less a mystery and more like it's a stock photo
Photo: Shutterstock

A new study in the U.K. found that puberty blockers make transgender teens happier and almost all the teens who participated went on to undergo hormone replacement therapy.

“Participant experience of treatment as reported in interviews was positive for the majority, particularly relating to feeling happier, feeling more comfortable, better relationships with family and peers and positive changes in gender role,” the study from the U.K.’s NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) said.

Related: Puberty blockers reduce suicidal thoughts in trans people. Republicans want to ban them.

Puberty blockers are hormones that delay the onset of puberty so that transgender teens, their parents, and their doctors can have more time to figure out a course of treatment before puberty starts changing their bodies in permanent, life-altering ways associated with their sex assigned at birth.

The medical treatment has become controversial, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Last year, a court in the U.K. ruled that teens need to get a court’s permission to take puberty blockers, effectively putting them out of reach of many transgender teens and effectively accusing doctors of not caring about their patients’ best interests. The court said that they’re worried that many teens who take puberty blockers will go on to become transgender adults, as if puberty blockers can make someone transgender.

In the U.S., state Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced bills to ban puberty blockers for minors, calling them a form of “child abuse.” Conservatives in the U.S. frequently make the opposite argument of their British counterparts – they say that teens who take puberty blockers may not be transgender as adults and therefore they’re undergoing an unnecessary medical intervention.

Previous research has shown that teens who wanted puberty blockers and got them were at a much lower risk of suicidal thoughts for the rest of their lives.

The new study, published in the journal Plos One, involve 44 teens – both boys and girls – with persistent gender dysphoria who were between 12- and 15-years-old. The teens underwent a course of gonadotropin releasing hormone analogues, a puberty blocking regimen. The hormones are not intended to reduce gender dysphoria, but to keep it from getting worse.

The researchers followed the teens for up to three years and found that 43 of them went on to get hormone replacement therapy at age 16 (one teen dropped out of the study). Most of the teens reported that the puberty blockers had a positive effect on them, which included feeling closer to their families, feeling more accepted, and having fewer arguments. A few reported negative side effects like mood swings and low energy levels.

But none of the teens who stuck with the study wanted to stop the puberty blocking treatment.

The study found that the teens’ bone development slowed down due to the puberty blockers, but the researchers expected that development to continue as normal after they stopped taking them. But, because people who oppose transgender youth are looking for reasons to oppose gender affirming medical care, the anti-transgender British tabloid Daily Mail used this headline to describe the study: “Puberty blockers given to children wanting to change gender at controversial NHS clinic ‘impair height growth and bone density’, data reveals.”

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