Friday, 26 March 2021

Relationships: the sex thing

SEX! Now that I have your attention ... goes the old joke. Finishing these extended comments on how being trans affects relationships, I want to talk about sex.

To judge by what the trans community posts online, you'd get the impression that sex and being sexy is of major importance to us. That, and being coupled with the gay community under the LGBT umbrella, can suggest to others that sexuality is what being trans is all about. Not unnaturally, all this worries a great many partners of trans people, and is a stick to beat us with by transphobic opponents such as radical feminists, religious groupings and prudes generally.

But I don't think sex is really any more of a thing for MtF trans people than it is for the general population. Therefore, I'd like to approach the topic from a general view of human sexual behaviour.


Human sex

The human animal is highly sexed compared to others, which comes as a surprise to many. Humans don't have a mating season like bears, or the complex rutting practices of deer. They don't prefer to wait till they are on heat. Or have just one or two days a year of frenzied partnering like ants or of emitting gametes like corals. Humans generally mate when they fancy it, or try to.

Another fact is that, unlike most animals, only about 2% of human sexual encounters are intended for reproduction. Yes, we humans have sex for a whole load of reasons: pleasure, closeness, making-up after a fight, power games and brutality, and many more. Our nearest relative with similar interests, the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee, uses sex for social cohesion. Unlike its closest relative the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) that has a male-dominated society, the bonobo (Pan paniscus) has a matriarchal social life and the females encourage sex play within the group to reduce tensions and with other groups to reduce conflict. So most bonobos are having sex several time a day. A strategy that's evolutionarily favourable to them, but obviously different from humans in that we don't have it off with relatives, friends, colleagues or potential enemies whenever we see them. Which is quite a thought!

In fact, humans tend to stick with one partner at a time, and this is partly because of the great length of time it takes a human infant to grow to independence from its parents. But this is also due to the fact that many couples have an economic dependence on one partner, usually the man. That said, there are plenty of humans who have more than one love interest at a time, though rarely openly. Jealousy is a big thing with us, and can be very destructive under certain conditions.

There are other major differences between humans and other apes. For instance, the significance of female breasts and legs as a visual sexual signalling device, not just the bottom so beloved of apes; and the comparatively large size of the human male organ, which does not contain a penis bone to help with rigidity but relies wholly on fluid injection to create, as Richard Dawkins puts it, a "hydraulic advertisement" of suitability for mating.

I'd prefer to leave off other references and quotes from academic research in this post, which would make it rather dry, but if you are interested, I can recommend some readable science works. A recent book that goes into more detail on the above is Adam Rutherford's The Book of Humans. There are other, older works by biologists and geneticists that present useful research, such as Matt Ridley's The Red Queen, Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, and so forth. For an informal and non-specialist take, Mary Roach's amusing Bonk! is worth reading.  

Problems with academic research into transgender matters are that sample sizes are small, can involve subjective and inconsistent assessments and, most significantly, involve participants from the more 'out' end of the trans community rather than the closeted and unknown trans people who actually make up the bulk of our community and are therefore its more typical representatives. Science has to date only seen the tip of the trans iceberg. This leaves us with little to explain the causes of transgenderism and its real relationship with sex and sexuality. So these are my thoughts based on real-life experience and discussion with others.

So, given the fact that humans mate in all seasons, mate mainly for reasons other than reproduction, find many body parts and clothing sexy, are highly social, need structured family life to raise offspring more successfully, and are much randier than most animals, it's not surprising that sex features so much in human culture and history even though we try to downplay it. Unlike cats or tortoises, we tend to prefer sex in private and try not to arouse jealousy or unrest by boasting or revealing too much about our interests and what we do in the bedroom.

Human society is complex and this also accounts for the use of sex in wielding power, be it a leading male with a harem of wives or the frequent use of rape in war, or by attempts by governments, religions or cultural taboos to limit or apply sex to certain partners or practices. These restrictions are therefore very powerful controllers of our lives.


Some creatures have one mate for life, like wolves or bald eagles; others are promiscuous, like ladybugs. Humans are somewhere in the middle; they'd be more promiscuous if long childhoods and stable economics weren't the drivers of family life.

We live in a time when the ancient institution of marriage is said to be under attack. But I don't think this is the case; it's an institution that no longer corresponds well to modern society with its greater financial independence for women and medicine that results in most people living into old age. Until the twentieth century it was normal for someone who lived into their seventies or eighties to have been widowed several times because partners died from the sorts of diseases that we now just shrug off with antibiotics or surgery. Estimates of typical marriages in Europe in the eighteenth century, when modern notions of legal marriage were established, suggest an average marriage lasted around fifteen years before death did them part and the survivor, often for economic and practical as much as emotional reasons, sought another mate. This has all been turned on its head and someone who marries in their twenties, making the traditional life vow, is quite likely to be married for fifty years if they don't get divorced; both golden anniversaries and divorces being almost unheard of in the past. Romantic love doesn't always last for ever and it's not actually natural for two people to share their lives for so long. So it's not that people these days are not making an effort to be together, it's that neither nature nor the law ever anticipated such longevity. If you have been together for fifty years, then well done. You are amazing. My parents have been together nearly sixty years! By rights, my mother should have died from a miscarriage in the 1960s and my father from heart problems a few years ago (to say nothing of any childhood diseases they had). But thanks to modern medicine, here they still are in their eighties.

So, going back to my previous posts about being trans and finding after many years in partnership that the hormones are demanding attention and presenting as female is becoming urgent again as it was in our youth, we find that this impacts on the outlook of the relationship, often at a critical time when things are getting stale, the kids are older and more independent and we feel life demands something new. It's then that many trans people go a bit crazy with the need to be themselves, yet feel constrained by social and family expectations.



Another espect of human sex life is that it is believed, and often insisted upon, that only a tiny minority of people are not heterosexual. If you conduct polls or research on sexuality you find two main problems: one is objectivity and honesty - people can only really give a subjective assessment of their place on the sexuality spectrum and may be coy with researchers -; the other is that social pressure may make them deny their sexuality.

Such research as I have come across suggests that somewhere between 3% and 10% of men are gay. But the same researchers record that up to 30% of women have felt sexual attraction towards another woman at some point in their lives. This partly explains why magazine covers mainly have women on them - both sexes admire attractive women. So the summary of human sexuality would appear to show roughly 5% of men are gay and roughly 5% of women are lesbian, but with another 25% of part-time lesbians. This creates an imbalanced and asymmetrical sexuality chart, though. Are men not occasionally attracted to men even when mainly hetero, like the women polled who were sometimes attracted to other women? To accept the conclusion of such research would be to suggest that men are only ever heterosexual or gay. But I am in no doubt that many men questioned about their sexuality would not dare to reveal that they too have liked men just occasionally, just as women occasionally fancy women. The brutal social pressures of virility makes men hide their true feelings and skew the research. See what happens, though, when men are cooped up for months together in prison or on ship, not to mention the apprenticeship practices of ancient Greece or Japan. So, without robust evidence, because macho culture pervades the world, I'd say that it's likely that about a third of humans of all kinds have flexible sexuality.

There's nothing strange in that. Believe it or not, male giraffes are almost all bisexual. And who hasn't read endearing stories of gay swan or penguin couples who have adopted orphaned chicks? OK, we shouldn't determine human sexuality based on what other animals do, but sexual flexibility is, I suspect, a lot more prevalent in nature, including ours, than we are inclined to believe.  

Trans and sex

So, after that preamble, what are we to make of trans people when it comes to the sexuality spectrum? If you are a transwoman but are attracted to women does that make you a lesbian? Or does the fact that you married legally as a man and still love your wife still make you straight, even though you are now Brenda and not Bob? I think you can see that categorising sexuality becomes pretty unhelpful when looking at trans people. Or people generally, in my view.

Purely based on my contacts with many hundreds of other trans people over the last twenty years, I'd say that sexual flexibility is much more prevalent in the trans community than in the general population. Indeed, some people seem to flip sexuality when in female mode from their norms in male mode. And then there's everything in between. So it's not unreasonable, even if illogical, for your partner to ask if you are gay after you've come out that you are transgender. Nor is it unreasonable sometimes for partners to accompany their trans other halves out just to make sure they don't play away from home!



A few people have an open relationship or are swingers and don't mind their partner having other sexual partners. Indeed, some make a game of it. But this is rare and understandings like these involve much mutual trust. The problem with the trans person emerging in later life after many years of marriage is that they find the freedom to be their real self can often involve exploring other possibilities, freedoms and different ways of approaching other aspects of life that may have felt were stifled up to now. Their biggest thing - being trans - has finally been accepted so what else can be changed? Sexuality is a clear contender, especially now that you look and act the woman and you become attractive to many men. The liberation from the constraints of acting one's legal gender therefore lead to so much other liberation from practices and habits that no longer suit. 

I'm disappointed that so many trans venues are little more than sex clubs - the problem of dealing with "admirers" was one thing that delayed my emergence into the world as I didn't know if I would be able to handle the attention from these men when making my first steps. Now I usually find it just part of the scene you can ignore, although admirers can be pretty annoying and even menacing at times.

I have lost track of the times that other TGirls have hit on me and asked for sex. Very flattering, no doubt, but I always then ask them if they are in a relationship already and, if so, do they think it wise to sleep with others, especially if their partner does not know where they are (see my last post on secrets and lies). So many TGirls of my generation have reached that point in their marriage where things are stale and their new found trans side is demanding experimentation and adventure. I've mentioned previously how we often revert mentally to our youth as though a life reset button has been pressed, dancing till the small hours in clubs even though our old knees are seizing up and our breath is labouring! Well, looking around for sexual novelty does seem part of that, especially among TGirls who feel their marriage isn't working. So I do ask them if playing away from home is the way to go if their marriage is rocky as it's hardly going to improve matters. I have been thanked by some for my candour in suggesting to them that adultery is hardly going to make dealing with wife and family any easier. If you are having problems with your marriage, face up to them and see if you can improve things, get back to what attracted you in the first place, then you're more likely to meet with success in coming out to your partner about being trans. Some TGirls have told me their marriages and domestic sex lives improved after a heartfelt, open, honest talk with their wives about their being trans; avoiding the issues and sleeping around will very likely be the last straw in a rocky marriage when discovered.


Trans erotica

So why are MtF trans people often obsessed not just with presenting as female but dressing in extra-sexy clothes? and showing off their underwear and genitals in their photos? Well, the autogynephilia idea of older psychologists and transphobes is that MtF trans people aim to create in themselves the fetishy woman they'd be most attracted to. A lot of us think this is rot. I don't dress as a woman to be a fetish to myself or anyone else and I started dressing as a girl long before I knew about sex so I think that, despite appearances, it is not the main motivator for most (or maybe any) trans/crossdressing activity. Of course, we like to be attractive and sexy but the effort we put in is chiefly so as to be accepted as female. To me, clothes are a badge, a signal to society that I wish to be treated as a woman; only secondarily might they be sexy, and I'm sure that's actually the case with all MtF trans people. Necessarily, one's sexuality and sexual outlook leads to oversexualising and overfeminising the female look, not just with high heels but skyscraper heels, not just a skirt but a miniskirt, not just hosiery but stockings with lace tops on show. I'd say many MtF trans people go to the feminine extreme to emphasise the point that they are female now, in much the same way that, when in denial, many MtF trans people go into very macho trades like the armed forces.

I would also point out that a part-time transwoman has little to lose by posting erotic photos online - she's unlikely to be mistaken for her male alter ego. Whereas a natal woman is herself, both online and in real life; there's nowhere to hide. To judge by conversations I've had with natal women, there'd be a lot more GG erotica from everyday women if they weren't worried about the social consequences. The creative web is a place for fantasy anyway, whether it's Second Life or Flickr, especially to those who are closeted in real life.

And the reason why so many transwomen work in the sex industry - a favourite stick for transphobes to beat us with - is not because we are unusually sexual but because so many transwomen are rejected by family, friends and society that no typical job or relationship prospects remain open to them. Sex work is so often the realm of the desperate.

I don't want to go into the subject of erotic presentation too deeply here as I want to keep this post relevant to relationships, but the sexualisation of trans life online and on the trans scene is definitely a worry to partners, as I can tell you from my own experience. I had a hard time reassuring those who knew of my trans side that it wasn't a fetish or a sexual practice, mainly because of what people find online when they research into trans life. To TGirls I'd say, be aware of your partner's feelings and any discomfort they display. And don't upstage your wife by being so much more glamorous than her!



So, because sex is such a significant part of the life of the human animal, to the point that there has always been legislation about it, it's impossible not to connect trans life to it. Being in the middle of the gender spectrum inevitably raises questions about sexuality and how a trans person approaches the mating game. It's very varied. The one thing that worries me is how many MtF trans people can damage a relationship by getting too distracted by sex and sexiness rather than truly accommodating their gender difference into the wider aspects of society and into their relationship. 

Forgive this long post but, as most people find the topic of sex eternally fascinating, I'm sure it won't have been a bore. These were a few personal thoughts on the topic that maybe raise more questions than they have answered. By all means disagree politely with me. We have no clear idea yet why people are trans and therefore no idea what that really signifies for our sex life. At the moment we are left to try to make our trans life work for us in whatever ways we can. If you are a partner of a trans person, please be understanding - we are struggling with it as much as you are. The sexual side of things that can seem so major is not actually the focus of our life, just one manifestation.

I have written with my generation of MtF trans people in mind; I cannot speak for the transmen out there. I may be wrong, but being FtM seems to involve less sexualisation of trans life. I'm also not quite sure how it is for the Millennials who have benefited from a life of internet connectedness that was lacking to my generation when young. I'd be interested in knowing what it's like for you.

A dip in the archives

I miss Maddy Watson, doyenne of the trans scene in Nottingham, who seems to have reached the evaporation stage of the trans half-life I mentioned in the last but one post (Repressing our trans nature). It was her birthday this week and I found this photo of us at Pink Punters nightclub. I'm in a minidress and suspender tights (all the rage in 2012). Sexy? Or just the style of the time?

Sue x

Cari lettori italiani

Speriamo che questa ondata di Covid sarà l'ultima. Comincio ad essere depressa dalla mancanza di progressi visibili dopo tanti sacrifici.

Oggi parlo un po' della nostra vita sessuale. Sono convinta che essere transgender non ha niente a che fare con l'erotismo e che i nostri vestiti un po' sexy non corrispondono alla nostra condizione ma che la vita sessuale della razza umana è più diffusa e complessa di quanto ne pensiamo. Quando accettiamo che siamo donne transgender, vogliamo cambiare tanto nella nostra vita che non funziona e sperimentare con cose nuove, anche con i nostri rapporti sessuali.

Sue x


  1. We're a complicated bunch is humans. Unfortunately there's no operating guide or instruction book, so we have to depend on researchers to find patterns of behaviour and draw their own conclusions. Then, society moves on with each generation and things change.

    Regarding the point on sex work, I teenager reading that at around 72 hours without food or shelter, most people will do what they need to do to survive. Although unrelated to your post, I think it's time we legalised sex work to improve protection for those involved.

    I feel quite lucky that I've not had unwanted attention. Unlike a few trans friends who even after a firm rebuttal had issues, bless them. :-/

    Maddie was a lovely person and I remember her first night out at Chams. We've lost contact somewhere along the way and I think she took a pace back as her family got older.

    1. Thanks, Lynn

      I think the human individual is actually quite simple. Like any animal, it needs clean water to drink, food in its belly, shelter from the elements, decent health and the opportunity to reproduce. What makes it all so difficult is the unique complexity of human society with all its cultural appendages.

      As for sex work, I agree with you. Some sex workers choose the work (and they are often very calm, collected and content people - after all, they're getting lots of what we all fancy and being paid for it!). But the sex industry is too associated with desperation, the degradation of being forced to sell the only thing left to you. The human trafficking, the exploitation, the brutality... This all needs an intelligent humane approach and legal protections. But as I said, there is little greater power exercised by one human over another than controlling their reproductive success, social life and personal happiness by manipulating their sex life, so sex workers have almost never been given true legal and social dignity and I doubt, sadly, that they ever will.

      My worries about admirers were swiftly allayed once I was out. I worry about my randy TGirlfriends from the point of view of their own relationship. I wouldn't feel happy taking advantage of someone who really is looking for clarity in their life rather than sex specifically.

      As for Maddy, she was a star who did so much for the trans community and was such a nice, fun girl. I do miss her.

      I hope you get to go to Chams again soon. A lockdown hug to you (suitably distanced!)

      Sue x