Libido & Conversing: What Transsexuals Can Teach Heteros

Gender-changers provide new insights into these two key relationship issues

Posted Jan 18, 2015

Mention “raging hormones,” and most people think of horny teens hungrily groping toward sexual initiation. As the years pass, hormones stop raging, but thanks to transsexuals, we now know that they never stop arranging us. Transsexuals show the rest of us that our desires for both sex and conversation are more hormonal than many of us believe.

What Changes for Male-to-Female Transsexuals

I’m acquainted with a few male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals, and we’ve chatted about the changes they’ve noticed as they’ve transitioned to women. Uniformly they’ve noticed two significant differences:

• Less interest in sex. “When I was a man,” one told me, “I thought about sex all the time, almost constantly. I experienced my libido as a driving force that sometimes felt irresistible. And if I didn’t get sex, I masturbated. I masturbated a lot. Now that I’m a woman, I still enjoy sex, but I think about it much less and masturbate less.”

• More interest in conversation. “When I was a man,” this MTF transsexual continued, “my then-wife used to complain that I didn't talk with her as much as she wanted and that when we talked, I didn’t listen to her. As far as I was concerned, I talked and listened—just not as intently as she hoped. Now that I’m a woman, I see what she meant. I find men to be aloof and lacking verbally. Now, given a choice between having sex or talking with my girlfriends, most of the time, I’d choose the conversation.”

What Changes for Female-to-Male Transsexuals

I’m not personally acquainted with any female-to-male transsexuals (FTM), but a few years ago, the New York Times interviewed one of the most public FTMs, Chaz (nee Chastity) Bono, the daughter, now son, of singer-actress Cher and the late-singer-turned-politician Sonny Bono. As Chaz Bono transitioned, he noticed two main changes:

• More interest in sex. He says he thinks about it much more than he did as a woman and “needs release much more often.”

• Less interest in conversation. “As a woman, I used to really enjoy dishing with the girls. As a man, I have less tolerance for women’s talking. I’ve noticed that Jen [his girlfriend] can talk endlessly. But there’s something in testosterone that makes that really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. And when she talks, sometimes I just zone out.”

It’s Nothing Personal, Just Hormones

Many women have difficulty with men’s sexual appetites. To be sure, not all men badger women for sex. In about one-third of couples who consult sex therapists for desire differences, it’s the woman who has the greater libido. But two-thirds of the time, it’s the man who feels the more compelling sex drive, and in the cultural stereotype, the word that follows horny is guy.

Many women don’t understand this. How can you want sex so much? As the experience of transsexuals shows, libido is largely hormonal. MTF transsexuals reduce testosterone and add estrogen, and quickly feel less sexually driven. So ladies, your horny guy is not perverse, he’s simply responding to his biochemistry.

Meanwhile, many men complain that women talk too much, and many women criticize men for not listening to them. To be sure, not all women are motor-mouths. Some are quite reserved, while some men can’t shut up. But in her book, The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, director of the University of California, San Francisco's Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic, asserts that women speak an average of 20,000 words a day, while men utter only 7,000. Other researchers have disputed these numbers, but in the cultural stereotype, the phrase is not Chatty Charlie, but Chatty Cathy.

Many men don’t understand this. I listen. But you talk so much I can’t decide what’s worth listening to. As the experience of transsexuals shows, the drive to verbal expression is largely hormonal. FTM transsexuals reduce estrogen and add testosterone, and quickly quiet down and get annoyed by women’s seemingly constant talking.

No doubt women will continue to complain that guys are horn-dogs, and men will continue to complain that women run at the mouth. But transsexuals show us that neither gender is out to drive the other crazy. It’s nothing personal, just our hormones.

P.S. How Old Is Transsexuality? How Many People are Transsexual?

Speaking of transsexuality, recently gender–switchers have become increasingly visible. There's even a MTF actress on "Orange is the New Black." However, the phenomenon itself is ancient. Ever since paleolithic humans began telling stories, some dealt with men and women who believed they inhabited the “wrong” bodies, who considered themselves members of the other gender—and acted that way. But actual gender-changing dates from 1931 when German surgeons performed the first male-to-female reassignment surgery.

Transsexuality remained little more than a blip on the cultural radar until the 1990s, when increasing acceptance of homosexuality led to a growing appreciation that some people suffered “gender dysphoria,” deep discomfort with their birth gender and a strong yearning to transition to the other.

Early studies tabulated the prevalence of trans-sexuality by counting those who asked physicians for hormone treatment, the first step toward changing genders. Studies in Europe in the 1990s suggested that one man-by-birth in around 12,000 requested female sex hormones, and that one woman-by-birth in about 30,000 wanted male hormones.

But since the millennium, as transsexuals have become more visible, surveys have taken a step back from hormone requests, asking large populations probing questions about gender identification. A 2012 survey of 2,730 San Francisco middle-schoolers showed that 1.3 percent identified as transgender (while 3.8 percent identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual). Meanwhile, researchers in the Netherlands surveyed 8,064 Dutch people, ages 15 to 70, and found that 1.1 percent of the men and 0.8 percent of the women identified more strongly with their non-birth gender.

So it appears that about 1 percent of the population is potentially transsexual. And that 1 percent of humanity teaches the rest of us that key elements of gender identity—libido and conversation—are heavily influenced by our hormones.


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Bakker A et al. “The Prevalence of Transsexualism in The Netherlands,” Acta Psychiatry Scandinavia (1993) 87:237.

Kuyper L. and C. Wijsen. “Gender Identities and Gender Dysphoria in the Netherlands,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2014) 43:377.

Wilson, C. “The Reluctant Transgender Role Model,” New York Times, May 6, 2011.

Shields JP et al. “Estimating Population Size and Demographic Characteristics of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Middle School,” Journal of Adolescent Health (2013) 52:248.