Summary: Study reveals 11-year-olds who question their gender identity or express a desire to change their gender enter puberty earlier than their peers.

Source: Aarhus University

A new study from Aarhus University shows that children who have expressed a desire at the age of 11 to be a different gender enter puberty earlier than their peers. However, more research is required, says the researchers behind the study.

The transition to puberty can be difficult for children who are afflicted by doubt about their own gender identity. New research from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University suggests that these children also enter puberty earlier than children who are not in doubt about their gender identity. Master’s programme student Anne Hjorth Thomsen and Professor Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen are behind the study.

The study, which is one of the first in the world to examine the correlation between children’s desire to be the opposite gender and their development in puberty, was undertaken as part of the research project “Better Health for Generations” (BSIG), which has monitored 100,000 Danish women’s pregnancies and births, as well as the growth and development of their children, since 1996.

In the study, the children were asked at the age of 11 about a possible desire to be the opposite gender. This information was then combined with data in which, every six months, the children reported their current stage in various puberty milestones. At age 11, around 5% of the children in the study reported either a partial or a full desire to be the opposite gender.

“The results indicate that children who at age 11 reported a desire to be the opposite gender tended to go into puberty before children who had not expressed a desire to change their gender. In the study, both birth-assigned boys and girls with a previous expressed desire to change gender entered puberty around two months earlier than their peers,” says Anne Hjorth Thomsen.

Anne Hjorth Thomsen stresses that more research is needed before any final conclusions can be drawn, but that it is important that health staff are aware of children’s previous puberty development. Image is in the public domain

Anne Hjorth Thomsen stresses that more research is needed before any final conclusions can be drawn, but that it is important that health staff are aware of children’s previous puberty development.

“Health professionals may encounter a desire to slow down puberty, because the child may not feel comfortable in their own body, or able to identify with it. It is therefore important that the healthcare professionals possess basic knowledge about the puberty development of the children, so that treatment can be applied at the right time.”

Anne Hjorth Thomsen and Professor Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen recommend that the research results be followed up by new studies.

“In this study, we see earlier puberty development among children who wish to be the opposite gender, compared to children who do not wish to be the opposite gender. But we do not know whether the children’s own gender perception affects their puberty development, or whether there may be other explanations. We do not know the underlying causes,” says Anne Hjorth Thomsen.

About this neurodevelopment research news

Author: Jakob Christensen
Source: Aarhus University
Contact: Jakob Christensen – Aarhus University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
“Gender incongruence and timing of puberty: a population-based cohort study” by Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen et al. Fertility and Sterility


Abstract

Gender incongruence and timing of puberty: a population-based cohort study

Objective

To study whether the timing of puberty in adolescents who reported gender incongruence (incongruence between birth-assigned sex and self-identified gender) was different from those adolescents who reported gender congruence.

See also

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Design

Population-based cohort study using data from the Danish National Birth Cohort.

Setting

Not applicable.

Patient(s)

Birth-assigned boys and girls born between 2000 and 2003, who self-reported gender incongruence at 11 years (N = 10,046) and their pubertal developmental stages from age 11 years to every 6 months throughout puberty were included.

Intervention(s)

Not applicable.

Main Outcome Measure

Mean age differences in months at reaching Tanner stages 2–5 for breast or genital development and pubic hair, voice break, first ejaculation, menarche, axillary hair, acne, and the average difference at attaining all pubertal milestones (primary outcome).

Result(s)

In total, 549 (5.5% ) adolescents reported part or full gender incongruence at 11 years. Tendencies toward earlier timing of puberty were observed in adolescents who reported part gender incongruence (average difference, birth-assigned boys: −3.2 months [95% confidence interval {CI}: −6.7; 0.3]; birth-assigned girls: −2.0 months [95% CI: −3.9; −0.1]). Tendencies toward earlier timing of puberty were observed in adolescents who reported full gender incongruence (average difference, birth-assigned boys: −2.4 months [95% CI: −5.0; 0.4]; birth-assigned girls: −1.9 months [95% CI: −5.1; 1.2]).

Conclusions

The results from this study indicated that birth-assigned boys and girls who reported either part or full gender incongruence tended to reach puberty slightly earlier than those adolescents who reported gender congruence at 11 years of age. Knowledge on the timing of puberty among adolescents who experience gender incongruence is essential to inform mutual decision-making in clinical settings.



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