Seminar: ‘Pausing the Girl: Hormones, Drugs and Puberty’

In this talk Dr. Celia Roberts discusses pharmaceutical treatments that use hormones to pause early sexual development, holding off pubertal changes.

International epidemiological evidence demonstrates that more girls than ever before are now enter puberty before the age of 8.  Early onset puberty can be an alarming experience for parents and is thought to entail short- and long-term physical and psychosocial risks for girls. This paper arises from a book length study of this phenomenon that examines scientific, medical and popular discourses around early sexual development, critically exploring claims about its nature, causes and consequences. In this talk I discuss pharmaceutical treatments that use hormones to ‘pause’ early sexual development, holding off pubertal changes.

Reading online pharmaceutical advertising as well as scientific and clinical literatures, guides for parents and patient advocacy literatures, I explore the ways in which risk, childhood, bodies, futurity and sex are articulated through discourses advocating these medications. Engaging with sociological and STS literatures on pharmaceuticalisation and existing feminist and queer work on atypical sexual development and transgender children, I argue that prescribing hormonal medications to children raises serious ethical issues and should not be seen as a straightforward ‘solution’ to early sexual development.

Celia Roberts is the Co-Director of the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies and a Board member of the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University. She is the author of Messengers of Sex: Hormones, Biomedicine and Feminism (2007) and with Sarah Franklin, co-author of Born and Made: An ethnography of Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (2006).