“Love is not a crime,
And I’d rather color outside of the lines.
Love knows no gender and it’s about time
You nailed your colors up next to mine.”Onsind – “Heterosexuality is a Construct”
Just like any other population of humans, transgender and nonbinary/gender non-conforming (TNB) youth can experience the full range of sexual orientations and sexual interests.
Knowing that a person is trans, nonbinary or gender non-conforming says nothing about their sexuality or sexual orientation. A trans person can be straight, gay, pansexual, queer, asexual, etc., just like cis folx.
Some trans folx maintain the same sexual orientation throughout their lives and potential transitions. Many trans individuals remain with the same partner through a transition. For others, transitioning may change or alter their sexuality.
Shifts in sexual attraction are common for cis folx, so shifts for trans and GNC folx may happen similarly due to the natural fluidity of sexuality. However, there are other factors at play, including hormonal changes and physical changes due to hormones or surgery. The topic of sexuality can include sexual orientations and preferences, romantic orientations and preferences, sexual acts, sex education and language regarding sex.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Estrogen and testosterone can affect an individual’s sexuality in many ways, so desires regarding future sexual function should be discussed before and during HRT.
Estrogen stimulates development of breast tissue, often leading to increases in size and sensitivity, which can be pleasurable and/or painful. Additionally, estrogen can shrink external genitalia, decrease sperm count, and decrease erection ability. Orgasm ability may also change, with some transgender womxn reporting a new ability to experience multiple orgasms. Lastly, libido and sexual arousal may change, with many reporting a decrease in sexual desire after hormone therapy. It’s important to recognize that reductions in libido are not necessarily a concern for folx; they may be appreciated and desired.
Testosterone often stimulates the clitoral tissue and enlarges the clitoris, up to quadrupling its size. Vaginal atrophy is another potential result, in which vaginal tissues thin and produce less lubrication. This can make penetration painful and cause bleeding. Trans men taking testosterone have a higher risk of contracting urinary tract infections, especially if they engage in vaginal intercourse. Like trans womxn, trans men on HRT can experience changes in their libidos and sexual arousal, with many reporting increases in their libidos and sexual desire.
HRT and surgery can also alter trans folx’s sexualities through physical changes. For example, a trans man who has not transitioned may be unattracted to men because men may treat them as female, and that interaction may not be attractive to them. However, during or after any aspects of transitioning, this may change, as men begin to interact with them in their affirmed gender. Having physical changes that match a person’s gender identity can allow them to feel comfortable exploring attractions to other genders. Additionally, HRT can lead to physical changes, such as in skin texture and body hair that may lead them to feeling sexier in their own bodies and look at potential partners of different genders from new perspectives. They may be interested in partners with similar features or partners with contrasting features that allow them to fully appreciate these new changes in their own bodies.
These sexuality changes can be extremely difficult for trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming youth and adults to navigate. It can often involve a third coming out, where many folx first come out with a sexual orientation, then come out with a gender identity, and then come out with another sexual orientation. These changes can be very frustrating, so it is essential to remember that they are not only normal, but also can be beautiful and affirming.
Many trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming folx prefer to use gender neutral language to describe their relationships. However, many do not. It is best to listen to what terms they use and copy, rather than assume either way. Here are some examples of gender neutral relationship language:
- Partner or significant other instead of boyfriend or girlfriend
- Spouse instead of husband or wife
Some trans folx prefer to use alternate language to describe their body parts because typical and gendered names can cause gender dysphoria. Again, this is not true for all trans folx, and it greatly depends on their preferences. Here are some examples:
- Trans womxn
- May choose to call their anus their vagina because they can be used similarly
- May refer to other parts of their body with names such as the vulva and clitoris
- Trans men
- May choose to call their vagina their front hole – a less gendered term
- May choose to refer to their clitoris as their penis, and likewise with other body parts
Above all, it is important to remember that these choices are highly individual and intimate, and most likely none of your business. However, it can be helpful to understand this in certain settings when conversations about genitals may arise, such as with doctors, sexual partners and possibly parents of young queer kids. Understanding and utilizing the body language chosen by the individual can help make their experiences less traumatizing and triggering.
Most sex education programs in the U.S. fail miserably at educating cisgender, heterosexual youth, much less trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming folx. Because TNB youth face inequalities and increased risk regarding sexual health risks, it is essential to reform sexual education programs to include the needs of TNB folx.
Inaccurate and non-inclusive sexual education can create compounded vulnerabilities for TNB youth, including sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, unsanitary/unsafe sex toy use and shame about their body or sexual desires. To be inclusive of TNB needs, sex education programs must include the following content areas: puberty-related gender dysphoria, non-medical gender-affirming interventions, medical gender-affirming interventions, consent and relationships, sex and desire, sexually transmitted infection prevention, fertility and contraception and healthcare access.
Not only is TNB inclusive sex education essential for queer folx, but it is also important for cisgender heterosexual individuals to understand. Understanding and normalizing various gender and sexual differences is necessary for dispelling shame. Inclusive programs should help trans and cis folx alike understand gender identity and sexual orientation, focus on positive examples of LGBTQIA+ romantic and sexual relationships and families, highlight the need for protection of humans of all identities and correct myths and stereotypes.
For TNB folx who experience gender dysphoria, it can be very difficult to have sex in any capacity. Sex education programs must include discussions of gender dysphoria (and ways to alleviate it) for the benefit of both queer and cis folx.
Sex education must let go of outdated language that equates gender with body parts and separates curriculum based on gender or sex. Instead, all youth should learn about all human body parts, including the anatomy of intersex people and discussions on the spectrum of sex and the arbitrary and harmful categorizations of sex. Rather than referring to body parts as “male” or “female,” teachers should refer to body parts by their name, such as penis, uterus, clitoris, etc. When discussing experiences related to specific genitalia or anatomy, teachers and providers should refer to the population by body part, rather than “men” or “womxn.” For example, when educating folx on menstruation, teachers should use the phrase “people who menstruate” rather than “womxn” because not all womxn menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are womxn. This same technique should be used to describe “people with vaginas,” “people with penises,” etc.
Sex is often taught in sex education as only the act of a man putting his penis inside a womxn’s vagina. However, there are infinite other ways for folx to engage in sex. This reductionist perspective on sex often leaves queer (and cis) folx believing there is no way for them to safely enjoy sex. Sex education should expand on the various ways folx can enjoy themselves sexually, with an emphasis on techniques that TNB folx have found useful. This should include conversations on masturbation, oral sex, digital sex, sex toys and more.
It is extremely important for sex education programs to teach consent, boundary setting and healthy relationships. This is essential for TNB folx when navigating relationships that may be traumatic and/or dysphoria-inducing. Planned Parenthood’s FRIES acronym can help explain consent to youth of all identities. Consent is:
Freely given (sexual decisions should not include pressure, force, manipulation, drugs or alcohol).
Reversible: Anyone can change their mind and withdraw consent at any time, including in the middle of a sexual act.
Informed: Consent requires honesty, such as disclosing any STIs and honesty regarding protection use.
Enthusiastic: Silence or passivity is NOT consent. YES! means yes, and anything else means no.
Specific: Saying yes to one thing is NOT consent for anything else.
When talking about sex with a TNB person, instead of asking about their genitalia, ask about their mental state – what they are thinking about, what they are scared of, what they want, etc. It can be helpful for TNB folx to write a list of what is off limits and what is okay in terms of sexual acts and share it with their sexual partners. It is important to create safe and encouraging environments for TNB folx to talk about sex. If talking about sex, sexuality, and/or gender identity makes you or your loved-one feel uncomfortable, check out Scarleteen for more information.
Heteronormative: The harmful idea that being heterosexual/straight is normal and not being straight is abnormal. This is a social norm that pressures folx and cultures to be straight and punishes those who are not.
Cisnormative: The harmful idea that being cisgender is normal and being trans, nonbinary or gender nonconforming is not. This is a social norm that pressures folx and cultures to be cisgender and punishes those who are not.
Sexual & Romantic Orientations
Androsexual: refers to folx who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to masculinity and/or folx who identify as men and/or masculine
Asexual/Gray Asexual/Aces: refers to folx who don’t experience sexual attraction to folx of any gender; the term gray asexual highlight that this offers occurs on a “grayscale” spectrum, rather than in black and white. Aces may experience romantic attraction or may not.
Bisexual: refers to folx who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to folx of more than one gender
Fluid: refers to folx who experience shifts and variations in their sexuality throughout time
Gay: refers to folx who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to individuals of the same or similar genders as themselves
Gynesexual: refers to folx who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to femininity and/or folx who identify as womxn and/or feminine
Heterosexual/Straight: refers to folx who either identify as female and are exclusively attracted to folx who identify as male OR folx who identify as male and are exclusively attracted to folx who identify as female
Lesbian: refers to female-identified folx who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to folx of the same or similar gender
Libidoist asexual: refers to asexual folx who engage in self-stimulation or masturbation
Omnisexual: refers to folx whose sexuality isn’t limited to people of a particular gender
Pansexual: refers to folx who can experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to any person regardless of gender
Polysexual: refers to folx who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to folx with varying genders
Queer: an umbrella terms that can describe any person who isn’t exclusively heterosexual
Skoliosexual: refers to folx who are sexually attracted to folx with non-cisgender gender identities, such as nonbinary, genderqueer or trans.
Spectrasexual: refers to folx who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to multiple genders, but not necessarily all or any
Other Sexuality Terms
Allosexual: this term describes folx who experience any form of sexual attraction, in contrast with folx who are asexual
Bicurious: refers to folx who are questioning and/or exploring bisexuality
Cupiosexual: refers to folx who don’t experience sexual attraction but have a desire to engage in sexual behavior
Demiromantic: refers to folx who only experience romantic attraction through an emotional connection
Demisexual: refers to folx who only experience sexual attraction through an emotional connection
Monosexual: refers to folx who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction to folx of one gender (such as folx who are exclusively gay or straight)
Pomosexual: refers to folx who reject sexuality labels
Questioning: refers to folx who are curious or exploring aspects of their sexuality and/or gender
Sapiosexual: refers to folx who experience sexual and/or romantic attraction based on intelligence
An individual can often be described by multiple identities. For example, a trans womxn could be androsexual, heterosexual, allosexual, monosexual and demisexual. While she may identify with all of those terms, she also may just identify as straight.