I have a sex question! Over the past year, I’ve noticed a pretty substantial shift in the way people think I like to fuck and I’m having difficulty confronting it. It’s probably a common experience that when people make a change to their outward appearance (for me, cutting my hair short), that people then make different assumptions about how they like to have sex.
It started with my last partner who was a long-time partner of mine at the time when I cut my hair. Almost immediately after my partner started dirty-talking in ways that were really gendered, like “I love it when you —- me with your big —-” and things like that. I’m sure these are great comments for some people but for me they felt weird. Mostly because these were things said in the moment and weren’t things we had talked about beforehand.
All of my other sexual partners since have also been inclined to make similar remarks or do certain things in the bedroom that don’t really feel like they are about sex as much as prescribing a gender that doesn’t feel like home to me. Do you have any advice for someone who feels like a fabulous femme — even with my short hair and sometimes “boyish” looks — who keeps feeling like my sexual partners are pulling me into a script and projecting a certain role onto me?
It feels tricky because even though it feels like it’s about me, I also know that it’s not really about me and that it’s probably just them expressing to me the ways that they want to me to have sex with them. And I want to support my partners expressions of their wants and needs!
But, it’s also making it hard for me to express the kinds of sex that I want to have. I’m not sure how to start a conversation about this with my partners without making it all about me, me, me, you know?
Be Tender with My Gender
Dear Be Tender,
This is an interesting question because the answer to it is actually quite simple (Talk about sexual boundaries, wants, and needs!) and also, at the same time, there are so many big systems at play here (The social construction of gender! Sex education! Gender roles!) that are contributing to the predicament you describe. And the latter is what will make whatever solution I propose likely more complicated to actually put into practice than it’ll sound.
First off, you’re right. Most of us are socialized to make assumptions about what people like to do between the sheets based on how they present in the streets. This is true in terms of the assumptions we make about people’s anatomy, sexuality identity, what they chose to wear that day, their haircut, and even what they do for a living (I’ve got a list as long as the dildos under my bed about the assumptions people have made about me based on my job as a sex columnist).
These assumptions especially show up when the clothes come off, because so often our assumptions about people get sexually translated to certain sex acts, dirty talk topics, and/or the general “feel” of our sexual interactions — thanks to the complex social systems previously mentioned.
So, the simple part (not to be conflated with easy) is to talk about this with your partners. This can be part of the larger conversations you might have about your boundaries (“I’m allergic to latex,” “I’ve always wanted to try X,” “Don’t ever do Y” …. “I’ve been noticing a trend lately where my partners have been projecting masculinity onto my sexual preferences because of the way I look and I’d like to be mindful of that and instead situate our sexual interactions more on a spectrum than on a classic binary that equates gender presentation with certain sexual proclivities”).
Social systems aside though, Tender, you are absolutely entitled to state your boundaries and preferences around the sexual interactions that you’re involved in! And this is just as true in regards to your partner’s gendered response to your look as it is true about how you want to be touched, what sex toys you want to use, and when you want to have sex!
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.