Sexual Satisfaction: The Trans Masculine and Nonbinary

Satisfaction greatly depends on how a sex partner handles their gender.

Posted Mar 04, 2021 | Reviewed by Matt Huston

Garcia1865, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
Source: Garcia1865, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

When we consider the sexual experiences of trans people, we frequently fail to recognize that most of what we know about them is based on a medical model—that is, derived from those with gender dysphoria who are taking hormones or have had their body surgically changed to match their gender identity. These are individuals who have come to our attention because of the mismatch between their sense of gender and their biological sex. As Lindley and colleagues write in their recent article: “Satisfaction is frequently assessed through participants’ ability to engage in penetrative sex achieved through surgical interventions.” Clearly, although these individuals are included under a large trans* umbrella, there are other individuals, whether assigned male or female at birth, who either do not desire or pursue medical intervention. However, they may well have pleasurable sexual experiences with non-trans or trans (or both) individuals. Lindley and colleagues provide qualitative data on two of these groups: trans masculine and nonbinary individuals.

Trans masculine: an individual assigned female at birth who does not identify explicitly as male but who is masculine in body, behavior, personality, and/or identity or is transitioning to be more masculine, but not necessarily to the point of being a trans man.

Nonbinary: an individual assigned either a female or male at birth who does not identify exclusively as one or the other or as exclusively feminine or masculine (sometimes adopting another identity such as genderqueer, agender, bigender, or genderfluid).

Although a trans masculine individual might eventually pursue hormonal or surgical interventions, we know little about their level of sexual satisfaction or what is satisfying to them before or after such procedures. Lindley and colleagues pointed out that many believe, almost by definition, that such individuals are sexually dissatisfied, are gender dysphoric, and desire medical intervention to make their life more satisfying. None is necessarily true, for them or for nonbinary individuals. In summary, their study sought to “understand aspects of sexual satisfaction outside the context of medical transition for trans masculine and nonbinary individuals.”

They recruited 358 trans masculine and nonbinary individuals from Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, and friendship networks. One-half was between the ages of 18 and 24 and three-quarters were white. By definition, all trans masculine individuals were assigned female at birth; nearly two-thirds of the nonbinary individuals were as well. They differed little in age, race/ethnicity, educational level, and relationship status or style. Slightly over 60 percent reported that their sexual identity is bisexual, pansexual, or queer; one-half of their partners identified as cisgender; the other half, as nonbinary or binary transgender.

With regard to sexual satisfaction, many of the themes the individuals described as characteristic of their experiences mirrored those of cisgender individuals. These included receiving and giving orgasmic pleasure, being physically touched and touching someone else, pleasing self and partner, having solo sex, feeling connected and emotionally close, and learning about their sexual self.

In addition, there were other unique themes of achieving sexual satisfaction that were described by trans masculine and nonbinary individuals. These have seldom been captured by prior research.

1. Having sex partners who understood issues related to gender identity and who affirmed and respected body boundaries, thus greatly reducing the possibility of feeling gender dysphoric. This was especially enhanced if the partners themselves were trans. The authors wrote, “Trans partners understood participants’ experiences and were able to provide a safe space in which to engage with sex.”

2. Participating in sex helped trans masculine and nonbinary individuals to feel desired and attractive in their body and gender expression. This countered societal messages that the individuals are outside the norm and hence undesirable, which are too frequently internalized by trans individuals.

3. Connecting with their bodies so as to feel more fully aware of sexual pleasure and key erotic areas of their bodies was key for many.

4. Several of those who underwent medical intervention recognized that the added testosterone enhanced their orgasmic responses. Past research had shown that those with top surgery were sometimes negatively affected by the loss of nipple sensation.

Conclusion

The authors concluded with their primary point: “A singular focus on medical transition outcomes neglects to acknowledge the wealth of universal sexual aspects that are affecting trans masculine nonbinary individuals’ sexual satisfaction.” The assumption that such individuals do not enjoy sexual activities because of their gender embodiment must be altered.

I love this study because the authors did the most unusual thing: they asked individuals to describe their sexual experiences of satisfaction. And, as a result, they greatly enhance our knowledge and understanding—and, I hope, acceptance and support of them.

References

Lindley, L., Anzani, A., Prunas, A., & Galupo, M. P. (2021). Sexual satisfaction in trans masculine and nonbinary individuals: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Sex Research, 58, 222-234, doi:10.1080/00224499.2020.1799317