Those gender dysphoria blues, sex edition
August 5, 2019 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Help me navigate this tangle of sexual inexperience, queer dating, and gender dysphoria. Yikes, it's a lot.

Please note: I am primarily looking for advice from queer and/or trans people who have navigated these muddy waters of identity, gender, and sexuality. I tried to follow advice for cis hetero people for years and it did not work for me. At all. (Some of it was actively harmful)

tl;dr (because wow this got long): Late 30s, AFAB gender-questioning, almost no sexual experience. Finally realizing a lot of my sexual issues are due to gender dysphoria, super-happy not to feel "inexplicably broken" anymore, but not sure how to navigate this in dating. Would love to hear from others who have similar experience, either themselves or with partners, on how you navigated the insecurity/vulnerability/etc of such issues. I do have a therapist!

So here's my deal: I'm AFAB, in my late 30s, and have very little sexual experience, all with men, all really awkward. I've always gotten super nervous and uncomfortable at the prospect or reality of sex.

I figured out last year that I'm queer and not all that into men, and that was a huge relief because I figured it explained why I never seemed to want to actually have sex with the guys I went on dates with. But then I started dating women, and the same pattern persisted. (I'm not asexual though. I experience attraction but then freak when sex is on the table)

Then I figured out that I'm ... well, I don't really know what my gender identity is, but I'm pretty sure I'm not cis, and I have a lot of body/gender dysphoria, especially around my "bottom parts."

I'm starting to date again. My sex drive has ramped up with my gender exploration and ... honestly, I'd like to get laid. I am lucky to have a close friend who identifies as stone and manages to have a great sex life - both in the past with a committed partner and currently with more casual hookups - and another friend who is very happily having sex with someone who seems to be "stone-adjacent." And while I'm not eager to take on a label/identity like that at this point, conversations with these friends are showing me that yeah, I'm allowed to have sex even if I'm not sure I want to be touched right away. And this honestly takes away so much of my sexual anxiety.

But then I remember ... oh shit, I have NO EXPERIENCE having sex with women. Like, if I wanna have sex with someone where I'm doing most of the orgasm-giving, that'd make me the "top" in that interaction, and where do I get off trying to be a top when I've never even gone down on a woman before?? It seems kind of ridiculous. But then I think ... well, it's sex. "Top" is just a label, and our bodies were made to do it, and surely if I'm with someone where there's mutual attraction, and I am honest about my experience level and limits, we can work it out? And I may not be the best lover ever, but surely I wouldn't be criminally bad?

But then I think about actually having all these conversations with someone (hypothetical) I don't know super-well (like after a couple of dates), and I start freaking out again.

Ugh. I'm just tired of feeling broken. I've felt this way for 20+ years and it's kept me from having good sex and relationships. I finally see how I can have those things for myself, but it's really hard to see how I get from point A to point B, you know?

I do have a (queer, non-binary) therapist and we're talking through this, but I would really love to hear from queer/trans/non-binary people about how you have navigated such a tangled mess of issues - or if you've worked through them with a partner, how did it go?
posted by the sockening to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Like, if I wanna have sex with someone where I'm doing most of the orgasm-giving, that'd make me the "top" in that interaction, and where do I get off trying to be a top when I've never even gone down on a woman before??

Just want to comment on this - sex isn't just about giving orgasms! And being stone isn't just about the other person getting pleasure. there are a myriad of ways for people to intermingle, rather than just person A doing something to person B, and none of it has to involve your genitals.
I know it's really easy to get caught up in the lingo. For people who are stepping away from prescribed hetero relationships, it's almost natural to go from one recipe book to the next, but there really are no pre-conceived notions of sex. Not every interaction is going to have a top and a bottom. You don't have to be a top if you don't want to.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:35 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

It's ok not to have experience. It's also ok to want to have sex, with no experience, and want to do most of the giving. Just be honest with your partner and ask for verbal guidance. Learning can be fun! Maybe shelve the whole top / bottom thing for the moment and focus on just connecting with a partner in a way that feels good for you both. It took me a long time to feel into this part of my sexuality too!

It can be intimidating and it does take courage and vulnerability to be in these intimate spaces when you're unsure of what to do. Just be patient with yourself. A good partner will be patient too! You have your whole life to figure this out, and it's an ongoing, active process. Labels can help, but if they aren't, feel free to let them go and just be in that moment with that person.

Best of luck. You're not alone in feeling this way. I am rooting for you to find a good way to have intimacy in your life.
posted by ananci at 2:04 PM on August 5, 2019

1. Honesty with the other person about where you're at. It isn't shameful and you're not broken. Lots of people (especially in this section of the queer world) have baggage around sex.

2. Clarity about your boundaries - both noticing in yourself what you're comfortable/not comfortable with, and clarity in communicating that proactively to the other person. Also, things will change so do check-ins with yourself and communicate if something is different.

3. Listening & paying attention to the other person - both when they communicate their boundaries, as well as noticing what makes them happy. Ask questions if you're not sure. Literally every person is different, and paying attention is probably the most important quality in being good in bed.

4. Try your best, but be ok with messing up sometimes — and not taking it personally if the other person says no / isn't into you / flakes on you. You're gonna have to try stuff before you hit your stride so don't put pressure on yourself to be perfect right away.

That's really all you need. Don't worry about techniques. (But if you do want to top, I recommend doing planks and pushups.)

Oh yeah, and:
5. Be ready for / open to some kinks that might seem unusual, coming from the straight world. Don't do anything you are uncomfortable with but it's important to avoid shaming the other person when you say no.
posted by 100kb at 2:10 PM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Before I came out and transitioned, and even for a while after, I ended up in this headspace where the main thing I had to offer my sex partners was my ability to follow The Script. I didn't think I was attractive or fun to be with or anything like that. And I definitely wasn't enjoying my own body. But I knew what to do and say, in what order, to make the other person feel good. And when anxieties about performance came up, I reassured myself that I was following The Script and that made the things I was doing okay.

One thing I really like about sleeping with other queer genderweirdos is that there's a lot less of a Script that sex is expected to follow. Like, it's not an absolute thing: there are definitely plenty of us out there who are still going to be like "Wait, if you're a top then you're supposed to like A and do B and say C." But compared to the straight or cis-and-normatively-gay worlds, there's a higher proportion of us whose approach is "Uh, I dunno, we're all making this up, and I have no idea what either of us is supposed to do. But at the moment you're here saying H and looking at my K and wondering if you might be interested in Q, and honestly that's pretty hot." (And to be fair, even in the straight and normatively-gay worlds, there are some people taking that approach...)

So a lot of those conversations you're worried about having aren't... even conversations that need to happen? Like, you don't need to explain to someone that you might or might not be a top, and might or might not be stone, but that you have experience with this and not that, and that you think your sex skills aren't criminally low, and etcetera. You can show up and be friendly and do things that feel good, and speak up if you want or need something or have a boundary to set, and otherwise just play and see what you both enjoy. That's not something that needs extensive justification, and it's not something you have to pour your heart out in support of. It's a thing lots of us do and lots of us think is hot.

Another thing I've experienced is that you can't unlearn your belief in The Script all at once. Or I couldn't, at least. Which, the flip side is, you don't need to unlearn your belief in The Script all at once. It's not like someone is going to wave their magic wand (TM) at you and turn you once and for all into A Real Queer with perfectly liberated desires and total freedom to pursue them. You're going to gradually spend the rest of your life getting better at seeking out some of the kinds of sex you want, and maybe sometimes getting rusty at seeking out others. And it'll sometimes be awkward and sometimes be fun and sometimes be both, and we've all been there. But so it's okay to jump in and start trying things with people well before you've gotten your head in the place where you eventually want it to be.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:35 PM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

I don't know how cis-het sex usually goes but maybe one thing to try is reframing sex as just enjoying and exploring each other's bodies (or depending on what you want/your boundaries, mostly exploring the other person's body) rather than feeling super goal-oriented. It can be really nice (and less scary) to lie on the bed with someone and have a lot of full-body body contact and explore (all of) their body with your hands and/or your mouth and turn them on slowly, paying attention to what evokes a response and focusing on that. A useful thing can be to ask a little beforehand: if you're having a good time, what will I see/hear/what does that look like? / if you're not having a good time, what will that look like? Obviously you can ask and discuss with words during sex too, but this is additional helpful information--not everyone has the same physical responses.

I almost only top and I had very little experience pretty late in life too, and was really anxious about it, but it didn't really end up being a problem.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:56 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Like, if I wanna have sex with someone where I'm doing most of the orgasm-giving, that'd make me the "top" in that interaction, and where do I get off trying to be a top when I've never even gone down on a woman before??

Providing orgasms - or other pleasures - and topping are two entirely different things. There are plenty of women who would be absolutely delighted to hold you down (or not, whatever) and give you specific instructions on how to please them, especially if you can communicate that clearly. There are also plenty of people who don't ever want to top but love providing orgasms. The two can go together, but they don't have to, at all. Keep in mind that queerness is all about self-definition, and you don't have to follow any particular ideas about what sex should be.

Also, it's fine to not have experience. Everyone who's ever had sex had to be inexperienced at some point. That's fine! It's normal! Don't beat yourself up about it. Keep working with your therapist, and when you meet a gal you like, focus on clear communication and don't assume you have to be anyone besides yourself.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:09 PM on August 5, 2019

The advice above about throwing out The Script is good. I do a lot of reminding myself to be sensation-oriented rather than goal-oriented. I try to relax and be honest with myself and my partner about what I’m comfortable doing (or even receiving!) from moment to moment.

Also, it’s totally okay to take things slow and not even have capital-S sex on the table when you start dating someone. Take a lot of dates to cuddle and make out before even taking your clothes off, maybe!

You don’t have to understand everything ahead of time, and you can change your mind about how you describe yourself over time.
posted by itesser at 10:12 PM on August 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm queer, within the binary. I navigated these issues with my last partner, who started to identify as AFAB non-binary mid-way through our relationship. They were stone, and I understood why. I like to have a conversation with a new partner or a partner who is transitioning in gender identity: what parts of your body are off-limits? What do you enjoy? What words do you like (for parts, in general during sex, etc)? What words do you dislike?
posted by sugarbomb at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

While lots of communication is awesome and usually leads to the best results, I see your point about not wanting to get into All This Stuff with someone you don't necessarily know well. You COULD wait until you know them better, but if you'd rather not, one woman I dated said something like, "I like to take things REALLY slow when it comes to sex, but I love to make out and cuddle in bed." You can say something like that, including stating your boundaries more specifically if you prefer, and leave it at that. Most people won't press for more information, but if they do, you can just repeat something like "I'm more comfortable going slowly."

(It's probably obvious, but in situations that stress me out, having scripts prepared in advance really helps me... YMMV.)

Also, an FYI: at least around me, there are lots of bi women around your age without a lot of experience with women. Of the ones I've hooked up with, I've found that a lot of them are super into giving and receiving explicit feedback because they're self-conscious about their inexperience, and many others are nervous such that they don't want to talk much AND are pretty unlikely to do much of anything with my genitals unless I specifically ask them to. Basically I got them off and they didn't reciprocate, which is kinda what you're looking for.

My point being that you don't need to feel self conscious about your inexperience, because lots of people are in the same boat. And if you're more comfortable figuring things out with them, it's a real option.

(And when in doubt, oral is almost always a good way to go, and it's harder to mess up than other things)
posted by metasarah at 9:50 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sex doesn't necessarily involve touch. I try not to assume that any particular sex act is less intense than another sex act and instead talk about it with my partner.

I have found the Queer Sex Ed podcast to be a practical, accessible resource for learning about sex. The hosts are both queer and trans and make every effort to center those of us who are usually left out. Perhaps a good starting point might be this episode on Identifying Desire, Asexuality, and Aromanticism.
posted by yaymukund at 11:56 AM on August 7, 2019

Thank you everyone. Especially thank you to the many comments here that were really compassionate and took this seriously! I've gotten used to advice that is basically like "fake it till you make it!" and this was a refreshing departure from that. I really appreciate it.
posted by the sockening at 2:56 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

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