Purpose of review
To summarize the most recent evidence regarding nonprescribed androgen use among women and trans men.
Fourteen heterogeneous studies met inclusion criteria. Three provided lifetime prevalence estimates among particular subgroups (from 0.5 to 8%), whereas one longitudinal study found adverse childhood experiences predicted later nonprescribed androgen use. Mental health and substance problems appear to correlate with severity of use, but evidence is mixed as to whether female users had lower or equal mental health burdens compared to male users. Studies that discuss motivation highlighted the dynamic risk management that underlies decisions to continue use; benefits have to outweigh undesired effects, whereas some sexual side effects are re-framed to be positive. Finally, a theme among qualitative studies is the gendered experiences of nonprescribed androgen use, and the search for knowledge and communities created by women.
Prevalence, side effects, and trajectories of use appear to be different for women than men. Women users need gender-specific information, although some are able to navigate male-dominated knowledge sources and are creating a female ethnopharmacology that privileges women's experiences. Health research, including epidemiology, gravely needs a gender perspective when examining nonprescribed androgen use, and one that is inclusive of transgender people.