One of the most common reasons patients seek care from an ob.gyn. is for contraceptive counseling and family planning. While prescribing contraceptives for cisgender patients is often part of the daily routine for ob.gyns., many are unfamiliar with counseling and options for patients who identify as transgender. In a survey of practicing ob.gyns. in nine academic centers, 80% did not receive training on caring for transgender patients.1 Other studies have found that 5.5%-9% of transgender men have reported that a clinician informed them that testosterone was a contraceptive.2,3
Testosterone is not a reliable form of contraception and, in fact, testosterone is considered category X, as it can induce labial fusion, produce abnormal vaginal development, cause a persistent urogenital sinus, and cause clitoromegaly in the developing fetus. Given the teratogenic effects of testosterone, it is imperative that patients who do not desire pregnancy receive appropriate contraceptive options. Counseling of patients should be individualized and start by taking a comprehensive sexual history. Such strategies include using gender-inclusive language, avoiding assumptions about sexual orientation, and obtaining an anatomic inventory of both the patient and their partner(s).4 While a majority of patients achieve amenorrhea while taking testosterone, it is important to discuss the need for contraception if patients are engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse. According to a study of 41 transmasculine patients who achieved pregnancy, one-third of pregnancies were unplanned. Another study reported that 20% of transmasculine patients were taking testosterone and amenorrheic at the time of conception.2
Contraindications to certain types of contraception, such as a history of a thromboembolic event precluding a patient from using combined oral contraceptives, still apply. Transmasculine patients have additional concerns that providers should be aware of and sensitive to when prescribing contraceptives. Gender dysphoria may be exacerbated by contraceptive options that require a pelvic exam or procedure, such as an intrauterine device. For patients that desire an IUD but experience heightened distress in anticipation of the procedure, premedication with anxiolytics or topical anesthetics are reasonable options.4 Using an adequate amount of lubricant and a small speculum may also make the exam more comfortable for patients, especially if patients do not engage in receptive frontal intercourse. Of note, certain types of IUDs, such as the Paragard, may cause pelvic cramping or abnormal bleeding, which could be a trigger for dysphoria. Patients may also experience worsening dysphoria by repeatedly taking a medication that is often associated with cisgender women, such as combined oral contraceptives (COCs). Furthermore, patients may want to avoid COCs secondary to concerns about potential feminizing effects of these hormones and their counteraction of masculinizing effects of testosterone. While COCs act to lower androgen levels by increasing sex hormone–binding globulin, which subsequently binds to testosterone, the amount of estrogen in the pill does not contribute significantly to inhibiting masculinization, and patients should be counseled accordingly.4,5 Side effects such as breast tenderness, which is common among COCs and other estrogen-containing contraceptives, can increase dysphoria and make chest binding more painful. In patients who undergo gender-affirming mastectomies, these effects are less pronounced, however, there may be residual breast tissue left behind which can still produce tenderness and pain.
Sterilization is also a reasonable option in transmasculine patients desiring permanent contraception. Similar to sterilization counseling in cisgender women, a discussion about the irreversibility of the procedure and rates of regret should occur. Transmasculine patients may seek hysterectomy for contraception and to avoid further pelvic exams, cervical cancer screening, pelvic cramping, and/or uterine bleeding. Providers should be knowledgeable about the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards of care for gender-affirming hysterectomies and counsel patients appropriately.
In summary, transmasculine and all gender-diverse patients deserve the same comprehensive care that their cisgender counterparts receive. Even if the ob.gyn. is not the prescribing physician for testosterone, we all must have a basic understanding of the effects of testosterone and provide appropriate contraceptive services and family planning options to patients when indicated.
Dr. Brandt is an ob.gyn. and fellowship-trained gender-affirming surgeon in West Reading, Pa.
1. Unger CA. J Women’s Health. 2015;24(2):114-8.
2. Abern L and Maguire K. Obstet Gynecol. 2018;131:65S.
3. Light A et al. Contraception. 2018;98:266-9.
4. Krempasky C et al. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020;222(2):134-43.
5. Goodman NF et al. Endocrin Pract. 2015:21(11):1291-300.