This piece is one I wrote originally for Everyday Feminism, cross-posted with permission.
Because I feel conversations about sex and consent are so important, especially when they pertain to less visible identities, I’m sharing it here as well. I hope this is useful information for readers, regardless of their gender identity or the identities of their partner(s)!
Sex, regardless of who we’re having it with, should always involve a lot of conversation. Getting on the same page and establishing what each person wants and needs is just a really good first step if you’re looking to get busy!
Sometimes the conversations we have leading up to sex look a little bit different. Depending on our bodies, our preferences, our identities, our sexual histories, and our kinks, we may need to be asking specific questions to make sure that everyone is having a good time.
This is especially true for folks who may be looking to have sex with someone who is transgender.
As a transgender person myself, I’ve noticed that these conversations are especially difficult for some of my partners. They recognize the need to talk about how our encounter might look, but they struggle to figure out how to frame the discussion.
Sometimes, they avoid the conversation altogether because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.
However, if we don’t talk about it first, it’s far too easy to cross boundaries, make hurtful assumptions, and turn what should’ve been a sexy, fun encounter into a serious bummer.
The good news is that having a respectful and healthy conversation about sex with a trans partner isn’t hard to do.
So let’s talk!
Here are some ways to get the dialogue going in a way that is respectful of our transgender partners, as well as some common pitfalls that you’ll need to avoid.
1. Set the Tone
It’s important to set up the conversation so that everyone is on equal footing.
Don’t tell your partner, “Since you’re transgender, I know we need to have a special conversation to deal with your issues!” Ouch. That makes it seem like your partner’s identity is an inconvenience and that the conversation is a burden.
Instead, make the conversation about both of you: “I think we should chat about what we like and dislike and what our boundaries are before we get to it.”
This is great, because that means both partners can discuss their needs, and the spotlight isn’t exclusively on your partner and their gender identity.
2. Leave Your Assumptions at the Door
Every transgender person is different. You may have had sex with a trans person before, and you may even be trans yourself, but what one partner liked or found triggering may be completely different from what a new partner might experience.
Some trans people have significant body dysphoria where certain parts of their bodies can cause them incredible amounts of distress. Interacting with these parts of the body may be traumatic. Others do not have any dysphoria at all, or only at specific points in their lives.
Acknowledging that trans people are all different from one another is the first step in having a productive, healthy conversation.
Don’t assume, for example, that transgender people will want to take on specific roles during an encounter strictly based on gender. Not all trans men are interested in being dominant, for example, nor do all trans women want to be submissive.
Another common assumption is that all trans folks have similar bodies and goals in transition. However, this is completely untrue. All trans bodies are different, just like cisgender (non-trans) bodies are. Don’t go into the conversation with the expectation that your partner has had certain surgeries or will ever choose to undergo surgery.
If we can set our assumptions aside and start with a clean slate, the conversation will go much more smoothly. Every person is the expert on their own experience and their own body, so let them be your guide.
3. Make the Conversation About Pleasure – Not About Parts
It’s not the best idea to ask your partner to describe what their body or body parts look like or what surgeries they have had or plan on having. Instead, allow them to disclose what they feel comfortable sharing on their own terms.
Instead of asking about their genitals, ask them what makes them feel good.
Focusing on pleasure can be particularly fun for everyone involved. What does your partner find sexy? Talk about what excites you, and what acts are particularly thrilling for you, and what you both would like to explore. Does your partner have any fantasies? Do they like to roleplay? Do they have any kinks? Are they into BDSM?
Generally speaking, your partner will disclose what they feel is the pertinent information for you to have about their body – and by focusing on how you can enjoy yourselves, instead of interrogating them about their anatomy, you respect the person instead of reducing them to their genitalia.
4. Know Where the Boundaries Are (And Commit to Respecting Them)
Ask your partner where they like to be touched and where they don’t like to be touched; know which sexual acts are hot and which are off-limits. Just like cisgender partners, we all have things that we’re into and things that we aren’t enthusiastic about. Make sure you know what those things are.
Remember to phrase it in a way that doesn’t put emphasis on dysphoria or makes an assumption. Don’t say, “What triggers you? Is it your vagina?”
Instead, set the tone, and start with yourself. “I hate being tickled, and I hate having my earlobes bit. What about you?”
Also recognize that these boundaries may change during a sexual encounter.
Maybe they told you before that oral sex is great, but decide during the encounter that it isn’t feeling good. Always listen to your partner, and check in with them to make sure that everything is going okay.
It’s a great idea to ask your partner ahead of time how they like to be checked in with. Should you be verbally asking them if they’re having fun, and how often should you ask? Will you have a code of some kind – red, yellow, green; a number; a safe word? Are there signs or body language you should be paying attention to?
And most importantly, never, ever push the boundaries. Do not pressure your partner to try something that they have clearly stated is off-limits or seem uncomfortable with. They also don’t owe you an explanation as to why they don’t want to do it.
Pro-tip: Consent is not the absence of “no.” It’s the presence of a “yes.”
5. Learn the Language
You should know what your partner’s pronouns are and always use those pronouns, whether it’s “she,” “he,” “they,” or “ze.” Being misgendered during sex is a real downer. If you don’t yet know what their pronouns are, be sure to ask.
If a transgender person likes to roleplay as a different gender during sex, ask them if they have a different set of pronouns that they prefer during those encounters.
Be mindful of the descriptors you use, and ask your partner how they like to be described. Do they like the word “pretty?” Are they turned on when you tell them they’re “handsome?” Or should you avoid gendered words altogether and stick to “sexy?”
Remember that words like “slut,” “tr*nny,” and “he-she” can all be very offensive, and should never be used unless the trans person specifically asks for them to be used.
Also ask about how your partner refers to their body. For example, a trans woman may refer to her genitalia as her “clit,” while other trans women may use the word “penis.” A trans guy may refer to that hole down there as a “vagina,” while some are repulsed by the suggestion.
Bodies can also include prosthetics. What some call a “strap-on” others may call their “dick,” and what someone calls “breast forms” others may simply call their “rack.” If a transgender person refers to a prosthetic as part of their body, it should be treated that way.
6. Consider Your Intentions (And Be Clear About Them)
Transgender people are often fetishized, especially trans people of color. You should be asking yourself: Why am I interested in having sex with this person?
Are you looking for a certain type of experience or looking to satisfy a specific desire, rather than having a genuine desire for or interest in this person?
Most transgender people aren’t interested in being your fetish or sexual experiment. Transgender people are not objects to impose fantasies upon.
If you find yourself fetishizing your transgender lover, you need to be honest about your expectations – and decide together if having sex is the right choice for both of you.
7. Have a Plan
How do you plan on being safe? Will you be using any barriers, and who is responsible for purchasing and bringing them? Is birth control necessary? Have you been tested recently for STIs? Are either of you HIV-positive, and if so, how will this impact your encounter?
These are good questions to ask regardless of whether or not your partner is trans.
Additionally, if you are looking to explore BDSM or some kind of new sexual act, are you prepared? Have you done your research? If your partner wants to be tied up, for example, do you know how to do it without hurting them? Do you have a safe word?
Talk about what you know, and be honest about what you don’t know.
If your partner is differently-abled, do they need specific accommodations?
Lastly, prepare for mistakes. If your partner chooses to talk about what triggers them, be sure to ask, “What can I do to help if that happens?” Maybe you accidentally misgendered them, touched a part of the body that they didn’t want touched, or perhaps something unexpected happened through no fault of your own.
Do they need a glass of water and a conversation to cool down? Do they need to be left alone? Should you cuddle or turn on the television?
It’s good to know how to comfort them.
8. Be Body-Positive
All bodies are different, cis or trans. It’s important — so important — not to impose your standards or desires onto your partner.
Some transgender people wear binders during sex. Some tuck, some shave, some pack. Transgender bodies have all sorts of configurations, and they’re all valid, beautiful, and sexy.
It’s okay to have preferences – but when you pressure your partner and try to push those preferences onto their body, while ignoring what your partner wants for themselves, it can be very problematic.
So no, it’s not okay to ask your partner when they’re getting “the surgery.” It’s also not okay to ask your partner not to get “the surgery.”
It’s generally not okay to ask people to modify or change their bodies for your own pleasure or experience, unless they have asked for your opinion.
The most important thing to remember is that conversations about sex don’t have to be scary – they can be fun, enlightening, interesting, and yes, really hot.
Remember the saying “knowledge is power?” It could not be more fitting here.
When we give our partners the chance to teach us about their bodies and their preferences, and in turn, give others the chance to learn about us, we empower everyone involved with the know-how that’s needed to have an awesome time. It’s a win-win situation.
Ultimately, transgender people are just that — people — and, like you, they deserve respect, both in the bedroom and outside of it. If you approach this conversation with kindness, patience, humor, and a willingness to learn, you really can’t go wrong.
Now go forth! You know what to do. Once you’ve made your way through Consent Town, you’ll be at the Erogenous Zone in no time.
Sam Dylan Finch a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A passionate feminist and social justice advocate, Sam explores topics such as transgender identity, mental health and illness, radical self-love, and queer feminism. In addition to his work at Everyday Feminism, he is also the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his hella queer and very awesome blog. You can learn more about him here and read his EF articles here. Follow him on Twitter @samdylanfinch.