Orgasm and sexual pleasure are important goals of gender reassignment surgery (GRS). Most trans women report being able to orgasm after penile-inversion vaginoplasty with clitoroplasty using the glans penis.* However, some are not able to orgasm and some report difficulty orgasming.
Two large studies found that 18% of trans women were not able to orgasm by masturbation after surgery. In one of the studies an additional 30% of the women had difficulty orgasming from masturbation.
The number of women who couldn’t orgasm went down to 14% or 15% when they included all sexual activities.
Other recent studies** have found numbers of anorgasmic women ranging from 0% to 52%, although most results were close to 18%.
It is clear that a significant percentage of trans women are not able to orgasm after this type of vaginoplasty, but it is not clear exactly how many.
SOME RECENT STUDIES OF ORGASM AFTER GRS
There were five studies where the women had clearly been sexually active:
Lawrence, 2005 – anonymous questionnaires from 232 trans women, 227 answered the question on orgasm by masturbation:
18% were never able to achieve orgasm by masturbation.
15% were rarely able to orgasm with masturbation.
15% were able to orgasm less than half the time by masturbation.
However, it seems that only 15% were completely unable to orgasm. “About 85% of participants who responded to questions about orgasm were orgasmic in some manner after SRS [GRS].”
Imbimbo et al., 2009 – 139 trans women (93 questionnaires at clinic, 46 phone interviews):
14% of the trans women complained of anorgasmia
18% of the trans women were never able to orgasm by masturbation (out of 33 women who masturbated)
33% of the trans women were never able to orgasm by vaginal intercourse and 25% seldom orgasmed this way (out of 60 women having vaginal intercourse)
22% of the trans women were never able to orgasm by anal sex and 13% seldom did (out of 75 women having anal sex)
56 women had oral sex, but the study gives no numbers for orgasm.
Buncamper et al., 2015 – 49 trans women completed questionnaires:
10% had not had orgasm after surgery, although they had tried.
Selvaggi et al., 2007 – 30 trans women were personally interviewed by a team of experts:***
15% had not experienced orgasm after surgery during any sexual practice.
Giraldo et al., 2004 – 16 trans women were given structured interviews at follow-up visits:
0% had problems – all the women reported the ability to achieve orgasm
Note: This study is about a modification to the technique for creating a clitoris.
There is one study where 18% of the women never orgasmed after surgery, but it is not clear if they were sexually active or not:
Hess et al., 2014 – 119 trans women completed anonymous questionnaires, 91 answered the question “How easy it is for you to achieve orgasm?”:
18% said they never achieve orgasm
19% said it was rarely easy for them to achieve orgasm
The other studies above asked about sexual activity or gave the women an option to say the question did not apply or they had not tried. This one did not.
On the other hand, some people did not answer the question, so perhaps women who were not sexually active skipped the question on orgasm.
There are three studies that only give brief information on how many women could orgasm; it is not clear what is going on with the rest of the women.
Perovic et al., 2000 – 89 trans women were interviewed:
It looks like 18% had not experienced orgasm during vaginal sex, but it is possible that some of the women were not sexually active.
“Information on sensitivity and orgasm was obtained by interviewing the patients; the sensitivity was reportedly good in 83, while 73 patients had experienced orgasm.”
“If the penile skin is insufficient, the creation of the vagina depends on the urethral flap, which also provides moisture and sensitivity to the neovagina. The results of the interviews showed that orgasm was mainly dependent on the urethral flap.”
Goddard et al., 2007 – 70 trans women were interviewed by a telephone questionnaire; 64 of them had had a clitoroplasty:
It looks like 52% of the women with clitorises were not able to achieve clitoral orgasm, but again it is not clear if they were sexually active.
“Clitoral sensation was reported by 64 patients who had a neoclitoris formed and 31 (48%) were able to achieve clitoral orgasm.”
14% of the women complained of “uncomfortable clitoral sensation.”****
Wagner et al. (2010), – 50 trans women completed a questionnaire:
It looks like between 17% and 30% were not able to achieve clitoral orgasm.
“Of the 50 patients, 35 (70%) reported achieving clitoral orgasm” but
“90% of the patients were satisfied with the esthetic results and 84% reported having regular sexual intercourse, of whom 35 had clitoral orgasm.”
If we look only at the group having regular intercourse, 17% of them are not having clitoral orgasms. But were the women not having intercourse masturbating and unable to orgasm? If so, they were also sexually active and the 30% number is the relevant one.
The study gives very little information on the questionnaire and results, but it seems surprising that 83% of the women were having clitoral orgasms from sexual intercourse; that is not typical in cis women.
A final study asked about pleasurable sexual intercourse, not orgasm:
Salvador et al., 2012 – 52 trans women participated in the study. It is unclear how they were surveyed, but based on this earlier study, it could have been a combination of a questionnaire and interview.
8% did not consider vaginal sex pleasurable.
However, only one woman said sexual intercourse was unsatisfactory (2%) while 10% of the women said it was average; presumably some of the women who said it was average also said it was pleasurable and some did not.
Freud believed that women had vaginal and clitoral orgasms; unfortunately he also believed that vaginal orgasms were superior and mature women should give up clitoral orgasms. In the 1960s Masters and Johnson showed the physiological basis for clitoral orgasms in the lab; they argued that orgasms during intercourse were also clitoral orgasms, just harder to achieve. More recently, some sexologists have shown that some women have G-spot orgasms during intercourse, although not all experts believe in them.
For most women it is easiest to have an orgasm from masturbation or clitoral stimulation. Most women are not able to have clitoral orgasms during vaginal intercourse without additional clitoral stimulation. Some women experience other types of orgasms during vaginal intercourse.
Although trans women’s biology is somewhat different from cis women’s, their clitorises are formed from the most sensitive area of the penis. Therefore, we might expect trans women to have orgasms most easily from masturbation of the clitoris; the study by Imbimbo et al. that compares different sexual activities supports this hypothesis.
It also makes sense that when we look at orgasms from all sexual activities, we find more trans women are able to orgasm than when we look at just clitoral orgasms; some trans women may be having G-spot orgasms involving their prostate gland.
Interestingly, Imbimbo et al. found that it was easier for trans women to have orgasms from anal sex than vaginal sex (65% of the women often had orgasm from anal sex, 35% seldom or never did; 42% of the women always or often had orgasm from vaginal sex and 58% seldom or never did). Furthermore, more of the trans women were having anal sex than vaginal sex (54% versus 43%). Perhaps they had more experience with anal sex before surgery or perhaps anal sex worked better for some women.
Studies that simply ask about orgasm without talking about what type of orgasm or sexual activity is involved do not give enough information about what is happening. Future studies that include this information would make it easier to compare the results and to improve outcomes.
Comparing the Studies
It is difficult to compare the results of the studies. The studies are of surgery at different clinics around the world; the work is being done by different surgeons and may involve variations in technique. Some of the surgeries are more recent than others as well.
In addition, the studies use different methodologies to collect data and they do not ask the same questions. Some are focused on clitoral orgasms, others talk about orgasm during intercourse, some studies talk about masturbation, and some are vague about what they mean by orgasm.
As is common in follow-up studies, almost all of the studies had a significant drop-out rate; not everyone who had the surgery participated in the study. This could create a bias in either direction – people who regret the surgery might be too depressed to respond to the clinic or people who were dissatisfied might be more motivated to participate in the study.
The method of the study could also introduce biases; people may be more likely to tell the truth in an anonymous survey than in an interview. On the other hand, interviews may allow for follow-up questions and clarifications.
With only 10 studies that are so different it is impossible to come to any definitive conclusions about orgasm after GRS. I like to believe that Goddard et al.’s numbers of anorgasmic women are so high because some of them were sexually inactive or because their study included women 9-96 months after surgery. It could also be something to do with their surgical technique. After all Perovic’s et al.’s study also included women 0.25-6 years after surgery and some of them may have been sexually inactive, but their numbers were much better.
I suspect that the reason all of Giraldo et al.’s patients were orgasmic is that their sample size is so small, but again, it could be that they have a superior technique.
It might be that Buncamper et al. had better numbers than most of the studies because their patients had surgery more recently with improved techniques, but it might also be because their study was smaller.
With so few studies, I could find no clear pattern based on when people had surgery, how data was collected, or follow-up time after surgery. For further information on the studies, see this appendix.
What is clear is that we need more research on patients who are not able to orgasm after surgery. Are some people more at risk than others? Does the surgical technique make a difference? What role does aftercare play?
Is being non-orgasmic just a possible complication of the surgery? If so, how common is it?
And most important, what can be done to enable all trans women to be able to orgasm after surgery?
*I did not find data on orgasm after intestinal vaginoplasty. According to this 2014 review of studies, most studies of intestinal vaginoplasty did not look at sexual function; for those that did the review reports a score for sexuality rather than information on orgasms.
** I have excluded studies published before 1994 and studies where all of the surgeries were performed before 1994. The studies by Imbimbo et al. and Selvaggi et al. may include some participants who had surgery before 1994.
*** The exact number of the participants is unclear because this study is one of a pair using the same participants. The other study by de Cuypere et al. did in-depth interviews with 32 trans women while this one focused on testing the sensitivity of the genitals for 30 trans women. Unfortunately, the de Cuypere study reports data in terms of how many women “Never-sometimes” had orgasm so their data is not comparable to other studies. (They found that 34% of the women never-sometimes had orgasm during masturbation and 50% never-sometimes had orgasm during sexual intercourse.)
**** Goddard also reports that despite problems, “no patient elected to have their clitoris removed.” Is the man mad?