Here’s The Deal With Puberty Blockers

Puberty-blocking medications are being used to essentially press pause on puberty for young trans-identified patients. So how do they work?

Since gender-nonconforming and trans children are now questioning their gender identities at earlier and earlier ages, puberty blockers have become one of the first steps many take toward potentially transitioning.

Since gender-nonconforming and trans children are now questioning their gender identities at earlier and earlier ages, puberty blockers have become one of the first steps many take toward potentially transitioning.

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When someone makes the decision to transition, part of that process can be social (changing pronouns, letting people know what name you prefer, or trying out a new wardrobe) and, for some, it can also involve medical interventions (surgery or hormone therapy). While medical interventions may not be part of everyone's journey, for those who include it, it's often considered medically necessary.

Puberty blockers, which are commonly used to treat children who begin puberty too early, are a relatively new practice when it comes to treating trans and gender-nonconforming children. Understandably, people still have a lot of questions and concerns about using them.

BuzzFeed LGBT spoke with experts Dr. Jeremi M. Carswell, the director of the Gender Management Service Division of Endocrinology at the Children's Hospital of Boston, Dr. Ralph Vetters, medical director of the Sidney Borum Health Center at Fenway Health in Boston, Dr. Aron Janssen, founder and clinical director or the Gender and Sexuality Service at NYU's Child Study Center, and Dr. Karin Selva, a pediatric endocrinologist at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, Oregon, to cut through the misconceptions and get down to the facts.

Puberty blockers (also called puberty inhibitors or puberty suppressors) are a type of medication that essentially hit pause on the physical changes that would occur during puberty.

Puberty blockers (also called puberty inhibitors or puberty suppressors) are a type of medication that essentially hit pause on the physical changes that would occur during puberty.

“It’s a great way to stop the development of unwanted secondary sexual characteristics in a trans-identified youth until they get old enough to [start transitioning],” says Vetters. Secondary sex characteristics are all those physical changes you notice popping up during puberty — growth of hair in some places, the development of breasts, a deepening of the voice, etc.

Most children who experience gender dysphoria will not continue to experience it into adolescence, but a portion do continue to experience those uncomfortable feelings and seek transitioning later in life, found one one study. By using blockers, kids are given just a bit more time to figure things out without also dealing with the discomforts of gender dysphoria — which often worsens during puberty.

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To really understand how these blockers work, you’ll have to remember how puberty gets started. (Hint: It’s all about the pituitary gland.)

To really understand how these blockers work, you'll have to remember how puberty gets started. (Hint: It's all about the pituitary gland.)

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