Trans/Sex is a column about trans peoples’ relationships with love, sex, and their bodies. Have a topic suggestion? Contact Ana Valens at [email protected] or @SpaceDoctorPhD on Twitter.
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When a cis person wants to have sex with a trans woman, they often bring a ton of misconceptions and impolite curiosities into the room: How did you get so soft and smooth? Are your breasts real? Did the surgery give you hips? Since you have a dick, you like doing anal, right?
If you’re like me, these questions are tiring. I want to have sex, not play Trans Sex Ed 101. But I get why these myths come up again and again. In Western culture, we assume that the most default, normal, and human sexual experience is penis-in-vagina penetration. This is treated as the gold standard, and trans bodies live in its shadow. The assumption is that a penis, by its sheer existence, must be put into something for sex to happen.
This isn’t true, of course. But if you’ve grown up in a society that tells you sex involves a cis man fucking a cis woman, it’s easy to believe that’s the best way to have sex. Trans sex challenges that. And if you’re interested in a trans woman, you owe it to her to learn a bit more about trans bodies before grabbing coffee, let alone before taking off her clothes.
To combat the knowledge gap, I asked trans women to tell me the biggest misconceptions they’ve come across; I fielded questions from folks who don’t identify as trans women; and I tackled some of the myths I’ve come across in my own sex life. Below are some of the most common myths and outright lies that trans women face in their sex lives.
Myth: We look feminine because of surgery
Everyone assumes that my breasts and curves are from surgery.— Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) March 18, 2019
This is easily one of the most common myths trans women experience both in and out of the bedroom. TV shows assume trans women go through a “sex change surgery” that quickly transforms our bodies. Just sign the waiver and get a new face, perky boobs, vagina transplant, and an amazing ass.
Of course, that’s total bullshit.
Most medical regimens start with hormone replacement therapy, not surgery, and HRT takes time. Trans women in the U.S. usually take estradiol and spironolactone—an estrogen steroid hormone and an antiandrogen, respectively. If you don’t remember high school biology, hormones are like “messengers” running through the body, sending signals to receptors in order to influence DNA transcription. In this case, estradiol activates estrogen receptors in the body while spironolactone suppresses testosterone production. Regardless of sex, our bodies have the ability to receive these instructions.
As more estrogen is received within the body, it causes noticeable physical changes. Some forms of feminization happen quickly. Others take years. Here are all the ways my body changed during my first year on HRT, in chronological order:
- Softer, thinner skin
- Pupils became bigger
- Sweat smelled less and more feminine
- Hair became less wavy, thinner
- Muscle mass dropped
- Breasts began to develop
- Penis’ skin softened, became difficult to reach a full erection, and ejaculate became a clear discharge
- Body hair turned thinner, grew slower, and looked more feminine
- Fat started to redistribute around the hips and rear, among other places
HRT has an enormous impact on how trans women have sex. As Shel Raphen (who uses they/them and ze/hir pronouns) tweeted, a trans woman’s penis “doesn’t work the same and you can’t assume the same stuff will feel good or that you even can do the same things with it.”
1. Estrogen changes your dick!! a lot!! It doesn't work the same and you can't assume the same stuff will feel good or that you even can do the same things with it— SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL (@workingdog_) March 18, 2019
1a. It is highly likely that a trans woman not only doesn't want to penetrate you but also is incapable of it
2. Estrogen dicks don't always get hard but they're still sensitive when soft— SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL (@workingdog_) March 18, 2019
3. Anorgasmia is really really common among trans women and you shouldn't take it as a personal failure if she/they doesn't cum at the end! That doesn't mean it wasn't fun
3a. PLEASE DO NOT make your sexual partner comfort and reassure you that it's OK that she/they didn't cum!!! It kinda ruins the sex and makes sex almost something to dread due to the pressure and guilt and anxiety to "perform"— SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL SHEL (@workingdog_) March 18, 2019
In short: Most changes to trans women’s bodies are not from surgery. In fact, many trans women never go under the knife. Hormone therapy is responsible for the bulk of our bodies’ physical changes, which are gradual.
Myth: Trans women with penises like to top
Also before I had bottom surgery the general assumption was that I was a top.— Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) March 18, 2019
Our society thinks a penis is inherently masculine, penetrative, and male. That isn’t true. Just because a girl has a dick doesn’t mean she’s going to insert it into something. It’s better to think about trans women’s dicks as women’s genitals. A cis man will have a very different relationship with his junk than a trans woman on HRT.
“I find that when dating cis girls who also date cis men, there’s this gravity towards me topping,” one anonymous trans woman told me. “Like, because I have a penis and they have a vagina, everything is going to default to that. I’ve had a couple of cis girls break things off when they find out that I really don’t like topping.”
For many trans women, penetrative sex can feel dysphoric and uncomfortable. Topping can bring us back to our pre-transition days and make us feel like we’re fulfilling a masculine gender role. This is doubly the case if your partner is cisgender and primarily used to sex with other cis people: They may assume a penis has to fuck something for sex to be, well, sex.
Not just that, but trans women’s penises just don’t work like cis men’s penises on HRT. An estrogenized penis, or the feminine penis, has soft, thin skin and is much more sensitive. Our clits are less likely to reach a full erection, if get hard at all, and it just can’t sustain the same force, pressure, and grip as a cisgender man’s penis. For many trans women, this makes penetrative sex literally impossible without ED medication.
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Granted, HRT isn’t the barometer for a trans woman’s genitalia. A penis is a woman’s penis if it’s attached to a woman, regardless of the hormones in the body. And while a trans woman’s penis will act similarly to a cisgender man’s penis without HRT, the same rules apply: Don’t assume she wants to top or penetrate just because she has a dick.
Myth: All trans women like to bottom
If we aren’t tops, we’re all bottoms, right? Again, not the case. I’ll use myself as an example here. While I’m technically a switch, I find topping incredibly fun, and I occasionally like using my clit in a penetrative way. Is it my preference during sex? Not exactly. Will I totally do it if the mood is right? Hell yeah.
That said, while I do like bottoming, I’m not really a fan of being penetrated. I find some forms of anal play fun (girls who eat ass are angels), but that’s it. I’ll make exceptions for partners I’m close with and have plenty of experience with, but if it’s our first time hooking up and I’m bottoming, I’ll usually shoot down anal sex.
This is why it’s so important to talk with your trans partner before hooking up. You can’t assume a trans woman is a top, bottom, or a switch, nor can you assume what kind of sex they like. Like sex with anyone, before you do anything, communicate.
Myth: Penises must be hard to have sex
If you read my last column on masturbation, then you know how I feel about Mira Bellwether’s Fucking Trans Women. All the muffing aside, she has a great section where she criticizes the phallocentric society we live in. Because our culture assumes a dick must be hard for it to be sexual, people with soft or small penises are treated as if their bodies are broken or incapable of having sex. That just isn’t true. In fact, there are plenty of ways to have sex with a penis that isn’t erect.
Bellwether points to the nerves in trans women’s crotches, which she describes as “stretched like a thick web through the penis and crotch.” These nerves—and more specifically, how they’re stimulated—are the key to fingering, touching, and arousing a trans woman with a clit.
“This sounds obvious, but it can be easy to overlook the delicate nature of these nerves and treat the penis like a hunk of meat instead of a delicate instrument,” Bellwether writes. “Knowing the locations of nerve groups and what they connect to will give you better insight into the various ways that we experience pleasure.”
If you’re curious about pre-op and non-op trans women’s internal nerve structure around the penis, check out Fucking Trans Women. The zine gives readers a lot of good ideas about how (and where) to touch.
Myth: All trans women are kinky and horny
One of my least favorite memes about trans women is this:
I hate it for so many reasons. For one, we have a “trap” joke. We have a meme comparing trans women to cis women in a way that puts down our cisgender sisters. But most of all, it holds trans women on a pedestal—if the pedestal was erected by the patriarchy in a search for a down-for-anything, “low-maintenance” woman.
In the meme, the “trap GF” is funny. She’s chill and down to hang. She’s not like the other girls. Best of all, she’s open to having sex any way you want, whereas the cis girlfriend knows where her boundaries are and will say no. Throw in the weird racism going on with “Tyronne” being sexually promiscuous, and this meme is utter trash.
A meme isn’t just a meme. It’s a microcosm for opinions floating around in society. Case in point, the meme above touches on a paradox trans women are thrust into. We’re either disgusting and unfuckable or enormous sexual perverts. It’s like the Madonna-whore complex, but with an added dose of transmisogyny.
It’s true that some trans women embrace alternative sexual experiences and are eager to experiment with their sex lives. After years of sexual repression, who wouldn’t? But trans women aren’t inherently kinky, nor are they more eager to have sex than their cis counterparts. Trans women have their own tastes, preferences, and boundaries, just like cis women. Being trans doesn’t make that any less likely. We’re just forced into a box that suggests we must be kinky because our bodies go against the cisnormative and heteronormative mold.
If you’re interested in learning more about the intersection between kink and trans women’s sexualities, check out my January column on kink. It breaks down a lot of the stigma we face in our sex lives, both for those of us that are kinky and those who aren’t.
So, how should you approach sex?
The good news here is that trans sex is pretty easy to figure out as long as you communicate. If you’re already familiar with checking in on your partners and walking into the bedroom without any assumptions, you’ll do fine.
First off, center your partner. Let her teach you what feels good, what doesn’t, and why consent may be revoked during sex. Listen to what they need, and regularly check in to see if they want to keep going. Familiarize yourself with their body language. If your gut says something is wrong, then it’s probably true.
For instance, some trans women love receiving oral sex but occasionally experience dysphoria when their partners go down on them. They may stop during sex if that dysphoria becomes too overwhelming. If your trans partner tells you this, be ready to check in, keep an eye on your partner, and immediately stop if they ask to stop.
Recognize your knowledge gaps, too. Don’t know where to touch a trans woman? Unsure whether she likes to use her penis or keep it out of sex? If you’re already in the bedroom and clothes are coming off, don’t be afraid to ask these questions. We’ll be happy to answer, as long as they’re respectful and appropriate. Here are some common examples that come up before sex:
- Do you like topping, bottoming, or a mixture of both?
- Do you like to have your private bits touched or talked about? What words do you use for them?
- What are some places that you like touched? Where should I avoid touching you?
- How do you feel about (oral, anal, etc)? Is it something you’re into?
- I don’t know much about (the female penis, going down on trans girls, etc). What do I need to know?
Most of all, just be honest. Your partners will appreciate it because it shows that you’re being real with them. We don’t mind teaching you how our bodies work as long as you’re ready to listen.