Everything You Need to Know About Gender, Sexuality and PRIDE—Dr. Zhana Q&A
Hi everyone, it’s Dr. Zhana! It’s time to answer your questions about sexual orientation and LGBTQ-related topics for Pride Month. I got some really good questions and I’m really excited to answer them.
Q: I know gender is not binary, but is sex binary?
All right, let’s start with the basics. Gender is more about the psychological experience and our identity, whereas sex is more about the biology or anatomy of our bodies. They are both non-binary, or an either-or sort of thing. Gender identity can range from cis woman to cis man, trans woman, trans man, other transmasculine/transfeminine, gender non-binary, genderfluid, agender and so on. There are a lot of different variations along the gender identity spectrum.
Biological sex itself is also pretty complex. It’s determined by a mix of chromosomes, hormones, external genitals and internal gonads. In most people, all of these line up and you get either a male or female body, but in about 1% of the population, one or more of these factors don’t line up so you get what’s called “differences in sex development”, or what’s more commonly known as intersex folks.
Q: How do I eat a girl out correctly?
The reality is there’s no one right way to go down on people. Different people like different things, especially people with vulvas because there are so many different things that you can do. The only way to know what works for your partner is to talk to them, try out different things, pay attention to their body’s reactions and see what they like.
Q: How do you teach your partner about sex with women if she’s only been with men before?
Talk to them and show them what you like. One of the best ways to learn is through shared experiences with a partner.
Q: How likely is it to have sex with my straight crush? (We’re both male.)
Well, that really depends on how straight, exactly, your straight friend is. Research shows that somewhere between 10% and 30% of straight-identified men among the younger generation do have some non-zero, same-sex sexuality attraction, fantasy, desire or openness to something happening with a man. Secondarily, is he into you? If he does have some flexibility, could that be directed towards you?
Also, sometimes folks (of any gender and sexual orientation) end up falling in love or developing deep intimacy with people of the gender they are not typically attracted to, and that love or intimacy can motivate them to become sexually involved with that person, despite them being “the wrong gender.”
That said, it is quite possible that you and your straight crush never become lovers, and you have to be careful about how much you focus on trying to make that happen. You don’t want to cross any consent boundaries or potentially push a friend away by insisting on something he’s not interested in.
Q: Can you tell me more about demisexuality?
Demisexuality is on the asexual spectrum and it refers to the experience of only being attracted sexually to someone if and when you have a strong emotional attachment to that person. Non-demisexuals often have the experience of meeting someone or even just seeing someone and immediately being like “oh my god, you’re hot, I wanna have sex with you”, whereas for demisexuals, that kind of sexual desire only happens in the context of deep emotional connection.
Demi is Latin for “half,” so it’s meant to invoke the idea of half-sexual, half-asexual. That said, demisexuality is on a spectrum, so people differ in the extent to which they require emotional connection before feeling sexual attraction.
Q: Can you give me some advice for discussing sex with an asexual partner?
The common denominator for asexual folks is that they feel no sexual desire for or sexual attraction to other people. There’s quite a bit of variability in how open or willing they are to have sex with a partner for reasons other than attraction or desire, like for example, feeling close to or pleasing their partner. For some asexual people, sex is never on the table. Others are happy to engage in it with some frequency. So, you have to talk to your partner and see what works for them. Given what your sexual needs are, there may or may not be a way to find an overlap in what each of you would be willing to do or desires. A lot of asexual folks are open to having an open relationship so their partners can get their sexual needs met elsewhere.
Q: Is it possible to have bottom surgery without closing the vaginal canal?
So, this is a question about gender-affirming surgery for people who were assigned female at birth. There are actually a number of different “bottom” procedures that can happen as part of that process. What most people think about is the one that creates a penis and there are a number of different ways to go about creating a penis. Some of these require closing the vaginal canal and others do not. It really depends on which route you’re interested in.
Q: How do I deal with the anxiety that comes with telling someone that I’ve never been with a woman before them? (I’m a girl.)
First times of all kinds can often be anxiety-provoking, but the reality is that no one is born experienced at anything. It has to be your first time at some point, so it’s okay! Let your partner know and see what their reaction is. How they react will tell you a lot about if you want to have sex with them. Your experience will likely be healthier emotionally and more pleasurable if you’re able to have accepting conversations about vulnerable topics.
Q: What is the biggest misconception connected to LGBTQ+ people regarding sex toys?
There are so many myths about sex toys and so many myths about LGBTQ people. I’m not sure how many myths are about the two together. The one that comes to mind first is the belief that when two people with vaginas have sex they have to do it with a strap-on dildo, because there’s no other way to have sex besides penetration with a penis or something resembling it, right?
Just to make sure we’re clear, I’m being sarcastic. There are plenty of other ways to have sex. Most vagina-owners actually need or strongly prefer external clitoral stimulation either without, or in addition to, penetration for maximum pleasure. A lot of the sex that happens between folks with vaginas does not involve strap-on dildos.
Q: How can somebody who is cis make sure to be 100% respectful to the LGBTQ+ community?
Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t automatically assume people are straight and cisgender.
- Use gender-neutral words (e.g. they, them, folks, partners) for groups and people and their partners whose gender and orientation you don’t know.
- Listen to LGBTQ folks.
- Advocate for LGBTQ-friendly policies and laws and fight institutional discrimination as much as you can.
- Donate to LGBTQ organizations.
- Speak up or intervene when you hear/see anti-LGBTQ comments or behaviors.
- Work on undoing your own anti-LGBTQ bias and prejudices and understanding your cisgender and hetero privilege.
- Keep educating yourself on current and historical developments around LGBTQ issues and language.
- Be sensitive about how much work you’re asking your LGBTQ friends to do for your education and enlightenment.
- Apologize when you fuck up (you probably will at some point) and do better next time.
Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a NYC-based sex researcher who studies casual sex, nonmonogamy, and sexual orientation. She holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, teaches Human Sexuality at New York University, shares new sex research on social media, and runs the Casual Sex Project, a place for people to share their true hookup stories. She provides daily sex education using the live video streaming app Periscope, and is currently writing a book
about the science of healthy hookups.