When Transitioning Changes How We Have Sex
Trans women encounter several changes as a result of transitioning — including different experiences with sexuality.
A few months ago, my friend told me she stopped taking hormones.
“Before I went on hormones,” she said, “I used to be able to splatter the wall from a few meters away.”
She was talking, of course, about semen.
“I figured that now that I have tits, I could go back to that.”
Nasash is a transgender woman. She’s been on a mixture of spironolactone and estradiol for nearly three years as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which reduced her body’s production of testosterone and boosted its levels of estrogen. When she started sleeping with her partner after a dry spell, she found herself experiencing a lot of physical discomfort during sex. She blamed it on HRT.
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When Nasash first told me about her decision, I was surprised. There are several serious procedural obstacles you have to go through in order to start medically transitioning. Because the process of getting on hormones is such an uphill battle, I’d always sort of viewed HRT as a hard-won victory. I wondered, why would anyone ever want to put a pause on their transition?
But, I would learn, Nasash is far from alone in making such a decision. There are a number of changes that trans women encounter as a result of transitioning — and a lot of those changes include totally different experiences with sex and sexuality.
To better understand the choice Nasash made, I spoke to four of my trans women friends — Nasash, Santana, Akilah, and M Samira —to answer this question: Does transitioning change how we have sex?
Akilah and Santana tell me that, prior to coming out as trans, they both dated men— but they now have opened up to a much more diverse range of sexual partners. (For their part, Nasash and M Samira currently identify as lesbians.) As they tell it, transitioning expanded their ideas around sexuality and sexual partners.
This didn’t surprise me at all — indeed, one of the most significant changes that trans women may experience when transitioning has to do with sexual orientation.
It’s a common joke among trans fem people that HRT turns you into what Akilah calls “a transbian.” In a recent article for Broadly, two trans women talked about how they became lesbians after dating men pre-transition; their experiences are echoed in a 2014 study also referenced in the piece.
When I brought this issue up to Akilah, they laughed. “Well, I was never really attracted to solely men,” they said. “But I realized that transitioning made me more okay with the concept of being intimate with a girl.” Akilah said that starting their transition helped them really accept and take pride in their bisexuality in a way they never felt comfortable with before.
‘I realized that transitioning made me more okay with the concept of being intimate with a girl.’
Santana told me that she began to sleep with women after she started HRT. Though she slept with gay and bisexual men pre-transition, the idea of sleeping with straight men is relatively new — and it’s not one that she’s 100% on board with. “Since starting hormones, I’ve just kind of been more willing to experiment with women in that way,” she said. She said it’s difficult to clarify exactly where and how that change took place, but in her words, sex with straight men now leaves her feeling awkward.
“I don’t want to ever identify as heterosexual,” she said.
Since she’s begun sleeping with straight men more frequently, Santana tells me that she can’t shake this distracting sense of dehumanization. It’s become hard to discern how much of men’s interest is genuine, and how much of it comes from a place of fetishization. Often, both of these thoughts are present at once; it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
“The headspace for [sex] has changed a lot. I’ve chosen mostly not to engage with it in a lot of ways, and just try and get myself off,” said Santana, noting that masturbation can be more pleasurable than sex as it does away with that air of objectification. “You know yourself,” she said, adding that there’s less pressure to perform in a certain way.
Santana told me that she’s found herself having less sex than she did before starting hormones. Her sexual appetite is the same, but she’s not as interested in pursuing partners. “I haven’t really felt the drive to go out and search for people,” she noted.
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Since transitioning, M Samira has become more choosy when selecting partners, and more conscious of partners’ perceptions. While hesitant to attribute those changes entirely to HRT, transitioning has helped provide clarity on what to look for during sex. “Different parts of my body react differently now to things I would’ve never expected a year ago,” M Samira said. “So much so that it’s made me way more eager to be vocal about the things I want from sex.”
When I first sat down to write this article, I was confused about exactly why HRT has the effect it does. There wasn’t much in the way of clinical information to point me in the right direction. But then Nasash offered some insight.
“If you’re on estrogen, you’re no longer getting sleep erections, which is when testosterone would normally get you hard,” she said. “Think about it like doing the splits. If you don’t do the splits for a while, you’re not going to be able to do them as easily.” According to Nasash, erections help stretch out the muscle tissue in your penis, which impacts overall comfort during sex. Without sleep erections or frequent sexual activity, it can be harder to get or maintain an erection to the point of ejaculation.
The issue of ejaculation was one of the most noticeable changes that kept coming up. Everyone commented that after a few months of HRT, the heavy white loads they used to experience were gone, the result of their overall testosterone levels being reduced. They found their cum to be thinner, lighter, and more transparent. Moreover, cum was less likely to make an appearance during sex at all.
Without sleep erections or frequent sexual activity, it can be harder to get or maintain an erection to the point of ejaculation.
But in M Samira’s view, the “loss” of thick, opaque cum wasn’t such a loss after all; once the idea of “finishing” held less sway, sexual experiences actually improved substantially. “Now I have lighter, smaller loads, and I don’t need to cum to be satisfied with sex,” said M Samira. “I feel more in control of my body now, and more able to have longer sexual experiences without the frustration of not cumming soon enough or at all.”
M Samira also noted another positive change, one shared by everyone I spoke with. When you start on HRT, your semen tastes much sweeter. Nasash described it as “cum nectar.”
We’re often made to associate sexual potency and pleasure with “finishing” in the traditional sense. Hearing my friends tell it differently was another reminder that the way we tend to think about our bodies during sex is heavily shaped by sexual media that predominantly caters to straight, cis men.
The more I talked to my friends, the more that theme came up. Akilah, who does sex work, told me that they often encounter clients who have expectations of their body that have been learned from pornography. Cum features prominently. “That’s the thing, people kind of expect it,” they said. “They’re like, ‘If I’m hooking up with a person with a dick, I want heavy cum.’”
We’re often made to associate sexual potency and pleasure with ‘finishing’ in the traditional sense.
M Samira discovered similar expectations with partners: “I’m probably the first girl with a dick most of the people I’ve been sleeping with have actually been sexual with. They expect me to perform like a man, although my body is totally different.”
There’s this sort of mainstream confusion about how a trans person is “supposed” to act in bed, based on inaccurate assumptions about their bodies. Ejaculation is a frequent sticking point.
In some cases, trans women who do sex work take cum into account when making transition-related choices, because they know that it affects their ability to make a living. “Clients expect you to cum heavy loads and coat them in it. And I’m just like, ‘I can’t do that, I’m sorry,’” Akilah said. “They want the full experience, and that’s why some girls stop hormones. They’ll have full facial feminization surgery, they’ll have breasts, they’ll have full body contouring, and they’ll be off hormones so they can cum heavy white loads.”
Hard numbers are rare, but the general opinion among porn professionals is that trans sex sells. Consumption of trans-fetishist pornography has skyrocketed recently, but transgender porn has always been popular. “Girl with a dick” fetishization can be damaging — sometimes even dangerous — but Akilah tells me about girls who pull $800 precisely because they’ve made whatever adjustments they need to in order to cum heavy loads like trans porn stars.
“Most guys are chasers,” Akilah said (chasers are people who specifically pursue transfeminine partners). “But it means that they expect me to look like the girls in porn.” Those expectations and assumptions, especially around ejaculation, are everywhere — and trans women who do sex work often take them into account.
“People expect so much of trans girls,” Akilah said.
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Nasash is back on her regular hormone cycle; the “splatter” she described remains elusive.
When I asked her the results of that break, Nasash just shrugged. “Ultimately, I did get an increased ability to have erections and to cum back, but I also found some of the other things to be undesirable,” she said. “It’s not something that I would want to do often — there are definitely reasons that I want to be on hormones — but it did end up helping quite a bit.”
I started writing this article to help make better sense of Nasash’s choice to put her transition on pause. There’s a tendency to view HRT in sensationalist linear terms, as though that’s what “makes” you transgender, in one fell swoop. The more I talked to people, the more that notion dissipated. I’d learned that, in many ways, changing her hormones was one method for Nasash to gain agency over her body and sexuality.
If these cases are any indication, transition is far from linear or generalizable. Everyone’s experience is unique.