FtM Transgender Australians’ Sexual Health
Throughout 2017, ASHA has committed to exploring transgender health issues in Australasia. To utilise the multidisciplinary nature of the alliance, ASHA Co-Chairs Dr Chris Bourne and Dr Deborah Bateson invite executive committee members and the organisations they work with to submit a blog post exploring critical issues concerning transgender health. The first blog in the series is written by Associate Professor Tiffany Jones for the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS).
Associate Professor Tiffany Jones (PhD),
ARC DECRA Fellow, ARCSHS La Trobe
Assume Marriage Inequality
The E-Males study, in which 273 FtM transgender Australians discussed their sexual health via an online survey and blog, showed sexual health workers must not carry any pre-concieved ideas about FtM transgender peoples’ sex lives. Perhaps the only assumption one can make in Australia, is that they do not yet experience marriage equality. FtM transgender people legally recognised as men (only) can get married to a woman (only), but all other options are off the table, and they also can’t maintain any pre-existing marriage to a man post-transition. Thus, the majority of participants had never married (66%), and 18% were in de facto relationships. However some smaller groups had engaged in legal marriages either prior to or after transition – 8% were married, 5% were divorced, and 2% were separated.
Don’t Assume Relationship Status
Most FtM transgender people were in a relationship: 43% were in a monogamous relationship, 12% were in an open relationship, and 5% were in a polyandrous relationship. In addition, 8% were single and dating, and a third (33%) were single and not dating. Some participants transitioned during the course of their relationship and remained together, with the other partner being supportive throughout the process. For example, Maddox (male/ ftm/ transman, queer/ heterosexual, 21yrs) had found that this romantic and sexual dynamic with his long-term girlfriend remained unchanged, except for the labels used: ‘We were together while I redefined my gender identity, so for the first two years we were titled “lesbians”, but she has always felt I was her boyfriend’.
Don’t Assume the Meaning of a Sexual Orientation
Over one third of the participants (36%) reported being sexually attracted to people of both sexes; one quarter (25%) was attracted to the opposite sex, 15% reported they were same sex attracted, 14% expressed that their sexual attraction changed and 10% were not certain. Categories of attraction could however be more specific than that... attraction could be felt for example towards: “male-born men and transmen”; “female-born and transwomen”; “only women”; “only men”; “both sexes” ; “all gender expressions” and “specific persons regardless of their anatomy or gender identity”. One person expressed being “undefined”, many claimed their attractions fluctuated. One participant (male, 51yrs) said: “I am attracted to both sexes, but mostly only gay people in those categories, and only the more “masculine” in demeanor”.
Transition May or May Not Impact Sexuality
Brett felt that his transition had not affected his sexual relationship at all. He engaged in the same sexual acts – kissing, performing oral sex, receiving oral sex, performing penetrative sex through the front hole (vaginal) on his partner, and wearing a strap on – and was with the same partner in roughly the same dynamic. Similarly, Conor said, “I don’t think it (transition) has impacted it (his sex life)”. For some however their sexuality had been affected since they became aware of their trans* identity. JW said “I have had no relationships since being out as trans”. For junk000 (male, undefined, 22yrs) initially transition ‘obliterated’ his sexuality, and then ‘I suddenly became attracted to women’. Doc79 (male, straight, 33yrs) said that after undergoing surgeries “Sex became easier because I was more confident”.
There were participants interested in bringing bodies together in all sorts of creative ways, alongside participants who didn’t enjoy any touching. Some possible sexual acts were listed to stimulate discussions on the online blog:
• performing oral sex,
• receiving oral sex,
• performing penetrative sex through the front hole (vaginal)
• receiving penetrative sex through the front hole (vaginal)
• performing penetrative sex anal,
• receiving penetrative sex anal,
• wearing a strap on,
Several participants affirmed the whole list. Draconem said, “I’ll go with ‘anything’ including ‘other’. Haha.” Others were less interested in receiving penetrative sex, like Darkneko who would consider kissing and giving oral to a woman, only. No general rules of preference for the group should be declared, however FtM Australians may engage in this broader range of behaviours than sexual health workers might assume.
Promote Sexual Protection More
Sometimes FtM transgender people are under-prepared for their changing levels of sexual risk, particularly when moving into gay male communities post-transition without any knowledge of the localised community protection practices. Of the 21 blog participants discussing protection, the majority were not using any. One showed typical thinking of the group when he reasoned e would no longer need protection against pregnancy with his boyfriend “as that cycle isn’t happening any more”. One participant said that when he had gone to a doctor for an STD test (as an FtM transgender person who had only slept with women), the doctor had laughed and tried not to give him one – saying he was at no risk. This simply is not true – various sex acts can transmit various STDs, to people of any identity or orientation. The lack of FtM-focussed information on sexuality was a barrier to protection, alongside sexual health workers’ lack of awareness of the varied sexual identities, behaviours and risks for FtM transgender Australians.
Jones, T. et al. (2015). Female-to-Male (FtM) Transgender People’s Experiences in Australia. Springer: Cham, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht and London.