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Body parts and who misses what
Phantom penises and vaginas are common among transgender people—and the sensation is typically erotic.
This is the conclusion of research involving a New York art therapist, published in the International Journal of Transgender Health and promoted on Instagram this week by the trans health team at the University of Melbourne.
In an online survey sample of 1446 trans adults, 43 per cent of trans men (biological females) reported feelings from a phantom penis, while 26 per cent of trans women (males) had a phantom vagina.
The researchers, affiliated with the New York School of Visual Arts and a Canadian educational psychology department, call for further investigation of “trans phantoms, [which are] at the vanguard of embodiment.”
They say it’s “imperative that medical and mental healthcare providers believe what our patients and research participants communicate to us about their own perceptions.”
“The existence of phantom penises was substantiated in roughly half of transmasculine individuals [that is, the biological females in the study]” — researchers S.J. Langer, Taymy Josefa Caso & Louisa Gleichman
They compare the prevalence of trans phantoms with reports that 33-85 per cent of amputees experience phantom limb.
The researchers cite a theory that body image is hard-wired, noting “how durable trans phantoms are, even in spite of there being no visual affirmation of them, as well as much cultural opposition to the trans person’s experience.”
Some trans women in the study had phantom lips — being fuller, more feminine — but not every trans man with a phantom penis had matching phantom testicles, leading the researchers to suggest “highly personal” variation.
Video: British TV series Naked Education features two trans men
Phantoms true and false
Young natal females, identifying as trans men, were prominent in the survey, but their reports of phantom breasts (24 cases) and phantom vaginas (49) were discounted by the researchers. (By definition, a trans phantom relates to anatomy that was never there.)
It’s not clear whether these were females who had undergone trans mastectomy or trans hysterectomy, although participants were asked if their phantom feeling had begun after surgery.
Natal females were much more likely to report phantom sensations for correct-sex anatomy; only five natal males (trans women) said they had a phantom penis. Whether or not these might be cases of post-transition regret is not discussed in the paper, which was published in January.
The researchers are at pains to say they focused on biological sex “not to privilege sex assigned at birth over a person’s affirmed gender, but, rather, to allow us to focus on the anatomical aspect of phantoms.”
Natal males had a strong sense of connection to the female anatomy of breasts, with the study recording “a high rate of reported phantom breasts, 67 per cent of which came from those who were [born male].”
The researchers go on: “Our data indicated that if a phantom is present, it is more likely than not to have erotic sensation.”
They suggest further study of phantoms and the sex lives of trans people.
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