What we know: Changes in sexual arousal during transition

Zinnia JonesDuring the years I’ve spent in circles of trans people online and on trans support boards, one of the most consistently reported experiences I’ve seen is a noticeable change, particularly among trans women, in the form that their sexual arousal takes after starting HRT. One common bit of folk wisdom passed around is the rather simplistic observation that reducing testosterone and raising estrogen lowers one’s sex drive, while raising testosterone and lowering estrogen does the opposite. While this generalization may be useful as a broadly applicable starting point, conceptualizing sexual desire and arousal as a scale from “more” to “less” simplifies what’s actually a very complex phenomenon, and fails to capture some of the most significant changes in sexuality that trans people on HRT often experience.

When trans people talk about HRT’s impact on how they experience sexual feelings, it’s rarely in terms of simply having feelings of “less” or “more”. Many trans women, myself included, do begin to feel that their sex drive is far less intrusive or insistent, and is often something that can be happily disregarded indefinitely – a welcome relief to those who previously found sexual urges to be annoying and unwanted. But some of the most noticeable changes are in the texture of sexual sensation itself, with trans women often noting that stimulation and orgasm feel much deeper and more powerful. One comic illustrated orgasms before HRT as like the firing of a laser, and orgasms after HRT as a full-bodied quivering that shatters every glass in the room. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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One Response to What we know: Changes in sexual arousal during transition

  1. tailcalled says:

    I think sometimes trans women overestimate the degree to which their sexuality changes during transition. For example, some feel that their sexual orientation changes, with more attraction to men. This has never been demonstrated, and the one case in the clinical literature found that the original orientation persisted:

    Other trans women feel greater sexual fluidity from transition, e.g. Contrapoints commented on a change towards “vague bisexuality”. However, this also doesn’t match the evidence from studies like the one above.

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