Testosterone for Transgender Men and Transmasculine People

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Transgender men and other transmasculine individuals may use testosterone to masculinize their bodies in order to align their bodies with their gender identity. Unlike transfeminine people who need to use a testosterone blocker in order for gender-affirming hormone therapy to be effective, there is no need to block the production of estrogen when taking testosterone. Testosterone is a more biologically effective hormone, and it will induce changes when taken on its own. 

Closeup of palm with the transgender flag painted on it
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Effects of Testosterone

When people take testosterone to affirm their gender, it can lead to a number of permanent, irreversible changes in the body. (This is in contrast with puberty blockers, which are entirely reversible.) 

Desirable physical changes that can be caused by testosterone include:

  • Increased face and body hair
  • Increased lean mass and muscle growth
  • Lowering of vocal pitch
  • Increased interest in sexual activity
  • Stopping menstruation
  • Clitoral growth

Transgender men and transmasculine individuals who take testosterone for gender dysphoria also report declines in dysphoria, depression, and anxiety. This is because the treatment helps align their bodies to fit their identities and makes them feel more like themselves.

There are aspects of gender affirmation that testosterone treatment can not manage on its own. If an individual has gone through puberty and grown breasts, testosterone may somewhat shrink the breast tissue but not remove them entirely. Testosterone can not make someone grow taller if their bones have already matured from early estrogen exposure. 

Types of Testosterone

There are a number of different types of testosterone, which can be administered in different ways. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these options. There can also be substantial cost differences, and not all formulations are covered by all insurers.

In addition to different formulations by which testosterone can be administered, there are also different types of testosterone, referred to as testosterone esters. These include testosterone cypionate, testosterone enanthate, and testosterone undecanoate.

Testosterone undecanoate has only recently becomes available in the U.S. and has been associated with rare but serious side effects (severe allergic reactions and lung reactions). Therefore, it is less commonly used in the U.S. than the other forms, and all injections need to be given in a monitored medical setting by a trained health care provider who is registered in a special safety program.

There is very limited data comparing the safety and efficacy of these different testosterone esters, and they are thought to be largely interchangeable. In general, most providers prescribe whatever type of testosterone that they are most familiar with that comes in an appropriate format for the patient.

Prescription choices may also be limited by the availability of certain types of testosterone and which formulas are covered by insurance.

Intramuscular Injections

Testosterone can be injected into the muscle (IM injection). Intramuscular injections have historically been the most easily available, but can be more painful than subcutaneous injections. In addition, they may need to be administered by a medical provider or family member. Intramuscular injections are commonly used every one to two weeks.

Subcutaneous Injections

Testosterone can also be injected under the skin (subcutaneous or sub-q injection). Subcutaneous injections are easier for people to give themselves, but they may not be a good option for those with needle anxiety. However, they are less painful and easier to manage, due to less frequent medical visits, and are only used every one to two weeks.

Subcutaneous Pellets

This is a way to deliver long-lasting pellets of testosterone under the skin, reducing the frequency of treatment to once every three to six months. Where subcutaneous pellets (testopel) are available, they allow for easy, long-term dosing without the need for repeated doctor visits or self-injection.

However, patients are committed to the dose that is implanted. This can be a problem if dose changes are needed to either raise or lower the amount of testosterone in the body

Topical Testosterone

Testosterone can be delivered topically through gels, creams, and patches. Testosterone gels and creams are easy to use. However, they generally must be used daily.

In addition, it is important to keep other people from touching the gel or skin after gel application. Otherwise, they may also get a dose of testosterone.

There is also a risk for a local skin reaction or rash with topical testosterone. This includes testosterone patches, which can also be difficult to find and/or to get covered by insurance. 

Oral Testosterone

Oral testosterone is also available, but as with gels, creams, and patches has the disadvantage of daily dosing. It is not widely used.

Risks of Testosterone Use

Testosterone treatment is not without side effects. For example, a well-known issue is male pattern baldness. There can also be an increase in acne, and many testosterone users gain weight. In addition, testosterone use is associated with reduced HDL cholesterol and increased triglycerides.

It is unclear whether these risks in transgender men and transmasculine people are any higher than in cisgender men. However, they are higher than in cisgender women. 

A Word From Verywell

Testosterone is generally considered to be a safe and effective way for transmasculine people to affirm their gender identity. However, it's not something that should be undertaken without adequate information and consideration.

In particular, it's important for transgender men and non-binary people considering testosterone to think about their fertility prior to starting testosterone. It is much easier to undergo any desired fertility preservation before hormonal gender affirmation than after.

Although testosterone is somewhat effective at stopping menstruation, it should not be used as the sole form of contraception for transmasculine people who have penetrative sex with partners with penises. Although it may not be common, it is possible to get pregnant while you are not having your period. Therefore, those who are at risk of unintended pregnancy should consider using additional forms of contraception, such as condoms or an IUD.

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