After I began transitioning about a year and a half ago, it took me many months before I felt comfortable enough to have sex.
I’m a pre-operative trans woman, and I often struggle to feel affirmed in my body because of the expectations that cisheteronormative society imposes on me. Every time I have sex, I have to wrestle with all the insecurities that stem from my dysphoria, and that can make me want to avoid it. But for me, sex is an important aspect of intimacy—both with others and with myself. And I want to have more of it. So, I’ve been on a journey to become more sexually comfortable with my body.
First, I turned to the internet to find resources for girls like me—but the vast majority of results were about what to do post-op. In fact, there’s little conversation about the bodies of trans women who have not undergone gender confirmation surgery—online, in media, anywhere, really. Where are all the sex guides for trans women who don’t want to have surgery, who aren’t ready, or who haven’t yet had the opportunity?
To create my own, I decided to chronicle my own process, and reach out to trans women friends to ask what’s helped them most. Here's what I learned.
Watch more sexy stuff
For a long time, one of my biggest insecurities was about having small breasts. When I showered, I would quickly wrap my towel around the upper part of my body. And during sex, I would keep my shirt on to hide my chest. My partner never had an issue with my boobs, but it wasn’t about him; it was about me not feeling sexy.
I’ve recently learned to stop hiding, and instead embrace my breasts. Although it still isn’t easy, I’ve started stepping out of the shower and facing myself head on. Part of what’s helped me do that is simply getting out of my head—thinking about all the other trans women who probably deal with similar insecurities, and how beautiful they are to me.
Ana Valens, a writer and trans woman who lives in New York, told me that a similar approach has worked for her. Specifically, she likes to watch porn self-created by other trans women. “Seeing other transgender women’s nude bodies—and more specifically, seeing them praised, affirmed, and sexually embraced—helped a lot,” she said. “It feels really good to see other trans women own their sexuality, not to mention it’s so affirming to see others find your gender attractive… I don’t think I would feel good about my body if I didn’t have access to an online trans community where sex workers are accepted and embraced.”
After our conversation, I decided to take the advice to task. I bought a subscription for a paid porn site and checked out the trans section. Initially, it was jarring seeing trans women feel so comfortable with themselves in ways I had never thought I could experience. But watching them seductively own bodies that looked like mine eventually began to help me look at my own body as being worthy enough to flaunt.
Communicate with your partner
When I recently started having sex again, I was too timid to let my partner know what I wanted. I thought going with the flow would help the mood, but I now realize that I was actually keeping myself from getting my physical needs and wants met. I was letting internalized shame and self-consciousness take over instead of enjoying the moment. It was only after I started communicating with my partner that sex became really pleasurable—for both of us.
“My partner has many ways of making me feel comfortable,” a trans woman named Jenn Powers told me. “She tackles my insecurities without amplifying them and without coddling me. She’s good at reading me, and can tell by now when I’m okay with all of myself, and when I need to be treated a little more carefully and not have attention drawn to the parts of me that cause dysphoria.”
It may seem like a turn off to talk about the parts of yourself that you find least attractive. But when you’re dealing with gender dysphoria, it can be really helpful to share your insecurities with your partner. That way, they can know where to apply extra attention, what to avoid, and when to move slowly. It can also help to tell them what words you find most gender-affirming to describe different body parts.
“We talk a lot about the words that we prefer to use to describe our bodies,” said Ana, referring to her partner. “And we talk boundaries a lot: what feels good, what’s off the table. Basically, there’s not just talking things out, there’s also a lot of listening. It’s great and makes me feel much more comfortable as a result.”
Of course, you may be like me and feel that talking about sex in general makes it feel less sexy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with your partner at all. I've personally found that dirty talk is a great way to frame my wants and needs in a way that feels hot. Any statement expressing what you have liked doing with your partner, or that you’re envisioning doing with them, is a surefire way to ease into super-vocal sex sessions.
In order to figure out which dirty words turn me on, I read transgender erotica. Then, I test them out in sexts and late-night phone calls. I like sexting because it allows me to tweak what I want to say before hitting the "send" button, and set the pace of the conversation to what feels right for me. The other upside to sexting and phone sex is that it’s entirely based on talking, so it’s the perfect way to let your partner know what turns you on without having to feel weird about it.
Take your time
Soon after following both Ana and Jenn’s advice, I started feeling better about my body. I became more confident and started catering more to my own needs. I stopped feeling selfish for having specific desires, and stopped feeling like sex was a performance rather than an experience.
All of their tips helped. But during my conversation with Ana, one thing stuck with me most: “You do not owe anyone else your body. If you feel too dysphoric to have sex (or otherwise feel uncomfortable being sexual with another person), then that is OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t ‘push’ through it. We deal with baggage on our own clock, and you do not owe anyone an immediate readiness to overcome your dysphoria.”
Getting to where I want to be in terms of bodily self love is going to take more time and more work. But I learned that that’s OK; I shouldn’t be so hard on myself if I can’t step out of my comfort zone yet in ways that I eventually want to. Acknowledging that made a huge difference. In fact, it’s what helped me finally take my shirt off.