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Non-Binary Sex: What It Is

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 27, 2021

Gender is one of the most complicated human experiences. While many people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, that’s not true for everyone. People who don’t identify as their birth gender are called transgender.

Many transgender people identify as men or women, but not all. A significant portion of the population doesn’t feel like either gender identity fits them. These people are considered non-binary, because they do not identify as a part of the gender binary of male and female.

The term “non-binary sex” can mean two things. First, it can refer to the gender of people who are non-binary, similar to the terms “female sex” or “male sex.” Second, it can refer to having sex with non-binary people.

Other Names for Non-Binary Sex

Non-binary is also spelled nonbinary, and sometimes shortened to “NB” or “enby.” Non-binary people often identify as gender-nonconforming, as well.

There are many individual identities that are grouped under the term non-binary. Some include:

  • Agender, or a person without any specific gender identity;
  • Bigender, or someone who identifies with two or more genders;
  • Genderfluid, or a person whose gender identity frequently changes;
  • Genderqueer, or someone with a specific gender that is not a binary gender.

What Is the Difference Between Non-Binary Sex, Transgender Sex, and Cisgender Sex?

Transgender people do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, while cisgender people do. Non-binary people not only do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, they do not identify with the male or female gender at all.

Non-Binary Sex vs. Cisgender Sex

People who are cisgender may assume that everyone with a certain type of genitalia is comfortable with certain sets of pronouns, anatomy terms, and sex acts. However, non-binary people often have preferences that may not match cisgender expectations for their genitals or appearance. 

For example, if two cisgender women intend to have sex, they may assume that breast stimulation is desired. However, a non-binary person with breasts may prefer that their partner does not touch their breasts because they trigger body dysphoria. 

Non-Binary Sex vs. Transgender Sex

There are many similarities between non-binary and transgender sex, because non-binary people are a subset of transgender people. The most common difference is that non-binary people may be less likely to have certain forms of dysphoria than transgender binary people. Communication is critical whenever a transgender person has sex, because everyone has their own preferences. 

Myths and Misconceptions about Non-Binary Sex

Transgender people do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, while cisgender people do. Non-binary people not only do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, they do not identify with the male or female gender at all.

Non-Binary Sex vs. Cisgender Sex

People who are cisgender may assume that everyone with a certain type of genitalia is comfortable with certain sets of pronouns, anatomy terms, and sex acts. However, non-binary people often have preferences that may not match cisgender expectations for their genitals or appearance. 

For example, if two cisgender women intend to have sex, they may assume that breast stimulation is desired. However, a non-binary person with breasts may prefer that their partner does not touch their breasts because they trigger body dysphoria. 

Non-Binary Sex vs. Transgender Sex

There are many similarities between non-binary and transgender sex, because non-binary people are a subset of transgender people. The most common difference is that non-binary people may be less likely to have certain forms of dysphoria than transgender binary people. Communication is critical whenever a transgender person has sex, because everyone has their own preferences. 

Myths and Misconceptions about Non-Binary Sex

Unfortunately, there is a popular misconception that non-binary people are “confused” or “just going through a phase.” However, this is not the case. Studies have shown that transgender people develop their gender identity similarly to cisgender people, and many transgender people realize their gender-nonconformance in early childhood. People who are non-binary likely experienced their gender this way long before coming out as non-binary; it’s anything but a phase. Even if their gender identity changes, they may be genderfluid, which is another non-binary gender identity. 

How to Explore Non-Binary Sex

Non-binary people often have specific preferences when it comes to sex acts. It’s likely that a non-binary person will have different anatomy and preferences than someone else who is non-binary. So communication is key when it comes to having sex with a non-binary individual. 

A few topics that you should discuss with a potential partner before having non-binary sex include:

  • What pronouns does the person prefer?
  • Are there any parts of their body they don’t want touched?
  • Do they have preferences regarding the words used for their genitals?
  • Are there any acts they would prefer to avoid entirely?

These are useful questions before having sex with anyone. However, they’re particularly important for transgender and non-binary people because they may have dysphoria or other body-specific conditions that are uncommon in cisgender people. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Advocate: “Do You Need Gender Dysphoria to Be Trans?”

All About Trans: “Non-Binary Gender Fact Sheet.”

Annals of Surgery: “What is in a Pronoun? Why Gender-fair Language Matters.”

CDC: “Declines in Triplet and Higher-order Multiple Births in the United States, 1998–2014.”

Dictionary.com: “Enby.”

Dictionary.com: “Transgender.”

Everyday Feminism: “Your First Time: A Sexual Guide for Non-Binary People Working Through Trauma.”

Journal of LGBT Youth: “Transcending the gender binary: Gender non-binary young adults in Amsterdam.”

PNAS: “Similarity in transgender and cisgender children’s gender development.”

University of Massachusetts: “LGBTQIA+ Terminology.”

University of Nebraska Omaha: “Queer and Trans Spectrum Definitions.”

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