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Parental concerns about genital differences in children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia persist regardless of the selected intervention.

BACKGROUND: Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21HD) can affect the in utero development of the genital anatomy of people with the 46XX karyotype. Health professionals engage parents in decision-making regarding managing genitals with this difference, including genital surgery options and patient communication.

AIM: We sought to investigate parental communication with their daughters regarding clitoral size variation related to neonatal CAH.

METHODS: Semistructured in-person interviews of 24 parents of chromosomal XX children with clitoral size variation attributable to a neonatal CAH diagnosis comprised 3 management categories: (1) clitoral reduction surgery (RS) (7 parents, 9 children), (2) clitoral concealment surgery (CS) (8 parents, 8 children), and no surgery on or around the clitoris (NS) (9 parents, 7 children).

OUTCOMES: Four representative themes, Obvious Choice, Still Different, Parental Burden, and Ignorance Is Bliss, were common across all 3 treatment groups.

RESULTS: For most parents, none of the 3 options of genital appearance alteration via clitoral reduction, clitoral concealment surgery, or avoidance of clitoral surgery ameliorated concerns, with most parents expressing an aversion to educating their child on the topic of genital differences, past treatment, or future function.

CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Reliance on surgical treatment pathways to manage this psychosocial concern is ineffective in alleviating parental uncertainty without the application of psychosocial interventions.

STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS: This was a qualitative study but was limited to parents of children with a specific genital difference, without direct exploration of parental values regarding the clitoris or the application of adequate psychosocial care.

CONCLUSION: Healthcare services must have an impact on parental ability to engage in essential communication with their children in cases such as clitoral size variation related to neonatal CAH. Improved communication skills allow parents to engage in more genuine decision-making and adapt to enduring genital reality, including possible future sexual challenges for their adult child, without resorting to burdensome strategies focused on attempts to perpetuate a benevolent ignorance.

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