Psychosexual Outcome of Gender-Dysphoric Children

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Abstract

Objective:

To establish the psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children at 16 years or older and to examine childhood characteristics related to psychosexual outcome.

Method:

We studied 77 children who had been referred in childhood to our clinic because of gender dysphoria (59 boys, 18 girls; mean age 8.4 years, age range 5-12 years). In childhood, we measured the children's cross-gender identification and discomfort with their own sex and gender roles. At follow-up 10.4 ± 3.4 years later, 54 children (mean age 18.9 years, age range 16-28 years) agreed to participate. In this group, we assessed gender dysphoria and sexual orientation.

Results:

At follow-up, 30% of the 77 participants (19 boys and 4 girls) did not respond to our recruiting letter or were not traceable; 27% (12 boys and 9 girls) were still gender dysphoric (persistence group), and 43% (desistance group: 28 boys and 5 girls) were no longer gender dysphoric. Both boys and girls in the persistence group were more extremely cross-gendered in behavior and feelings and were more likely to fulfill gender identity disorder (GID) criteria in childhood than the children in the other two groups. At follow-up, nearly all male and female participants in the persistence group reported having a homosexual or bisexual sexual orientation. In the desistance group, all of the girls and half of the boys reported having a heterosexual orientation. The other half of the boys in the desistance group had a homosexual or bisexual sexual orientation.

Conclusions:

Most children with gender dysphoria will not remain gender dysphoric after puberty. Children with persistent GID are characterized by more extreme gender dysphoria in childhood than children with desisting gender dysphoria. With regard to sexual orientation, the most likely outcome of childhood GID is homosexuality or bisexuality.

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