Author’s Note: I admit that this guide leans more toward trans men or gender non-conforming people who were assigned “female” at birth (AFAB) because that’s what I know. I’d never want to try and talk about things I haven’t experienced, but it’s my hope that at least some of my tips will nonetheless prove helpful and/or reflective to anybody else out there.
I’m a trans guy. I’m also a complete slut.
But I didn’t used to be that way. There was a time — roughly the first 25 years of my life — that I was petrified of having anybody touch me. Not just sexually, but at all. Dysphoria hardcore.
So I understand the worries of vulnerability and nudity and gender identity and triggers and orgasms and penetration and societal standards and being read and being misread and all of that other stuff. I truly do.
When you feel you can’t have (or don’t want) anybody to touch you, it’s bittersweet. You feel safer, but not happier. When this desire comes from outside factors instead of your own true choice, it’s its own hell.
Well, that’s how it was for me, at least.
And it took a solid four years of hard work for me to emerge from cowering (no, really, cowering) around physical contact. I couldn’t hold a relationship. I couldn’t look people in the eye. I couldn’t be hugged or cuddled or accidentally bumped into.
Yet I was constantly skin hungry, ultimately feeling like I was only half of a human because the longing wasn’t being fulfilled. And I wanted it to stop. I didn’t care what the end result was sexually as long as I could be happy.
This is the guidebook version of what I did in those four years to go from sexual anorexic to empowered, unapologetic sex-seeker.
1. Recognize That Sex Doesn’t Just Mean Boy-Penis-Thrusting-in-Girl-Vagina Penetration
First off, bleach all the societal messages that try to trick you into believing that sex is a very specific type of act.
It doesn’t need to involve only one cis man and one cis woman. It doesn’t need to include penetration (of a cis penis into a cis vagina — or at all).
And it doesn’t need to be in the missionary position on a bed at night with the lights out so you don’t have to look at each other or even realize you’re both in the same room because you’re refusing to make any noise anyway. Oh, and once the man’s done, it’s over.
Cis people. Why you ruinin’ sex?
Okay, so it’s not all cis people. It’s more like the awful, terrible, no-good social structures that have been built over time to create a plethora of myths and misconceptions about sex. It’s somehow been stunted into one pretty damn specific act.
Sex is actually a huge, broad verb.
It includes kissing and touching and snuggling and licking and nibbling and sucking and rubbing and spanking and moaning and dirty talk and fingers and hands and fists and palms and dildos and vibrators and butt plugs and fleshlights and latex and leather and riding crops and dog collars and animal suits and…and…
Sorry, I overheated. But you get the point.
Basically, the magic formula is this: Figure out whatever turns you on. That’s sex. The end.
This notion is particularly important for non-binary folks to grasp because, well, sex has been painted as incredibly binary.
Apparently what (or who) you do doesn’t qualify for the sexual Super Bowl unless you adhere to some oddly specific criteria about your body, your identity, and your actions. Otherwise, aww, ain’t it cute? You’re on the pee-wee team.
But the truth is that nobody has to be labeled as “woman” or “man” or “polka-dotted platypus” for sex to suddenly make sense. Sex doesn’t make sense. It feeds off the need for physical contact and is, therefore, charmingly chaotic.
All that matters is 1) the level of comfort you feel with your own body and 2) the consent of whoever you’re eying in the room. There is no binary in sex. The binary is gone. Say bye-bye.
2. If Applicable, Try to Pinpoint What Exactly About Sex Bothers You
Are you worried about how someone will view you if they see you completely naked? Are you scared they’ll misgender you in the moment?
That some sort of façade has been taken off? Have you only encountered such vulnerability in the past when it was wrong, nonconsensual, and/or awful? Do you think you’ll be just plain horrendous at it because you have little or no experience?
These are all things that went through my own head. And I gave a resounding yes to each one. But as I continued to pick apart these worries, I began to see how silly they were, how steeped in cultural expectations that had no relation to me whatsoever.
When you’re in, say, a bedroom, remember that all that exists is that bedroom and the people inside of it. The outside world is outside for a reason. It has no business trying to lecture you about gender or experience or body parts when somebody’s face is already between your legs.
3. Reflect on Which Fears Are Gender-Related and Which Are PTSD-Related
I recognize that not all non-binary people have PTSD, but many of us do thanks to society being a bunch of dumbasses.
I myself am a survivor of rape and sexual assault many times over. Icky stuff, that is. And its aftereffects added so many layers to my trans-based dysphoria that I thought my head would explode.
I didn’t know what was what anymore. I couldn’t tell up from down. And if you’ve never been there, believe me, that stuff’s scary.
If you’re a survivor of abuse (sexual or otherwise), sit yourself down when you feel emotionally ready and gently go through your fears and where you think they came from. Make a list and write it out if things start to feel complicated or confusing.
However, in the end, don’t agonize over your inability to put a feeling into one neat category or another. Sometimes the stuff overlaps and it stays that way.
But reflecting on it all not only will help you come to terms with your history, but will help you see if you’re mentally ready for hot, sweaty love.
4. Engage in Safe, Nonsexual Physical Contact
As I said, my dysphoria was pretty bad. So I figured the best way to combat it was to work from the ground up.
I began to give my friends more hugs. I became more touchy-feely. I stood slightly closer to innocent-seeming strangers who would approach me on the street for directions. I tried not to instantly recoil like I’d been burned when somebody’s hand would accidentally brush against mine.
But the biggest help was massage.
A close friend began to go to massage therapy school, and I offered to be one of her guinea pigs, meaning I was getting free massages two-to-four times a month as part of her homework and training.
She knew about my body history, I trusted her as much as I could with anyone at that time, and we gave it a shot.
Over time, my body learned to completely relax when somebody else’s hands were on me in such a safe, consensual way.
I recognize how lucky I was in this regard and how rare these opportunities can be, but I highly encourage massage to others. Look at some how-to videos online and have a trusted friend do a swap with you. Or, if you’re feeling bold, go get it professionally done.
If it’s outside of your budget, look up your local massage therapy schools. They need to train their students, so their massages are often available at heavily discounted prices, especially if they’re last-minute or walk-ins meant to fill up empty spots.
Massage has all the right things: It’s safe, nonsexual touch that still focuses on pretty much all body parts outside of the socially sexual bits. It encourages relaxation and mindful breathing.
It actually makes your body feel better, as well as your mind when your body starts releasing all of those endorphins. You get used to being naked (or almost naked) in a room with another person in a private setting.
Of course, there are a lot of specifics that go into trans people feeling safe in a professional massage setting.
Depending on your identity, your body type, and what you have and haven’t done in the sense of a transition, you’ll have to decide whether or not to disclose your body history to your massage therapist.
Regardless of your choice, just researching and going to a therapist you’ve heard is trans-friendly should be a great step in the right direction.
And to all of you massage therapists out there: Please start evaluating the way your practice is run to assure it’s welcoming to trans people in safe, affirming ways. We need you. Badly.
5. Educate Yourself
Reading books on sexual anorexia, PTSD, and gender dysphoria could very well be helpful to you, but you should put even more importance on the education of your body.
Don’t fall into the belief that a partner should be the first one to open your eyes to new things, especially when you’re already curious about them. That power is yours and yours alone.
Not sure what a “true” orgasm feels like? Lay back and start practicing. Thinking about being submissive? Put on a ball gag and see how you feel about it. Want penetration or double penetration? You just need sex-friendly toys, not necessarily extra people.
I myself became curious about various things and began to venture into them on my own. I realized which didn’t satisfy me and which I absolutely loved.
And I had figured it out for myself by myself. That alone gave me a bunch of confidence, giving me some direction of what I liked and how I could therefore ask for it when I was with another person.
Some survivors may have trouble thinking of, say, penetration as being a new experience if they’ve had it forced upon them in the past. Yet people may wonder: Doesn’t that mean your first experience —perhaps even your first orgasm — has been stolen from you?
Remember that what you experienced was something nonconsensual. Now you’re trying it with complete consent when that awful person is (or those awful people are) far, far away.
While your brain may not have registered it yet, these are two entirely different experiences.
6. Have a Trusted, Knowledgeable Therapist on Hand
If you feel ready to be sexual with another person, I highly encourage you to have an awesome therapist on standby in case of any unforeseen triggers you need to hash out the following day.
If your dysphoria has been bad enough in the past, chances are you’ve already been seeing a therapist. (And if you never have, I recommend considering it if it’s of interest and accessible.)
I recognize that universal healthcare has yet to be universal and that mental health care workers can be pricey, but you may be able to find some affordable alternatives. Check online for any government insurance, charity therapists, or trans-related help centers in your area.
A warning: There are a lot of horrible mental health care workers out there, especially when it comes to trans-related concerns. So many are cis and blissfully unaware of our specific needs.
Avoid these people like the plague. There’s nothing wrong with shopping around for a good one. And when you find them, latch on. They can do amazing things for you. They did for me.
7. Pick a Partner Who Truly Deserves You
Look, I’m not about abstinence-only education or waiting for marriage or whatever else people tell each other so that they never have any fun.
But for this kind of situation, you could end up psychologically scarring yourself if you pick out someone who isn’t going to treat you right.
For me, I was with a gay cis man who was completely attracted to me regardless of the party in my pants.
He made me feel incredibly desirable without pressuring me. I’d never felt so attractive to someone before. And that in itself was an aphrodisiac.
When the time was right, I not only suggested penetration and volunteered to be the receptive one, but also opted for front-hole penetration.
Was I a little scared? Sure. But after bossing him around to test the waters, I saw how obliging he was and I simply let go. With the way my body is designed, I came six times. I daresay it was a good night.
We didn’t last as a relationship, if you care to know. I assumed as much when we’d met. But I knew nonetheless that he’d be a great first-time partner, and I’ve never regretted that decision.
8. Understand How to Practice Safety, If That’s a Priority of Yours
Have a talk about STI statuses if that’s a concern of yours. Go to a Planned Parenthood clinic or your physician to get tested if you don’t know your status. Consider also looking into tests for herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, and syphilis — not just HIV. Knowledge is power, folks.
Also, use any protection that you deem necessary. If you’re going the anal route, I suggest a condom (or glove or whatever it is you’re sticking in there) no matter what.
If you’re a trans man or AFAB genderqueer/ gender non-normative person who still has their inside bits and will be doing certain things with a cis penis, remember the risks for pregnancy. Even when using testosterone, it’s still possible to become pregnant.
And lube. Lube is your friend. Many testosterone-using trans men or AFAB non-normative people sometimes produce less natural lubricant when their hormones shift, so take advantage of your options.
You don’t need things to be physically uncomfortable, you know? Talk about taking a step backward.
9. Let It Go
Now half of you are humming stuff from Frozen. You’re welcome.
But seriously, do everything you can to freaking relax. If you don’t relax, your brain won’t be able to shut off the bad valves and turn on the right ones. Without relaxation, you’re going to tighten up your muscles and restrict your motions.
Depending on what you’re doing, this could cause you physical pain, which in turn will likely cause you emotional pain, which will cause even more physical pain…
It’s a cycle. And relaxing as best you can and letting go of your fears will help you break that cycle and start wandering down a new path, if only in the moment.
In the end, positive experiences are the best thing to help you through your sexual exploration.
Sounds self-evident, right?
But that’s really what it comes down to.
The more positive experiences you have, the more confident you’ll become in your abilities, your self-seductiveness, and your assurance in how others correctly perceive you and your identity. Even when you’re completely naked.
James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He isn’t particularly fond of his name, but he has to admit it makes him easier to remember. When he’s not busy scaring cis gender people with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play SEGA and eat candy.