How-to Guides, Sex Ed, Sexual Intimacy

Navigating sex while dealing with gender dysphoria


The LGBTQ+ community is highly neglected in sex education curriculums everywhere. 

This results in a major lack of information and misconceptions regarding engaging in sex as or with trans, non-binary or genderqueer people.

Body dysphoria is something that many people with genderqueer identities experience. It seeps into their daily life, relationships, and intimate moments with their partner(s). 

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is a distressing emotion induced by a desire to have bodily attributes of the gender you identify with but did not inherit. This can manifest in different ways in the bedroom and can make sex unpleasant and even distressing.

Gender euphoria, on the other hand, is a joyful emotion experienced by trans people when they consider their real gender identity and their bodies. 

Why can it be a problem during sex?

Sex is one of the most vulnerable and intimate aspects of a relationship. It’s also the most physical in nature and involves heavy involvement of the bodies of the people involved. 

Dysphoria is fluid:

Dysphoria affects different people in different ways but even a single person might not experience it, in the same manner, all the time. The degree of intensity differs from time to time and from situation to situation. 

Trans people can feel dysphoric about any part or spot of their bodies.

Depending upon that the places or spots where someone with dysphoria might feel (un)comfortable being touched or whether they feel like engaging in sexual activity at all, also changes. This brings us to our next point. 

Draw boundaries around touch: 

Drawing boundaries in a relationship is something everyone should be practicing regardless of whether or not you’re dealing with dysphoria. 

It helps provide clarity and create an environment of safety for both you and your partner. Depending on where you like or dislike being touched, you can let your partner know which parts of your body are off-limits during sex. These boundaries don’t have to be hard and fast ones, you can keep revisiting them and change them between different sexual encounters, or even during a single encounter if you feel like it. 

Communication is key: 

We’ve all heard this a million times but it can truly mean the difference between good and pleasurable sex and uncomfortable sex. Whether it’s broaching the subject of how gender dysphoria affects you or drawing boundaries in bed, upfront and clear communication are super important. Communicate to your partner how your dysphoria manifests in and outside the bedroom. Understanding the nature of your dysphoria and how it works in your everyday life might help your partner understand how it manifests during sex and accommodate your needs. Do you prefer certain positions more than others? Like certain sexual acts but not others? What helps you keep the dysphoria at bay and invite euphoria: gender-specific language or gender-neutral language? This is the time to get into it all! Ask these questions to yourself if you do not know and talk to your partner about how you feel.  To learn more, you can read our blog on communicating actively during sex.

Safe words:

Safe words are a good idea whenever there’s anxiety around sex. Coming up with some with your partner can also be a super fun and intimate process. You can use the safe words any time you feel uncomfortable with a particular activity.

Ongoing and reversible consent

Consent is a continuous ongoing act and it can be withdrawn at any time. This is a well-known fact, however, it becomes all the more important when it comes to navigating gender dysphoria. Reminding yourself of the fact that you have no obligation to finish what you start can help you feel more in control and comfortable with your body. If feelings of dysphoria start cropping up and feel distressing as you go along, you can choose to pause or stop at any time without any hesitancy.

Remember the primary goal of sex is pleasure, and sexual activity should not feel like something you feel pressured into doing. 

Learn from Lived experiences

Remember: you’re not at all alone! A lack of awareness and discourse around certain issues like gender, mental health, and sexuality can often make people feel isolated and lonely. However, you can seek out the experiences of other people who have/are struggling with dysphoria. This can not only help you feel supported and less alone but can also provide valuable insight into how different people have navigated sex and relationships. You can pick up a few tips, tricks, and words of wisdom from them and see if it proves helpful to you! Feel free to alter different strategies based on your environment, needs, and preferences as you see fit!

The mind, body, and sex: what’s the connection?

The brain is the biggest sexual organ. Everything that has to do with sex: your libido, desire, arousal, etc. is heavily influenced by your mind. They say, to woo your body into having sex, your mind has to be wood first. After all, haven’t we all noticed a lack of arousal or incapability to truly enjoy sex if we’ve had a bad day or if our heart’s (or more appropriately, mind) is not in it?

We tend to view it as separate but mental health is inextricably linked to sexual health and intimacy. At Manzuri, we care about a person’s pleasure and understand that it cannot be dealt with in isolation, sans the intersection of mental health.

Body image issues like body dysphoria can become exacerbated when it comes to sex and intimacy. Feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and lack of confidence can come in the way of the vulnerability required for sex. 

If you are someone who is struggling with body and/or gender dysphoria, remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Overcoming dysphoria can look like different things, for different people. Whether it is seeking help and support in the form of therapy, community, or redefining cultural notions of gender/beauty, navigating dysphoria is a process. And as the kids say, trust the process! We’re here to support you through it.