Puberty blockers are medication used to delay the onset of puberty.
The changes to your body that happen during puberty can be distressing if they are not in line with your gender. Puberty blockers can help relieve this distress. Delaying puberty gives you more time to explore your gender identity, before changes happen to your body that can’t be reversed.
If you are under age 18, the criteria for getting a prescription for a puberty blocker are:
- a long-lasting and intense pattern of gender non-conformity or gender dysphoria
- gender dysphoria emerged or worsened with the onset of puberty
- coexisting psychological, medical, or social problems, if any, are stable enough to start treatment
- the adolescent having given informed consent, and the parents or guardians having given consent and being involved in supporting the adolescent throughout the treatment process
Usually an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) monitors puberty blockers and hormone therapy for youth, due to changing needs during adolescence. The endocrinologist can work with your primary care provider for routine monitoring.
The puberty blocker used most often in BC is called Lupron Depot. It is given through a monthly injection in the thigh. Lupron Depot is quite expensive; it costs around $400 a month. It is covered by BC PharmaCare; some families have the cost covered by the PharmaCare Plan G. Extended health care plans may also cover this medication.
If you were assigned male at birth, puberty blockers will stop or limit:
- growth of facial and body hair
- deepening of the voice
- broadening of the shoulders
- growth of adam’s apple
- growth of gonads (testes) and erectile tissue (penis)
If you were assigned female at birth, puberty blockers will stop or limit:
- breast tissue development
- broadening of the hips
- monthly bleeding
In both cases, puberty blockers will temporarily stop or limit:
- growth in height
- development of sex drive
- impulsive, rebellious, irritable or risk-taking behaviour
- accumulation of calcium in the bones
There are no known irreversible effects of puberty blockers. If you decide to stop taking them, your body will go through puberty just the way it would have if you had not taken puberty blockers at all.
Puberty blockers are considered to be very safe overall.
We are not sure if puberty blockers have negative side effects on bone development and height. Research so far shows that the effects are minimal. However, we won’t know the long-term effects until the first people to take puberty-blockers get older.
If you have erectile tissue (penis) and think you might eventually want to have a vaginoplasty, talk with your primary care provider or endocrinologist for more information.
Vaginoplasty is the surgical procedure that creates a vagina. If you start taking puberty blockers early in puberty you might not be able to have the vaginoplasty surgery that is most commonly used in Canada, later as an adult. There are alternative techniques available, such as the use of a skin graft or colon tissue.
Health care providers refusing to provide puberty blockers to youth can cause additional distress, and may lead to anxiety and depression.
Withholding puberty blockers and hormone therapy is not a neutral option and can result in an increased risk of mental health issues.