I was in my mid 20s when I finally figured out why I couldn’t stand receiving blow jobs. The word dysphoria was new to me but the sensation was not.
Dysphoria is a term for anxiety and discomfort around your sex assigned at birth. It is experienced by some – not all – trans people. After years of dissociating during hookups, I realised this term fit my experience. I came to understand myself as trans and non-binary, an epiphany that shook my sex life to its core in the best possible way. I started reading t4t (trans-for-trans) erotica. I unpicked the myth that sex is just penetration. I figured out new ways to touch and pleasure myself, which in turn led to discussions of dysphoria, boundaries and turn-ons with new partners.
School sex ed is abysmal at the best of times but trans people get nothing. We have to rely on crowdsourced knowledge, horny anecdotes and personal trial and error. This can be tricky, especially with online research. It’s hard to know what, or who, to trust.
Happily, sex writer Kelvin Sparks has written the closest thing we have to a Holy Grail: Trans Sex, a newly released, in-depth guide for adults. "This book is not a 'complete' guide to sex as a trans person," he writes in the introductory disclaimer. We have "such varied experiences, bodies and ways of moving through the world". Yet the sensitively written book, which Sparks says took around three years from conception to completion, leaves few stones unturned.
It’s a book packed with wisdom for trans and cis readers alike. Here’s a breakdown of some key points, accompanied by quotes from Sparks himself.
It’s not synonymous with sex. There’s a whole world of variety out there.
Especially with trans people, it matters. Everyone has preferences when it comes to dirty talk. Some people might have non-gendered names for their genitals, others might be fine with their junk being called a cock, a clit or something altogether different. A "good boy" or "good girl" here and there might kill the mood; on the other hand, it could be hugely affirming.
Not to be cliché but it is key. Sparks advises talking about sex outside of the bedroom beforehand – whether on a hookup app or during a first date, it gives you a good idea of what the sex will look like. "I'm a fan of the 'offer information to make it easier for someone to offer their own' approach," explains Sparks. "Phrasing things as questions can help with reciprocity. If you're struggling to get an answer, try an 'x or y' style rather than open-ended." These discussions make the difference between mediocre and mind-blowing sex.
There’s no failsafe way to avoid dysphoria but solo sex can help you locate your turn-ons and potential triggers. Dysphoria can be linked to certain positions, body parts or language. On the other hand, it can be alleviated by anything that feels particularly affirming or euphoric: prosthetic penises, sex toys, gender-affirming dirty talk. Practice makes perfect, and practising alone can feel less risky. "Untangling what it is you want from sex before you even get to the point of involving another person is really valuable," says Sparks.
Safe words are often discussed in a BDSM context but they can be helpful more broadly. If you aren’t enjoying sex for whatever reason, you can withdraw consent immediately. Dysphoria can cause temporary shutdown, making communication hard. In these contexts, safe words are invaluable.
Meet your new best friend. Manual sex includes fingering (vaginal and anal), prostate stimulation, dry humping and more. "It's gender and body neutral," says Sparks. Manual sex is also handy for navigating genital dysphoria. "It's something you can do regardless of you or your partner's genitals, including not directly interacting with genitals at all, if that's what you want."
Most people have a butthole. Stimulating it can feel great (prostate or not). Anal sex is not dirty or wrong, despite homophobic stereotypes, but to mitigate the risk of loose faecal matter, empty your bowels beforehand, then wash thoroughly with soap and warm water. Douche if you like, although it’s not essential. Latex gloves can be used for anal fingering or fisting (with plenty of prep and prior consent) and lube should be applied thoroughly and recurrently. If it hurts, stop.
Penetration, part two
There are endless configurations of trans bodies and not all of us experience genital dysphoria. Penetration can be complicated by hormone therapy (vaginal dryness, difficulty maintaining erections) but not all penetration requires genitals. Get creative with your hands, tongue and toys.
The effects differ from person to person. "I think the difficulty with a lot of trans sexuality is the scientific, peer-reviewed knowledge we have is not only limited, but limited to what cis researchers are interested in," says Sparks. What we do know is that masculinising hormones cause bottom growth (clitoral enlargement), informally known as a T-dick. In some cases, the 1-2 inch erect extension can be used for penetrative sex. In others, it might change what feels good – sucking or using a jacking-off motion might feel better than licking or rubbing, for example.
Feminising hormones can cause breast growth and increased sensitivity. Erections can become harder to maintain and sometimes painful, genitals can shrink slightly and orgasms are more likely to feel like a full-body sensation than ejaculatory cum shots. YouTuber ContraPoints' tongue-in-cheek treatise on 'girl-dick' will tell you more but Sparks cautions being aware of the limitations of both academic and anecdotal knowledge. Most of us are still doing our own research.
Sparks has spent years reviewing his favourites – he likes pinpoint external vibrators and grinding toys for solo sex, and strap-on dildos with partners. Pleasure aside, toys can be hugely affirming. From packers (prosthetic penises, either soft and squishy or hard enough for penetration) to anal toys for trans-feminine people navigating genital dysphoria, toys can make trans sex exponentially hotter.
"Hormones are not birth control," Sparks states firmly. Masculinising hormones are not guaranteed to stop you getting pregnant and feminising hormones are not guaranteed to make you infertile.
In Trans Sex, Sparks describes hearing anecdotally that testosterone can make vaginismus better for some, worse for others. If penetration does become painful, topical oestrogen cream will help.
There are multiple categories of gender affirmation surgeries, which are increasingly customisable. Lower surgeries – generally phalloplasty or metoidioplasty for trans-masculine people, orchiectomy and vaginoplasty for trans-feminine people – are generally multi-stage procedures and it’s worth talking to surgeons about options to retain maximum sexual pleasure.
Myths and misconceptions abound. Sparks says he recently saw a claim "that post-bottom surgery people can’t contract or pass on STIs, which is very much not true". Surgeries will change erogenous zones and change the ways you have sex. But as long as you’re following the aforementioned steps, experimenting sexually with your partners and communicating honestly, great sex will still be on the horizon.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to trans sex, as with sex more generally. As Sparks notes in his disclaimer, our bodies, experiences, desires and turn-ons all vary hugely yet learning the basics, unlearning a few myths and reframing societal ideas of what sex should be can make all the difference.