How gender and orientation affects sex and intimacy

Let’s talk about the intersection of gender and pleasure!

Written by Abby Lee Hood

In many ways, gender and sexual orientation are a journey more than a destination. We never finish learning about ourselves and our preferences, or how we want to present to the world. Because we’re human, we change and adapt over time to become our truest selves.

Part of gender and orientation involves intimacy, and our pleasure preferences are as unique as the individual experiencing them. Particularly for the LBGTQ+ community, there’s an intersection of gender and intimacy that every person will experience differently. Some may enjoy certain positions or certain sex acts, while others may not. For example, one source we spoke to doesn’t always enjoy sex acts that focus on her genitals, because being a trans person comes with stigma that can feel uncomfortable or fetishizing during sex.

To better understand how gender, sexuality and intimacy work together, we spoke with a trans source who wishes to remain anonymous, as well as a non binary sex educator, and pulled from a few other expert sources, too. 

Let’s dive in, and learn how to better communicate needs and desires!

How does gender and orientation affect sex and intimacy? 

According to a recent Teen Vogue article, gender dysphoria usually includes anxiety and discomfort that transgender people can experience about the sex they were assigned at birth. Not every transgender or non binary person experiences dysphoria, and for those who do, Teen Vogue says the severity can depend on the day or circumstance. 

The writer of the Teen Vogue article says they, like some trans and non binary people, experience discomfort and dysphoria during sex. This means they feel anxious or worry about specific parts of their body, and don’t like their chest being touched. It makes sense that gender diverse people have these feelings during sex, and it’s normal, because our bodies and sexualities or gender aren’t things we can just leave behind during intimacy. 

We spoke with a woman who we’ll call Sarah to protect her identity. She experiences many of the same feelings and says she feels dysphoria about her penis and plans to get bottom surgery in the future. Sarah says that in her experience, if someone has a preference for trans women it’s usually because they “want me to top them, or they want to focus on my dick, and I’m really not interested in either of those things.” Sarah says that instead she focuses on sex that doesn’t require so much action below her waist.

That being said, LGBTQ+ people are not a monolith, and it’s normal if your feelings are different. Galia Godel, a non binary sex educator who uses she/he pronouns, says that while gender doesn’t have to inherently affect sex, the queer community is likely to approach sex a bit differently because there’s already a divergence from heteronormative “rules” or narratives.

“If someone is going to spend so much time and energy into figuring out who they are and what they want, they're likely going to put similar amounts of energy figuring out how they want to connect with other people, and with their own bodies,” Godel says.

That self-awareness and knowledge can, in some ways, lend itself to more enjoyable sex because when you know what you want and what you don’t want, it becomes easier to communicate. And of course, partner communication is a big part of gender-affirming pleasure!

How can we have more gender- and orientation-affirming sex?

Godel says that the good news is just being yourself lends itself to gender-affirming pleasure.

“If a trans woman is treated like a woman during sex, it doesn't matter how heteronormative that position or interaction is,” Godel says. “It's queer sex, and it's gender-affirming queer sex.”

Godel says anything that excites you counts as gender-affirming sex, because feeling good, being connected to your body and to another person who truly sees you, is affirming. He says having a partner you trust who listens to your boundaries is the perfect combination for an incredibly positive sexual experience. 

Everyone deserves an environment where they feel respected and safe, so setting clear boundaries about where and how to be touched are also key to enjoying intimacy. Those conversations aren’t always easy; Sarah says talking about sex can be awkward but practicing ongoing consent is important, and your voice is important. Still, there are ways we can become better communicators over time!

How can we better communicate these needs with our partners?

Partner communication sometimes involves facing hard truths or starting awkward conversations. And when we hide parts of ourselves or try to sugarcoat awkward topics, it doesn’t actually serve us. 

“I can't just tell someone, ‘Forget about all of the social programming you've picked up throughout your life, you're trans! You don't need that!’ because then I'm not actually helping them,” Godel says.

Instead, Godel asks people what kind of sex they want to have, and how they want it to feel. Establishing desires for ourselves makes it easier to talk to others.

Sarah says that while talking about sex can feel awkward, it’s also pushed her to be more open in unexpected ways. Since coming out as trans her conversations about sex have changed, and she says that while of course trans people are marginalized, there’s more respect and understand that you might imagine.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of understanding in general,” Sarah says. “Before I came out I was terrible at talking about sex and just avoided it altogether.” 

While better communication doesn’t just magically happen overnight, discovering your own desires through masturbation and self-pleasure is a great way to start, and it will increase your sexual wellness as well; masturbation has a ton of health benefits, and it doesn’t just include making it easier to talk about sex! Pain relief, better sleep and less anxiety are also side effects of self-pleasure.

When should we reach out for help?

If you’re really struggling with gender, dysphoria, intimacy or communication, though, it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes a therapist or other professional is really the best resource to help you navigate tough subjects, and Godel says she has a simple barometer for knowing when it’s time to ask for guidance.

“If what's upsetting you makes you upset even when you're not dealing directly with it, you might need professional help,” Godel says.

He also says that yes, even in 2021, you should be moderately happy more than you are anxious, depressed or miserable. If that’s not the case, you deserve support. There’s no shame in getting what you need to feel better!

At Coral we believe that everyone, regardless of their gender or orientation, deserves pleasure. That could mean some awkward conversations, but at the end of the day, chatting with a safe and understanding partner is worth it. Sexuality is a journey. Enjoy the ride! 

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