Study: Patients Aged 12-18 Account for 8% of Transgender Surgeries

“I suspect the numbers are actually much larger than this,” Richards added. “We just can’t track it all.”

More than 20 states have passed laws to restrict transgender surgeries for minors, some of which have also restricted the use of transgender drugs.
More than 20 states have passed laws to restrict transgender surgeries for minors, some of which have also restricted the use of transgender drugs. (photo: AngelloDeco / Shutterstock)

Patients between the ages of 12 and 18 accounted for nearly 8% of transgender surgeries from 2016 through 2020, according to estimates provided in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

During this time period, researchers estimate that about 3,678 Americans between ages 12 and 18 received transgender surgeries. The study, published Aug. 23, was led by Dr. Jason D. Wright from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Most of the surgeries for patients in this age range were breast and chest procedures, such as the removal of healthy breasts in female patients or the addition of prosthetic breasts in male patients to facilitate a gender transition. More than 87% of the young patients, which is about 3,215 people, received these surgeries.

Transgender genital surgeries, which remove the healthy genitals of the patient and replace them with artificial genitals that resemble the opposite sex, were far less common but were still performed on more than 11% of patients between the ages of 12 and 18. This accounted for about 405 people. 

About 350 patients in this age range, which accounts for more than 9.5% of patients, received other cosmetic surgeries to facilitate a gender transition, according to the estimates.

The study found a discrepancy in younger and older patients with regard to what types of procedures they received. Younger patients were more likely to receive breast and chest surgeries, whereas older patients were more likely to receive genital surgeries.

It is unclear from the study how many patients had turned 18 by the time of surgery and how many were still minors.

“I think it’s deeply concerning that we know already that at least a few thousand American minors are receiving … draconian [and] experimental surgeries,” Jay Richards, the director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA. 

Richards noted that many European countries have begun to restrict transgender surgeries and drugs for minors because of concerns about irreversible changes, but the United States is not “keeping with trends elsewhere in the world.” He noted that “a 13-year-old is not capable of giving informed consent,” which he said is reflected in many other American laws, such as drinking age requirements. 

“The vast majority of young kids struggling [with gender dysphoria] … actually resolve those feelings” if there are no drug or surgical interventions, Richards added. He said these issues should be treated in a way that yields “the least amount of damage” rather than “one of the most draconian possible interventions to treat a psychological disorder that isn’t well understood.”

Richards said medical professionals have been “captured by an ideology,” which led to them justifying these surgeries on children, and he worries the number of children receiving these surgeries could be higher than reported in the estimates. He predicted that we will see de-transitioners filing lawsuits against medical professionals within the next five to 10 years. 

“I suspect the numbers are actually much larger than this,” Richards added. “We just can’t track it all.”

Dr. Michael Artigues, the president of the American College of Pediatricians, told CNA that there is “no evidence to support the use of transgender interventions like surgeries and puberty blockers on adolescents.”

“On the contrary, available research suggests they harm, not help, those struggling with gender dysphoria,” Artigues added. “At ACPeds, we will always promote what is best for children, which is treating underlying conditions and not permanently, unnecessarily altering a healthy body."

More than 20 states have passed laws to restrict transgender surgeries for minors, some of which have also restricted the use of transgender drugs. Many of these states have faced lawsuits from transgender rights activists, some of which have temporarily blocked the enforcement of these laws.