Transitioning Saved My (Sex) Life: On Gender, Pleasure, and Exploration

Credit: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Transitioning is a scary thing.

It’s liberating, no doubt, but the number of changes you undergo can be terrifying. There aren’t exactly many guides out there to help you adjust to what your body’s going through – and as a trans woman on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I’ve noticed my body shift and alter substantially. 

It doesn’t happen in the same way that a body shifts for a young, cisgender woman going through puberty. Unless you started transitioning young – which many of us aren’t able to – you don’t get to see yourself develop the way of your peers. There isn’t much out there about the physical and emotional effects of gender transition, both in terms of peer-reviewed medical research and in online communities like Reddit, so people in transition often feel left to figure it out for themselves.

There’s no guide out there, no instruction manual: at least cisgender people get the option of sexual education to help guide them through puberty in their youth. There’s barely anything for transgender adults going through the same changes, later in life. 

Your Body Changes In Ways You May Not Expect

One of the most pervasive and difficult-to-understand things about transitioning is how it affects your sex life. It isn’t the most talked about thing when you’re transitioning. Beyond warnings about erectile dysfunction, doctors often don’t go much into how your sex drive changes when you’re starting estrogen.

There’s a lot that you go through, and I’m only beginning to discover it for myself. I’m currently taking spironolactone, estradiol, and progesterone, and the combination of them has substantially altered my experience with masturbation and sex.

Before I started transitioning, I was horny. A lot. Just about every day, one minor thing would remind me of my kinks and I’d be done right there. I’d need to masturbate to get relief – otherwise, it’d be there constantly annoying me throughout the day. Whenever I got done with work, I had to masturbate. Whenever I finished chores, I had to masturbate. It was just a constant cycle of dysphoric arousal.

It was also a very one-note experience. Masturbation and sex were solely about seeking sexual release – a one-and-done orgasm when I was cumming, and that was it. There wasn’t much else to it – it wasn’t an experience, it wasn’t overwhelming, it was just a bit of orgasmic pleasure that I was working towards, and that was it. Coupling that with the immense dysphoria and discomfort I felt with the acts, it felt more like a bother at times than something I could actually enjoy. 

A lot of other trans women report this exact thing as well. Many detail being forced to the whims of testosterone, not able to have much control over when they get turned on or how. Whenever it happened, it was completely out of their control.

This changed when I started my hormones.

Sex: Post-Estrogen

First, my sex drive began to die down. It wasn’t as strong as it used to be – it started dwindling a bit. I went from masturbating daily to every other day.  Soon, every other day moved from a couple of times a week to almost none at all. It was a gradual decline – it didn’t happen overnight – but it was easy to notice as it was happening. 

The experience of masturbation began to change radically. I slowly moved from experiencing just one singular, powerful orgasm to multiple spread throughout my whole session. They were equally impactful, equally powerful, and they were unique in that contrary to being focused on my penis, they were spread out my whole body. I felt them in every part of me.

Research indicates that this experience isn’t unique to me. In her research focusing on sexual function and gender transition, Dr. Natnita Mattawanon found that this is a widespread occurrence among transitioning people. The paper indicates sexual desire within the first three months of starting HRT tends to drop substantially, to the point where there was minimal interest in sex or masturbation from the study participants.

Simply, the paper states, “Estrogen and antiandrogen therapy resulted in a reduction in sexual desire in many studies.”

Other measures of sex beyond just sexual desire were also assessed, however, the results are less interpretable due to there being less data on the topic. There was found to be an increase in those reporting orgasmic dysfunction when on hormone replacement therapy as compared to the expected baseline.

Gender Dysphoria Stunts Sexual Euphoria 

Let’s pause and take a moment to understand just how sex feels for a lot of pre-transition trans people. The feeling of using body parts you’re dysphoric about to arrive at orgasm, the feeling of having that take over your whole body, the experience of going through a sexual release that feels like it was never meant for you… it can be a lot, both physically and emotionally. It can also be a major turn-off.

So when you first begin to experience the effects of transitioning for the first time, it can be liberatory. You begin to feel what it’s like to belong in your body for the first time, to not feel like a stranger in your own life. Sex becomes enjoyable again as it’s more in line with who you truly are – you’re beginning to experience it from a new perspective where you can enjoy yourself.

From this, your sex drive may begin to go up again, to the point of enjoying sex and masturbation again. It doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually you become more and more interested in getting it on again. 

This phenomenon is backed by data and is best illustrated in a study on transgender individuals’ sexual desire while undergoing hormone therapy by Dr. Justine Defreyne. The data indicates that within the first three months of starting hormone treatment, the trans women in the study experienced a sharp decline in their sexual desire. However, 36 months after starting, the women reported experiencing increased sexual desire compared to before starting hormones.

The paper notes, “Gender-affirming [hormone therapy] induces short-term changes in sexual desire in transgender people, with… decreased sexual desire after initiation of estrogens plus antiandrogens. However, over a longer period of time, other factors contribute to sexual desire, which results in a net increase in sexual desire in [trans women] receiving feminizing [hormone therapy].”

Transitioning Helps Trans Women (And Our Sex Drives)

While these are only a few examples from the small amount of medical literature on transgender sex and pleasure, this data illustrates the main point at hand: transitioning seems to help trans women’s sex drives, at least those on estrogen. It, of course, doesn’t take a scientist to figure this out. Any number of trans people could relay their own experiences on the matter, but it does help to illustrate the point that transitioning helps with sex.

Transitioning is good. Plain and simple, it creates a whole new world of experiences for all sorts of queer people. It’s one of the many amazing things about being transgender – it’s something we should take pride in and celebrate. Sex is beautiful, being trans is beautiful, and how they intersect should be beautiful as well.