Transgender men, who were assigned a female sex at birth but who identify as men, are sexually aroused in a way that supports their male identity, according to new research.

Scientific evidence has shown that most cisgender men (whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) are sexually aroused by one preferred gender, while most cisgender women are aroused by men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Dr Gerulf Rieger, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, led the new study. He explained: “Until now, there has been limited knowledge about whether gender differences in sexual responsiveness are driven by the sex you were assigned at birth or by gender identity.

“Studying transgender men gave us a unique opportunity to examine this question and discover more about whether they behave in line with their birth sex or in line with their gender identity.”

The study, which was supported by the American Institute of Bisexuality, showed transgender men’s sexual arousal patterns were both male-typical and female-typical, but they responded more strongly like most (cisgender) men, and unlike most (cisgender) women.

They were mainly attracted to one gender and those who reported attraction to women were indeed sexually aroused by women, and those attracted to men were indeed aroused by men.

Dr Jamie Raines, the first author and who is himself a transgender man, said: “Although transgender men are men, regardless of the present results, this study provides scientific support that transgender men are not ‘lesbians in denial’, as some people try to claim.

“This is the first study to show that in transgender men, sexual responses are a strong reflection of male gender identity. Our findings therefore help to acknowledge an important component of who we are.”

The study involved 25 transgender men, plus 178 cisgender women and 145 cisgender men, who reported different sexual attractions.

All participants were shown a series of erotic videos, and their sexual arousal was scientifically measured using either a penile gauge or a vaginal probe, depending on their gender, and, in the case of the transgender men, depending on their level of transitioning.

The small number of transgender men in the general population, and the intrusive nature of the study, meant the number of transgender men taking part was small. 

The research was carried out at the Human Sexuality Lab at the University of Essex and the paper, published in Psychological Science, is available online.

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