When I look back now to pre-transition sex, it all makes a lot more sense than it seemed to at the time. I didn’t overthink it in my twenties, but I was aware I felt that something was fundamentally wrong, usually by the time I had reclined to a post-coital position. Even when in loving relationships, I felt an uneasy sense of guilt, perhaps shame, straight after achieving orgasm.
I’m sure at times I must have questioned this and attributed it to my somewhat prudish, puritanical upbringing. My parents conservative (with a big and a small c ) values and views extended to racism, homophobia and sexism. Transphobia would have been added to the list but it was not a word in common usage back then.
When I realised that I was a woman, but my body didn’t match, my role in the world became so much easier. I assume that was a big reason for my being uncomfortable with the act of sex. During transition but before lower surgery, sex was more comfortable, in that I was a straight woman having sex. But male partners then were more into fetish aspects of “sex with a trans woman”, so, although it was affirmation, of a kind, for me, it wasn’t ideal for my mental health.
This was because I wasn’t truly being perceived by those men as the woman I actually was, but rather as a woman, but still with male bits. I knew that I needed what I refer to as “completion” in order to be 100% comfortable with my body.
As soon as I started to socially transition, then all of society that I interacted with – that is to say family, friends, colleagues, members of the public – accepted me as a woman, even before I fully “passed”.
Sexual pleasure was never a factor in my decision around surgery. My surgeon told me I would probably be able to climax, and he was right. But I had no option, mentally, to not go ahead. The constant fear of being “unmasked”, the desire to wear a swimming costume by the pool, instead of denim shorts, the realisation that any relationship with a man was partially dependent on me having the female parts, along with my long term wellbeing, were the bigger driving forces.
Although there were occasional times that I thought I might not go ahead with lower surgery, it was more from the (highly unlikely) fear of dying on the operating table and leaving behind a bereft young family- than about anything else. I knew I needed surgery for me to feel I was as complete a woman as I could be.
Any future sex life really wasn’t on my mind, my main role in life was as a parent and as a woman earning money in a career, to support my family and myself. If I was ever to get a boyfriend after surgery then that was of secondary importance, and whether I went on to have a happy sex life was of low importance to me at the time. I hoped that I would achieve this in time, but the main thing for me was to be seen by everybody as the woman I’d always been but hadn’t always been seen as.
My experiences are probably similar to many in the same position. I transitioned socially in my 30s, medically in my 40s. When I went for lower surgery, I would not have considered any other option than having it done on the NHS, on grounds of the costs for private surgery. Also, I was prepared to wait the three years required.
A couple of friends had gone to Thailand to Dr Suporn Watanyusaku (who was considered the world leader in the field at that time) for their lower surgery and other surgeries too whilst they were there. I was, however, fearful about post-surgery complications and I didn’t fancy flying around the world to get something fixed. I also wanted to consider my economic future. I didn’t want to mortgage my home or go into massive debt and end up in an insecure housing situation for the rest of my life.
Post-surgery, I was able to have conventional, vanilla straight sex. That was much better, my head felt in the right place, as it were. Although, as my partners are usually between 35 and 60 years old, their own cis male issues have also brought with them their own challenges. Impotence, a troubled past, not being 100% comfortable being with a trans woman, are all elements that perhaps sometimes mar the idealistic, unrealistic sex I desire.
I imagine that many people have unrealistic expectations of a sex life that can’t be met, having been fed Hollywood-type films for too long. The hardest part for me is always meeting someone who wants a relationship; and who I like enough too.
I was probably able to have sex a few months after surgery but it took a few years to find anyone I wanted to have sex with. It even took me six months to even touch myself “down there”.
Dilating was fine, but as a clinical necessity. Self pleasuring was possible after a few months for me but I have had a low sex drive all my adult life (before and after surgery). Sex seems overrated to me. I have always got more pleasure from intelligent conversation and connecting with someone that way, than in having animalistic sex.
I felt complete though and that in itself gave me another huge boost of self belief and confidence, which was the most important outcome of surgery for me.
Meeting a potential partner is difficult, I wait until the right moment or so before I tell them about my trans past. It might happen on the first, second or third date, but always before anything physical occurs. Sometimes the subject comes up or you see a way to discuss it sooner than planned. For instance, they might have told you about their divorce or some health issue and then you can dive in with your own story.
I have a 30 second talk that I rush through, reassuring them it was in my past, that everything works fine now, no-one ever realises, to reassure them and to tell them to feel free to ask me anything they like, because they will have questions. Then I sit back and see where the chat goes next.
I would only go on a date in the first place with a guy who I think is quite likely to be ok with it. I must have told about 35 of my dates or so – about half of those said they are ok with it, although many of them aren’t in reality, or by the next day. The handful of relationships I have had have obviously been ok with it.
Everything does work ok though, with the right connection with a nice person, I enjoy being in relationships. The physical side works. In blunt terms, I can get turned on and stimulated very easily again, with the right person, as I did once upon a time in my twenties.
Just as in any kind of sexual relationship, talking about what you like and what works is the only way, for both partners to get what they want (“touch me there, not there, like this/not like that, softer/harder” etc!).
Intercourse is sometimes a little painful and I am sure would be easier if I were cis, but satisfaction is achieved all round, even more so if it is a loving relationship. Though things work too when I just want to have a roll in the hay, so to put it, or a quickie with a guy I don’t know very well.
Relationships and a sex life need nurturing for both people to be happy, whatever stage of life you are at; whether you consider yourself as fully transitioned, as transitioned as you are ever going to be or whether you have a longer journey ahead.
I would sum it up as being at a stage in life, even a year or so past surgery, where everything in my garden became rosy for me, everything worked, physically and mentally I was happy. But my love life, sex life, friendships, just like the flowers and plants in my garden, still need love, attention, food and water, or they wilt and die.
I find that being realistic, while always pushing yourself to achieve more, is the key to happiness and contentment in all walks of life.
Find out more about sex and intimacy as a transgender person, in our set of special articles on trans sex here.