Dear Mrs Salisbury: What can a transgender person do to feel comfortable having sex?
Psychologist Robyn Salisbury helps a reader with a relationship dilemma.
QUESTION: What things can a transgender person do to feel comfortable having sex in a body that doesn't suit them?
ANSWER: Your question highlights the fact that when you are in the process of transitioning there's another whole set of challenges to face. For you, your body does not reflect the gender you identify with.
I wonder how far along the process you are?
Having identified you are trans, are you now taking the necessary steps towards getting hormone treatment and will you go on to have surgery?
All that takes time, and along the way you'll recognise that body image is fragile and complex, so make sure you have good support from family, friends and/or a transgender support group. Finding your tribe is important; it's too hard to go through life alone.
Have a gentle conversation with the parts of your body that just aren't you. Recognise they didn't ask to be there any more than you asked to have them. Begin a daily practice of gently, lovingly rubbing body lotion all over yourself. Practise looking at yourself in the mirror and finding something that you like, such as, "I have beautiful skin."
Say this five times while avoiding naming the things you don't like. This aims to address the negative bias you've developed in reaction to finding yourself in the wrong body.
Accepting yourself for who you are and knowing you are far more than your physical body are key to improving body image. Develop an investigator self to identify all the messages you receive from media, friends and family about how your body "ought" to look. You might even want to keep a log of these until you're highly aware and able to challenge all stereotyped assumptions. Nature loves variety; it is society that tries to force conformity.
Find a yoga class or a yoga video as a way to connect with your body. Regular moderate exercise and eating well (not dieting) to nurture your body will also help you feel good about yourself.
Ultimately, your task is to claim the right to enjoy pleasure from sex because you deserve it, and to choose to have sex with someone who loves and desires you for who you are.
Robyn Salisbury is a clinical psychologist. Email questions to MrsSalisbury@sextherapy.co.nz
- Sunday Magazine