Autogynephilia, an erotic interest in the thought or image of oneself as a woman, has been described as a sexual interest of some male-to-female transsexuals (MTFs); the term has not been applied to natal women. To test the possibility that natal women also experience autogynephilia, an Autogynephilia Scale for Women (ASW) was created from items used to categorize MTFs as autogynephilic in other studies. A questionnaire which included the ASW was distributed to a sample of 51 professional women employed at an urban hospital, 29 completed questionnaires were returned for analysis. By the common definition of ever having erotic arousal to the thought or image of oneself as a woman, 93% of the respondents would be classified as autogynephilic. Using a more rigorous definition of “frequent” arousal to multiple items, 28% would be classified as autogynephilic. The implications of these findings are discussed concerning the sexuality of women and the meaning of autogynephilia for MTFs.
Key Words: Autogynephilia, female sexuality, gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder, paraphilia, transsexual
A controversial take:
The study goes on:
The degree to which non-gender dysphoric individuals are sexually aroused by their own bodies has not been well studied. It has been reported that approximately 9% of women and 20% of men report at least a “little” sexual arousal by seeing themselves nude (Gebhard & Johnson, 1979, p. 470). In addition, “…many individuals find some additional stimulation in observing their own genitalia…” during masturbation (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948, p. 511). It is not known if non-gender dysphoric individuals have sexual fantasies in which they have different body types (thinner, more muscular, clear skin, etc.).
Clinically we know that some individuals report changes in their levels of sexual desire when their body types change (e.g., weight gain or loss). It is reasonable to assume that a more desirable body type may be an aspect of some sexual fantasies. If the thought or image of one’s body affects sexual arousal in some non-gender dysphoric individuals (male and female), then it would not be surprising that the thought or image of their “female” body similarly would affect sexual arousal in some MTFs.
A sexual fantasy in which the individual has a different body (or the individual’s body functions differently) is distinct from a sexual fantasy where a different body type is a significant factor in the individual’s arousal. A man with erectile dysfunction may not be aroused sexually at thought or image of himself with an erection, but having a full long-lasting erection may be integral to his fantasies. A fantasy in which he is unable to obtain an erection may not be arousing sexually. Analogously, MTFs may picture themselves as women in their fantasies, but just fantasizing about themselves as women may not be arousing sexually.
Autogynephilia only has been used to describe genetic men. Blanchard (2005) opines, though he notes again that the following statement needs to be confirmed by empirical studies, “Autogynephilia does not occur in women, that is, biological females are not sexually aroused by the simple thought of possessing breasts or vulvas” (p. 445; italics added). I can find no study where MTFs were asked if they were aroused by the simple thought of possessing breasts or vulvas. Although some MTFs probably are aroused by this “thought,” it is not clear how common or frequent this experience is.
Blanchard (1993b) studied whether individuals with autogynephilia were most aroused by imagining themselves as nude women, women in underwear, or clothed women. Nevertheless, it is not clear that the respondents interpreted the test question as only involving the specific image of themselves. Although conjectural, they may have interpreted the question as asking about which type of dress was most sexually exciting when engaging in other sexual acts.
Even if we assume that autogynephilic MTFs reported sexual arousal to the simple thought of possessing breasts or vulvas, one would think that autogynephilia in natal women would be expressed differently. Women already possess breasts and vulvas, it seems reasonable to assume that individuals tend to fantasize about what they do not have. If we tend to fantasize about “things” we do not have, we would expect autogynephilic arousal would decrease after Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), as the post-op MTFs now possess breasts and vulvas. This is precisely what Lawrence (2005) found when she studied MTFs pre- and post-SRS: Pre-SRS, 49% of her sample reported autogynephilic arousal “hundreds of times or more” while post-SRS, this dropped to 3%. It is possible that after surgery, the respondents did not have time to have hundreds of autogynephilic episodes, but the number of individuals who reported never experiencing autogynephilic arousal increased from 14% before SRS to 56% after SRS. Comparison data concerning their interests in other sexual stimuli do not exist, though 69% reported at least one sex partner, 83% reported masturbating, and 62% reported a stable romantic or partnered relationship after SRS (Lawrence, 2005). Prior to SRS, some MTFs had erotic (autogynephilic) fantasies of themselves with breasts and vulvas. After SRS, we can speculate that since they now have breasts and vulvas, “autogynephilic” fantasies were less common. It is possible that the postoperative MTFs who continue to have autogynephilic fantasies now focus upon a different or more feminine ideal than their actual, post-surgical, body type.
If Lawrence’s (2005) participants were reporting this decrease in autogynephilic interests over time (prior to surgery) then SRS may not have been the factor that led to the diminished autogynephilic interests. Other possible explanations for the decrease in autogynephilic interests include a decrease in testosterone levels or aging.
The presence or absence of autogynephilia is considered clinically and etiologically important in MTFs. Blanchard (1993a) stated “Autogynephilia is clinically significant because it interferes with normal interpersonal sexual attraction and because it is associated with gender dysphoria” (p. 301). Additionally Blanchard (1991) suggested that “Gender dysphoria, in young nonhomosexual males, usually appears along with, or subsequent to, autogynephilia; in later years, however, autogynephilic sexual arousal may diminish or disappear, while the transsexual wish remains or grows even stronger” (p. 248).
The hypothesized absence of autogynephilia in women is seen as supporting Blanchard’s theory that autogynephilia is an unusual sexual interest of men and that the desire for SRS is sexually motivated. If genetic women and MTFs both endorse the same statements and exhibit the same behaviors, then autogynephilia may not be an unusual sex interest of men, but a sex interest shared by both groups; it could be a characteristic of female sexuality. Thus, the presence or absence of autogynephilia in women is a significant finding in understanding the sexuality of both natal women and MTFs.