Coming Out As Trans Didn’t Get Rid Of My Shame Around Masturbation

Illustration by Sarah Cliff
It’s 2021 and from celebrities releasing sex toys to Instagram influencers working with big brands to promote sexual wellness, everyone seems to be on a mission to talk about female pleasure. As a self-proclaimed slut I feel like I should be celebrating that but instead, I find myself feeling faintly ill whenever anyone talks about how those clit-sucking toys work for 'all women'.
Masturbation can empower women but it can also be an incredibly uncomfortable topic for women to get to grips with; years and years of being taught to feel shame about being a sexual person is hard to shake. But cis women aren’t the only ones who are taught that they shouldn’t wank. I’m not a woman but I am scared to look at my own genitals; worse, I’ve definitely had painful sex because I didn’t know how to explain to my partner that no, that doesn’t feel good. I’m trans but being socialized as a cis woman while I was growing up, I still have all of my internalized sexual shame. 
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Not long after I came out as trans, I gave a guy I was really into a blow job and he came in my mouth. We’d been talking about having sex as our friendship grew over the last few months. After meeting for a coffee to talk face-to-face for the first time, we headed to my London hotel room to have hot, kinky sex. The sex was very hot and very, very kinky, but I didn’t come. 
I understand why he didn’t give me an orgasm: he knew I had dysphoria around my genitals, and he knew that I preferred to keep my boxers on during sex because of my vaginismus. He also knew that I experienced pleasure even though I didn’t get off. However, looking back on the encounter, I can’t help but think about the orgasm gap: straight cis women have fewer orgasms than straight cis men.  
I’m not straight and I’m not a woman but that didn’t make any difference. I’m a genderfluid trans guy but coming out as trans didn’t make me more confident in advocating for my pleasure after spending my whole life being told that it wasn’t a priority. The way I’d been socialized was messing with me. It’s important to talk about how women should take ownership of their bodies and their sexual pleasure, but they’re not the only ones who need help to do that. Trans and non-binary people who were assigned female at birth carry sex negativity and feel shame around masturbation too. 
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August (they/them), a trans masculine non-binary person in a similar position, was taught that masturbation and sexual thoughts weren’t allowed while they were growing up. Even though they no longer believe this, they still have moments of intense shame around masturbation. Coming to terms with their gender has made their feelings around masturbation more complicated and they find it hard to stay present in partnered or solo sex: "The feelings of internalized shame, along with a sense of inherent wrongness in my body, can be really overwhelming at times."
Dr. Liz Powell (they/them), a licensed psychologist who specializes in non-monogamous sex and relationships, confirmed that in their experience it’s not only the fact that people socialized as girls and women are told that their bodies are shameful. "We’re all told that vulvas and vaginas are gross. Trans and non-binary people might also be dealing with gender dysphoria around their bodies."
Trans women are rarely talked about or represented when it comes to campaigns to help women become comfortable with their bodies. While a transfeminine person might not have been socialized to feel shame around masturbation, they might experience gender dysphoria around their genitals. To approach the subject of women wanking from the feminist angle of 'no man knows where the clit is, so we have to do it ourselves!' leaves out trans women completely – which isn’t very feminist at all. 
I am a guy who knows where the clit is, because I have one. I’m just too scared to touch it directly, stuck in a feedback loop of fear and pain. Vaginismus is the involuntary contraction of muscles around the opening of the vagina, making penetration painful or impossible. Because my unsuccessful attempts at penetration hurt so much, I now associate that pain with touching any part of my vulva.
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Knowing what I know now, it shouldn't come as much surprise that primary vaginismus usually comes from internalized sexual shame. When it comes to shaking the shame around masturbation, Dr. Powell recommends that trans and non-binary people with vaginas spend time getting to know their bodies. They advise folks to explore on their own: "Touch yourself and explore to see where the edges of that shame actually are." 
Dr Powell explains that people socialised as women and girls are taught to feel shame around their bodies and to feel disconnected from them. They say that the idea that we will experience pain, either during sex or at other times, is normal: "We’re taught that we just have to push through it, we’re told that our bodies aren’t ours."
It wasn’t until I talked to Dr. Powell that I realized that this disconnect might explain why I didn’t experience gender dysphoria until after I came out. I’m far from the only trans or non-binary person who has worried that they aren’t trans ‘enough’ to call themselves trans because they don’t experience dysphoria around their body. Once I was actually calling myself trans, however, I started feeling discomfort around my period and my tits – a sign that I had begun reclaiming ownership of my own body. 
One way in which August has been reclaiming ownership of their body is through starting testosterone. Their sex drive increased and while their internalized sex negativity still showed up, they felt affirmed by the knowledge that this increase in libido is healthy and a normal part of being on testosterone. The fact they get turned on more easily and more often actually helps them masturbate without overthinking. 
Dr Powell added that part of their own reclaiming of their body is to sleep only with people who honour their gender and don’t round them down to a woman who uses they/them pronouns: "Who I am in my own gender is man, woman and other, so if you’re dating me and you’re monosexual, what does that mean? Are you just erasing the parts of me that don’t fit the gendered terms you’re attracted to?" 
When society is constantly invalidating your gender, it becomes even more important to respect it yourself. For me, that looks like keeping my boxers on while I’m wanking, but maybe to reach inside them and touch my vulva directly. I might wear a packer but reach underneath it, the gender euphoria from the bulge in my pants allowing me to touch my junk without anticipating pain. Even if it’s hard, I want to reclaim my own body. 

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