Dear Dr. Jenni,
I am a biological man with a penis.
I’ve been in the process of transitioning to a woman for a few years now. I take many hormones and pass as a woman, and plan to get surgery soon for breast implants and a neovagina. The catch is that I am married. My wife loves me and supports me in my process, but recently, some friends have challenged her about being forced into a lesbian relationship. If we stay married, does this make my wife a lesbian?
—All Mixed Up on Gender
Dear All Mixed Up,
Our gender is an entirely different construct from our sexual orientation and whom we are attracted to. Here’s the skinny on sexual orientation. Rather than thinking about this as a binary of straight or gay, consider it a continuum from zero to six.
Zero is exclusively heterosexual, six is exclusively homosexual, three is bisexual, and numbers one through five symbolize the gray zone where most human beings actually find themselves.
Only your wife can determine her sexual orientation, just as much as only you can determine your gender.
While gender is separate from sexual orientation, it is not binary either, nor is it necessarily congruent with what the doctor assigned at birth based on our genitals. Gender is based on whether we can feel and identify as masculine, feminine, androgynous or other.
Sexual orientation is based on whether we feel attracted to another person who is male, female, androgynous or other. Thus, if your wife was attracted to you when you previously operated in the world as a man, and is still attracted to you as you operate in the world as a woman, then she may have a more bisexual orientation, or she is simply attracted to you as a person, and that’s what matters most anyhow.
Theoretically, because your partnership will consist of two women, it could be considered a lesbian relationship.
However, what label you choose is only for you to determine. Find one that fits for you both, and continue to rejoice in the evolution of your relationship.
Dear Dr. Jenni,
I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for almost three years, but can’t ejaculate inside of her. She keeps urging me to ejaculate inside her and I feel like I’m letting her down. She is starting to get really angry about this. I can cum when I’m alone, but don’t know what to do when I’m with her.
—Pressured to Perform
It sounds like you are struggling with a very tall order. Both orgasm and ejaculation require an individual to surrender. However, the constant urging and anger make your girlfriend’s request come across as a demand.
We respond to demands by either forgoing our freedom and acquiescing to the other, or with defiant resistance. In this case, it seems like your body wants to resist relinquishing that freedom — and understandably so. It’s never fun, or fair, to feel pressured by another person, especially when it comes to sex.
This is a good opportunity for you both to re-learn how sex can be about pleasure, rather than performance.
To role-model how you want to be treated, invite (without demanding) your girlfriend to have a “pleasure date.” Take turns arousing one another nongenitally, and then later genitally. The goal is not to focus on orgasm for either party, but rather experience what the journey of pleasure can be like.
Ultimately, an orgasm can only appear if there is space to be safe and vulnerable with one another.
Send questions for Jenni Skyler, PhD, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Skyler is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist who runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.