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The Sexual Orientation of Transwomen



A somewhat neglected field is the sexual orientation of male-to-female transsexual women.  This is actually very surprising given the psychological and social importance of "sex" and sexuality, and it's presumably deliberate incorporation in the term "transsexual". 

Even if a woman is known as being a transsexual, a heterosexual inclination is generally expected by society, and other orientation may present problems. 

Grossly simplifying things, transsexual women often seem to adopt one of two "safe" options - heterosexual relationships with men, or lesbian relationships with a former female partner or other transsexual women.  Her own true sexual preferences may, or may not, play a role in the option selected.

Apparently about 95% of natal "XX" women consider themselves as being heterosexual.  In comparison, studies of the sexual orientation of post-SRS transsexual women indicate a rather different picture:

Joyce Meireles

Robyn (right) and wife Georgiana Browning

Study Name Sample Size Hetero-
Lesbian Bisexual or
Wiesbeck & Täschner, 1989 [Note 1] 10 7 1? 2?
Eicher, Schmitt & Bergner, 1991 40 26 (65%) 5 (12.5%) 8 (20%) + 1
Ross & Need, 1989 14 12 0 2
Lindemalm, Körlin & Uddenberg, 1986 13 9 1 3
Sörensen, 1981a 23 17 (10 kept SRS secret from partners 0 6
Pfäfflin & Junge, 1990 42 (13 kept SRS secret from partners) 28 (76%) 9 (24%) 5 (12%)
Wålinder & Thuwe, 1975 11 11 0 0
Schroder 17 9 3 5
TOTAL 170 119 (70%) 19 (11%) 32 (19%)

1: The allocation of "1 Lesbian" and "2 Bisexual" is done by myself in order to make the totals add up.

One "rule of thumb" I've seen is that about half of transsexual women are heterosexual and exclusively select males as sexual partners; nearly one-fifth are lesbian and sexually attracted only to females; and about one-third are bisexual.  The figures above rather disagree with this breakdown, from them it would seem more accurate to say that about two thirds of post-SRS women are heterosexuals, and the remainder are lesbian or bisexual.  Also, an inexact analysis of the available evidence would suggest that a large proportion of MTF transsexuals who transition while still under age 30 categorise themselves as a heterosexual woman, while sexual orientations tend to be far more diverse among transition'ers over 30.

Heterosexual Transwomen
Post-SRS heterosexual transwomen fall in to two main categories - those that were homosexual (or bisexual) men before SRS and have simply continued to select males as their sexual partners, and those that changed their sexual preference from women to men after their SRS. 

Jennifer Hiloudaki with male friend

Transwoman Jacquie Gavin and husband Stephen Gavin

Kathi Stringer and friend

Emma Packer (formally Martin) with wife Linda (right)

Transcouple Revana (left) and Natasha

It's been controversially suggested that some transsexual post-SRS heterosexual women are former homosexual men driven to have a sex change by their sexual preferences.  The theory is that as men, these individuals unambiguously desired and loved other men - especially heterosexual men - but they could only attract and enter in to relationships with them by becoming women.  Regardless of how correct the "some transsexuals are a type of homosexuals" theory is, it certainly doesn't account for all the heterosexual transwomen, and other factors must be considered.

One such factor may be hormones, the radical hormonal changes in the body of a transwoman, to approximately female norms after orchidectomy or SRS, might give a push towards a heterosexual orientation.

Observers often consider that on average transsexual women are more "female than [genetic] females" in their life style and social beliefs, and a few (usually those that transition in middle age) do seem to be almost a living stereotype of the feminine ideal.  Some transwomen undoubtedly strongly feel that as a woman they should only want to have sexual relations with a man, and in this instance any residual sexual attraction to women rather than men becomes both unimportant and something to be suppressed.  Going further, for a few transsexual women (like for some genetic women), marriage and even motherhood via the adoption of children becomes their overriding goal, and perhaps an ultimate symbol and proof of their womanhood.  Indeed, the Stepford Wives may be still be alive and well - albeit transsexuals!

While most heterosexual transwomen are heterosexual for reasons of choice and preference, it seems likely that in some instances the adoption of a heterosexual orientation is closely related to the transsexual woman's success in passing and assimilating herself as a woman.  Based upon the limited available evidence it can be suspected:

A) The younger a woman's age at SRS, the more likely a heterosexual female orientation will be, the obvious corollary being that the greater the woman's age at SRS, the more likely a lesbian or bisexual orientation is. 

B) The more "passable" a woman is (which is partly linked to her age at the time of SRS), the more likely a heterosexual orientation is.  It seems that for a variety of reasons about half of the women who were once heterosexual man (i.e. were exclusively sexually attracted to women) before their SRS, are heterosexual women afterwards (i.e. are exclusively attracted to men).

Social conformance even in the twenty-first century encourages the successfully passing transwoman to enter in to "normal" sexual relationships with men as far as she is physically capable, while intimate relationships with other women would risk "rocking the boat" and perhaps getting people asking some undesired curious questions.  

Entering into a committed relationship with a man undoubtedly tends to pull a transwoman away from any open acknowledgement of her transsexuality and male past, and encourages an apparently heterosexual orientation in public - what ever her secret inclinations might still be.  As the table above shows, many heterosexual transsexual women hide their male past from partners and even their husband, feeling (unfortunately often correctly) that the relationship may not survive this becoming known to him.  Even if the partner knows about and accepts the woman's transsexuality, their friends and his family might not be so open minded, and external pressures and prejudice could eventually destroy the relationship. 

There can certainly be no doubt about the very female heterosexual orientation and libido of many transwomen - before and after surgery.  E.g. one young transgirl describes her SRS at 18 and early sexual experiences:

"I didn't need the operation to feel like a girl because I already felt like one. I had the operation so I could have sex like other women. ...  So I could have more [vaginal depth and] orgasms I paid [an] extra £1,000.  I was in hospital for three weeks and two weeks after I came out, I was ready for a test run. I went to a disco with the sole intention of picking up a man for sex.  I looked for one who was trendy and attractive. I didn't want a virgin or someone who'd be glad of anything he could get!  When I'd found the perfect guy, he took me home and wanted to light candles but I made him do it with all the lights on.  I had to make sure that it not only felt OK but looked OK.  I have a faint scar on my tummy and I've been told it would take a gynaecologist to tell the difference, but I had to find out.  Afterwards, he asked for my phone number but I gave him a false one because he was just an experiment.  I had a few more experiments after that and remember being complimented on my wonderful muscle control."

Some heterosexual girls undoubtedly try to make up for lost time after their surgery.  For example:

  • Caroline Cossey (of 'Tula' fame) admits that after her SRS, also at 21, she "went a little wild ...  I felt I needed to experiment and experience a number of relationships.  None of the men I slept with had any idea of my past". 

  • When the boyfriend of an out'ed model "T" learnt that she had had SRS at 19, his only comment was about her insatiable demand for sex.

  • "M" (whom I know very well personally) joined an airline as Cabin Crew immediately after her SRS at age 21.  She then had sexual intercourse with over forty different men in less than a year before settling down slightly with a diverse mix of three main boyfriends, just two of whom were married.  It was three years after her SRS before she really began to look for a monogamous relationship. 

On the other hand, Samantha Kane (who had SRS at age 37) found sex as a woman to be rather boring, and far less interesting than the preliminaries to a big night out such as the shopping trips.

Lesbian or Non-Sexual Transwomen
When a post-SRS transwoman enters in to lesbian relationships, or becomes non-sexual - avoiding any intimate relationships - the reasons tends to fall in to one of a few main categories:

  1. Continuation of a relationship with a former wife or female partner on a sexual or non-sexual basis;

  2. Continuation of a sexual attraction to women, if strong this may lead to a drift in to lesbian relationships, if weak it may lead to an avoidance of any sexual activity at all;

  3. Sexual relationships with other transsexual women.  [see below]

Non-sexuality can also be caused by:

  1. A genuine lack of sexual urges;

    Kimberley Langley legally married her lesbian partner after having a sex reassignment surgery.

  2. Poor surgical results - for example lack of vaginal depth, poor appearance of the vulva, or intercourse is painful;

  3. Failure to attract desirable partners, for example due to an inability to pass convincingly;

  4. A conscious suppression of inconvenient or undesired sexual urges, e.g. due to having AIDS or fear of possible discovery during intercourse;

  5. Participation in a relationship in which the other partner doesn't want to engage in sexual relations.

Transcouple Kristen (left) and Mary

Transcouple MTF Danielle (left) and FTM Jacob

Bisexual Transwomen
A relatively high percentage of transwomen enter sexual relationships with both men and women.  The reasons are varied, for example: one night stands; curiosity; and social conformance (e.g. a public relationship with a man but secret lesbian relationships).

It is not unusual for a transsexual woman to enter in to a relationship with a another transsexual, usually another male-to-female MTF) woman but occasionally a female-to-male (FTM) man.  An important, though perhaps not overriding, benefit of such a relationship is the couples shared experiences, support and understanding about each others transsexuality, something which a relationship with a non-transsexual person can not provide.  Also, the transcouple do not need to face the risks and worries of going stealth in order to establish and maintain the relationship with their partner.

A significant proportion of transsexual women admit to being attracted to other transsexual women, indeed one small survey found that half of the respondents were strongly attracted to other transsexual women.  Naturally this attraction often leads to relationships, both of a "one night stand" and of a more permanent nature.  Sexually, these are technically lesbian relationships, but interestingly the partners are frequently not attracted to non-transsexual genetic women.

When a MTF woman enters in to a relationship with a FTM man, generally both partners are insistent that it is a conventional, heterosexual relationship.

Young Transsexuals
Unlike older transsexuals, the sexual orientation of young transsexual women (meaning those who transition and start treatment before age 20) is rarely in doubt, they are usually as fervently interested in boys as any teenage girl! 

Tamalah, who transitioned at age 18, says "I knew from as early as I can remember that I was a girl.  I didn't consider myself gay, I considered myself a heterosexual female."  Both before and after the surgery, she presented herself as a woman and was often asked out by men. "I figured what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them, as long as I didn't sleep with them."

To please her boyfriend, Maxine had breast implants at age 17.  He moved on, but she had her SRS three years later.

Maxine notes "At age 14 I experienced my 'first time' while on holiday ... [he was] six foot tall, wash board belly, unbelievably sexy.  He chatted me up on the beach and we went to his hotel room.  He slowly undressed me.  It was beautiful.  There was nothing I wanted more that night than to be a whole woman."

A few years later Maxine had a relationship with a strongly heterosexual man: "Omar was a beautiful man but everything had to remain secret.  The first time was very sensitive - however he missed me not having a bosom.  He got a terrible complex, ... deep down he believed that I was really another man.  I wanted to be the perfect partner for Omar, and dreamt of us having a family.  I longed to be a woman, and as I fell in love with him I resolved that it was Maxine or nothing."

Like Tamalah and Maxine, many young transsexuals enter in to an intimate relationship as a girl with a heterosexual man long before undergoing any surgery.  Whether the man is understanding or not, clearly the situation is extremely unsatisfactory.  The girls desire to normalise her body and have vaginal intercourse often becomes a key driver for her seeking surgery as soon as possible.  Waiting to her 18th birthday before having sex-reassignment surgery - as is required by the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standard Of Care that most doctors and surgeons conform to - can be a bitter and sexually very frustrating test of endurance.

Getting Physical
Almost inevitably there is some degree of correlation between sexual satisfaction and successful physical feminisation, including high quality surgery.  Good physical feminisation results in more relationships with attractive and 'sexy' partners, and hopefully more enjoyable physical sensations during everything from petting and nipple sucking, to clitoris stimulation and vaginal penetration.  However, it is very difficult to divide physical feminisation decisions made primarily on sexuality grounds from those made on other very important grounds such as increased pass'ability and self image. 

Individual priorities vary dramatically, as the requests made of surgeons in relation to constructing or enhancing the female secondary sexual characteristics of transsexual women show.  Good breasts (the definition of which vary from girl to girl) are a clear top priority, while the development and subsequent maintenance of a vagina suited to accommodating a penis can be a surprisingly low priority - for older women in particular there seems to be a divergence between intensions at SRS and the reality a few years afterwards.  A reasonable speculation is that some transwomen would prefer having a natural looking vulva area or a sensitive clitoris over good vaginal depth, for sexual reasons that include lesbianism and masturbation desires.  

Sexual Desire and Enjoyment
As ever studies are rare, but the available evidence suggests that transsexual women resemble genetic females rather than males in their patterns of sexual activity and associated temperamental traits.  On average, when compared with genetic women, transsexual women: 

  • Have a similar degree and frequency of sexual desire.

  • Are just as sensitive and temperamental, and similarly easy (really!) to sexually excite.

  • Have their sexual desires and needs satisfied almost as much as other women, but less than men.

  • Have significantly more erotic fantasies, dreams and daydreams.

  • Are as likely to adopt a female sexual position during intercourse.

  • Are less likely to experience orgasms than other women during intercourse.

  • Are less likely to enjoy non-orgasmic sexual sensations during intercourse.

The limitations of even the most aesthetically successful sex-reassignment surgery seems likely to account for the last two points. There is also no doubt that like other women, the libido and sexual enjoyment of transsexual women can vary from negligible to intense, whether or not they are classified as lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.

Copyright (c) 2003, Annie Richards
Last updated: 17 September, 2003