Most children grow out of gender confusion over time, long-term study suggests

The study comes amid increasing public skepticism of offering teenagers "gender-affirming care."

A young girl at the annual New York City Pride March in New York City on June 25, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

While proponents of “gender-affirming” treatment for adolescents claim that the confusion surrounding gender isn’t just a phase that one can grow out of, a long-term, large-scale study from the Netherlands seems to suggest otherwise.

For their study, researchers at the University of Groningen looked at data collected from 2,772 individuals through a survey spanning 15 years. Beginning at age 11, the participants were periodically asked about how they felt about their own gender, until they reached their mid-twenties.

The survey contained a prompt, “I wish to be of the opposite sex.” The participants were asked to respond to that same statement every two to three years over the course of the 15-year study, and each time, they were given a multiple choice: “Not True,” “Somewhat or Sometimes True,” and “Very True or Often True.”

According to the findings, 11 percent of participants reported at least some degree of “non-contentedness” with their gender at some point during the study. But by the age of 25, the dissatisfaction rate had dropped to 4 percent.

Overall, 78 percent of participants retained the same feelings about their gender over the course of 15 years. Around 19 percent became more content with their gender, while about 2 percent became less comfortable.

To evaluate the participants’ well-being and mental health, researchers asked them to rate how they felt about their physical appearance and self esteem. The results, they said, showed associations between experiencing discontent with their gender and a poorer self-image and mental health.

The researchers pointed out some limitations of the study. For instance, the participants were taken from the general population, meaning that the study didn’t primarily focus on children who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

With that said, they still concluded that the findings seem to support the idea that discontentment with one’s gender was more common among teens than with adults. “In summary, having the wish to be of the opposite sex is relatively common in this combined general population and clinical sample,” the authors wrote.

“The results of the current study might help adolescents to realize that it is normal to have some doubts about one’s identity and one’s gender identity during this age period and that this is also relatively common,” they continued, adding that the findings might also provide doctors in care of gender-confused teenagers with a more comprehensive view of the range of developmental patterns of gender identity in the general population.

All the study’s participants were from the Netherlands, where doctors pioneered the use of medical interventions to treat children experiencing gender dysphoria. The “Dutch Protocol,” derived from the Dutch clinicians’ approach that involves puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgical procedures, has become internationally synonymous with “gender-affirming care.”

The study was published in February in Archives of Sexual Behavior, the official journal of the International Academy of Sex Research. But it only recently drew attention after a report by the Daily Mail was shared by X owner Elon Musk.

“I’m cool with adults doing whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t harm others, but kids need to be protected at all costs,” the billionaire commented on his social media platform.

Mr. Musk has a personal stake in the debate over transgenderism in adolescents. One of his children, Xavier Alexander Musk, in 2022 legally changed his name to Vivian Jenna Wilson, saying in court filings that he “no longer wishes to be related” to his father “in any way.”

“She went beyond socialism to being a full communist and thinking that anyone rich is evil,” Mr. Musk said last August in an interview with The Wall street Journal, placing blame in part on the “woke” education his child received at a $50,000-per-year private school in Santa Monica, California.


Bill Pan | The Epoch Times

Bill Pan is a reporter for The Epoch Times.