Dear MKE SEX,

What’s the deal with transgender people and sex? I mean, can they have sex? If so, how does it work? Thanks!

Just Curious

Dear Curious,

This is one of those times when a seemingly straightforward question, just 20 little words, could yield an entire textbook as a response. The answer varies widely based on several factors.

Is the person on hormones as part of their transition? If so, how has that impacted their sexual function? Hormones might make the genitals more or less sensitive, or change how much swelling occurs. It could increase someone’s drive, or reduce it.

Has the person had any surgical procedures related to transitioning? If so, what sort of anatomy do they currently have, and how does it work? Surgery on any part of the body may alter its function, for better or for worse.

How does the person feel about their body? We all have periods of time when we love our bodies, and we can be really into sharing them with a lover or a friend. We also all have times when we’re not really into our bodies for a variety of reasons, and this can put a serious damper on our sex drive.

But all of this is rather cart-before-the-horse. These follow-up questions really address the most basic, mechanical aspects of sex. The ol’ in-out-in-out, if you will. And sex is really about so much more than that. Or it should be. So before you diagram sliding Tab A into Slot B, it’s a good idea to get your head around the concept of sex as more than a single, definitive act. Our culture defines the word “sex” as the penetration of a vagina by a penis. But of course, there are lots of other sexual acts that are just as fulfilling, like fingering, rimming, oral sex, anal sex, etc. Whether you’re straight, gay, queer, cis-gender or trans, we all miss out when we limit our definition of sex. If you believe that PIV sex is the only sex, you’ll likely feel sad, frustrated, or angry when it’s not an option for you.

(Personally, I think of partnered sex as any consensual, intentional, sexual encounter whose purpose is to bring pleasure to at least one participant. I also include solo-sex in my definition of “real sex.”)

So, is it possible for trans people to have sex? Yes! But will that sex look like an extended cut of “Take My Breath Away” in Top Gun? Eh, maybe. Really though, who does have sex like that more than a couple of times in their life? Most often, we cook up something from a simple recipe. What do I like? What do you like? Do we need to be quiet because there are neighbors? Are either of us sore from a long day? How much time do we have? And then we figure out how to rub our bodies together in a (hopefully) mutually satisfying way. It’s the same for our trans friends, which isn’t really a surprise when you think about it.

I’d like to add that I’m really glad you asked me this question, because it would never be okay to ask a trans person, unless the two of you were actively discussing having sex with each other. You know how basic decency keeps you from saying things like, “Do you spit or swallow?” to random people? The same decency applies to trans folks. No one owes you an explanation about their intimate life unless you’re having sex with them. Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet. If you have more questions about this, you should check out some of the many resources available. The book Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, is a great place to start.

P.S. On Saturday, June 18, Buck Angel will teach “Sexing the Transman,” a class for and about trans people and sexuality at The Tool Shed.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her an email at mkesex@gmail.com and she’ll get back to you with an answer.