Gender identity, puberty and sex

Sensible information on puberty, sex and sexuality and how to talk about it as a family…

Questions about sex and puberty may come up quite early in the primary school years, but most children don’t question either their gender or sexuality until they are hitting puberty. Puberty of course varies hugely and can be a source of stress for some children if they are at one extreme or the other. You might also be wondering what’s normal! 

Top facts for puberty for young people
What is puberty and what’s normal ? more advice for children and young people from Brook charity
Early or delayed puberty (NHS)
Taking to children about sexuality, safety and relationships.Sensible advice and guidance from the NSPCC
What’s normal sexual behaviour in children? (NSPCC)
Supporting a young person when they come out

My child has told me they are gay
Sex is a Funny Word: a Book about Bodies, Feelings and YOU by Cory Silverberg. This is a sex-education book for kids aged 7-11, but it’s worded to allow for any expression of gender and sexuality in the future which makes it quite unique. Highly rated by parents

Understanding gender identity

Finding gender identity confusing? There are many ways young people might express their gender. Some children who were born genetically a ‘male’ or ‘female’, may not feel like a boy or girl when they are older. They may prefer to dress in clothes or play with toys traditionally considered more typical of the opposite gender or feel like they are the opposite gender. Other children feel that neither being called a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ fits them or that they feel comfortable with both (this is often called non-binary). This can be a very normal phase in a child’s development and of exploring their identity. It also appears to be more common for young people with autistic spectrum disorders. It may also be a way of rejecting traditional gender stereotypes which can feel too restrictive. Gender stereotypes have undergone huge changes throughout history and are even now very different worldwide. Some children can feel quite sure they feel they are of the opposite gender from as young as 8-9 years but for most young people, such feelings become more apparent in their early teens. 

Gender dysphoria or questioning your sexuality is not a mental illness, but the experience can be very difficult for some young people and their families. Some may experience high levels of anxiety, depression and thoughts of self-harm, especially if their families, culture or religion are not accepting. Some may just feel unsure about their gender or sexuality and need time and acceptance while they figure it out. Fortunately, there is now a lot of really helpful advice and support for families and young people and there are helplines or online chat options if you or your child just need someone to talk to (see below). The debate around gender can be quite polarised, especially in social media, so be aware that some agencies or individuals may have strong opinions e.g about early access to hormone treatments, in both directions. Around puberty, young people may also start to question their sexuality- for extra advice and resources have a look at the secondary pages here

Information and helplines on gender issues

  • Bristol Mind run MindLine Trans offering support to anyone with gender issues as well as family or friends which is completely confidential and open to callers nationwide. Open Mondays and Fridays only between 8 pm to midnight 
  • Gender identity development service This is the national NHS specialised service for children and young people, and their families, who experience difficulties in the development of their gender identity. The service works with young people and families to understand the obstacles, and cope with and reduce any distress related to this. Their website has useful information for young people, parents and professionals and also has a helpline. For more information see also the secondary school page. 
  • Gendered Intelligence A charity specialising in supporting ages 8-25 years, including support for parents/carers and professionals. They have a guide for parents and family members of trans people in the UK.  


  • George by Alex Gino: a book about a boy who wants to be a girl, suitable from about 9-10 years. Has won multiple awards.
  • 30 essential LGBT+ books for young adult readers some here are suitable for younger readers too
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan. Perfect for 10+ years. In the second book of this adventure series, readers meet Alex, one of the best depictions of a trans, ‘genderfluid teenager in the genre. Alex’s gender identity is crucial to the plot.
  • Being a Boy by Juno Dawson is a fantastic book about puberty, gender, and sexuality for 11+. Some sections are fairly explicit so as a parent, you may want to read them first but by age 13 yrs there won’t be much here that they haven’t already heard at school and it is great for dispelling some of those playground myths. Funny, sensible and full of illustrations, highly rated by parents.
  • Being a Girl by Hayley Long. Another good book, less explicit and therefore suitable for younger teens as well. Described as “friendly, funny, warm and engaging” by one reviewer. 


  • Kids on the Edge  A ground-breaking Channel 4 documentary exploring the complex issues for children and young people. Episode 1 is about the Gender Clinic.