The care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity in the UK (2021)

Background Paper

Exploratory project

A transfeminine non binary person and transmasculine gender nonconforming person looking at a phone and laughing

Section 2: The social context

The number of young people being referred to gender identity services has increased significantly over the past ten years, both in the UK and internationally. There has been an increase in the number of referrals from girls (sometimes referred to as natal girls, biological females, or those assigned female at birth).

There are divergent views as to the reasons for this. Some think that gender dysphoria has always been prevalent among young people, but was often unrecognised or repressed. Others think it is a new phenomenon, specific to today’s social context. Various social factors and societal changes have been suggested as playing a role in the number of those seeking treatment or contributing to how gender dysphoria is perceived and understood, including:

  • shifting social attitudes towards sex and gender;
  • intense sexualisation and objectification of women associated with female puberty and womanhood;
  • increased visibility of transgender individuals in public life and coverage of trans issues in the media;
  • social pressures to conform, or not conform, to gender norms;
  • experience of homophobic or other types of abuse and bullying;
  • the significant role that social media and the internet play in young people’s lives - which, alternatively, upholds and enforces traditional gender norms; offers opportunities for self-expression and the chance to find supportive communities; or contributes to what some have called a ‘social contagion’ of gender dysphoria.

4. In your view, what social factors are most relevant to the discussion about gender identity in children and adolescents? How might these contribute to:

  • a) the onset or expression of gender dysphoria in children and adolescents; and
  • b) the way gender dysphoria is understood and perceived in society?

5. How might the social factors you have identified affect whether, what, and how care and treatment is provided to children and adolescents?