To Strap Or Not To Strap — That Is The Question

Two Black women are standing next to each other surrounded by pink and purple flowers. The word Autostraddle is in cut up pieces.

Autostraddle Strap Week 2021 – All Images by Demetria.

In this series, two babes chat through both sides of one strapping topic — sharing personal narratives with you on their perspective at this point in their queer story. First up is the age-old question — Are you for strapping or nah?

Addie Tsai, Author

Why I Strap — It’s Another Way Of Connecting.

“What I find most exciting about receiving the strap is not its way of emulating sex with a cis man, but its enhancement of sexual pleasure and interaction.”

I’m a late bloomer. I grew up in the mid-90s in a conservative white suburb south of Houston.

No internet. No chat rooms. No Tumblr. No Autostraddle. Ellen existed, but she hadn’t come out yet (to get canceled to become larger than life). I remember The Birdcage, and my favorite Rickie Vasquez, on one of my favorite teen shows, My So-Called Life. All the popular culture queer figures that I remember were mostly cis gay men. I remember lesbians being talked about, but they were white and butch. I was neither.

I would not understand my queerness until my late twenties. Although I did have a sixth-grade crush on my friend who looked just like Darlene from Roseanne, she ghosted me after asking me to do a fan dance for her in her bedroom. It’s taken time to get there, but now I proudly sit in my non-binary identity. I call myself gentlefem — a gentleman with femme accents. But a lot has changed since the mid-2000s when I first came out. A lot of conversations have radically opened up the ways we think about the many identities and timelines that are contained within queer identity, but at the time, bisexuality was incredibly stigmatized (even more so than it remains today), and pansexuality was not a word you heard many say, or recognize. Everyone I met when I first came out was very clearly butch or femme, and they often were suspicious of late bloomers, especially if they were femme presenting, which I was at the time.

When I began to date people who were not cis men, it was incredibly awkward and exposing to reveal my lack of experience. The possibility that people I was dating would figure out during sex that I didn’t really know how it worked, felt way more horrifying than just leading with it —so bringing up my lack of experience early on became my MO. A common conversation and source of anxiety for me was how we would negotiate queer sex in the bedroom, and how to answer all the questions about sexual preferences and taste given my limited knowledge. I didn’t know the difference between strap-ons and vibrators. In one of my earliest dates with a woman who proudly claimed to “love virgins,” we split a bagel at the restaurant where she worked. While the GM hovered nearby, my date asked if I was a top or a bottom — while winking at me. I knew it was some kind of joke, but I had no idea what it referred to. I claimed to be versatile, which at the time was not at all true. They had a good laugh and I played along but internally, I felt like a child and an imposter all wrapped up into one.

After that, I graduated up to my first serious queer relationship where I learned the ropes. The first partner who strapped me made it everything I had wished for. She was thoughtful, patient, and would take her cues from how I responded. It was the complete opposite of my first sexual experience which was deeply disappointing and harmful. She bought a new strap just for us — a purple one with a Black harness. She had trouble putting it on, and it was important to her that she didn’t get dressed in front of me. As she struggled in the bathroom with the door open I laughed. “Don’t look!” she screamed as I heard her adorably grunt. She refused my giggly filled offer of help but that little moment beautifully eased the mood for my first time, releasing the tension I felt at being awkward and so new to strap-on sex, especially with a partner who had over a decade more experience than me.

She was a soft butch Virgo who wore all black and had a minimalist aesthetic, I enjoyed how the strap suited the person I had come to know in other ways. It was through her I learned the wearer didn’t have to go the flesh-colored route, and that there were other ways to see it than merely representational. One could see a strap-on less as a “substitute” for a penis, and more as a tool that could deepen the sexual life you share with a partner.

Her purchasing something new and just for us felt meaningful and I appreciated the gesture — but I don’t think I understood its complexities. Initially, I felt insecure about my comfort and desire for penetrative sex. I presented as femme then and worried partners would question my sexuality. But once I realized I was a power bottom and a confident receiver, I discovered that the types of pleasure I enjoyed with men previously weren’t all that different from what would excite me within a queer experience. This realization was crucial for me at that time, helping me let go of so many of the insecurities I had around “not being queer enough,” and enabling me to feel secure in my own sexual identity, determined by my own definitions, and no one else.

Although I haven’t had the chance yet, I eagerly await a partner in which I can switch roles and see what it’s like from up top. I imagine it must be incredibly empowering and fulfilling to pleasure a partner in both roles, especially when both partners feel safe. In all my relationships I’ve always enjoyed being a giver and a caretaker on a more emotional plane, so to add these aspects of who I am and extend them into my sexual relationships entices me. What I find most exciting about receiving the strap is not its way of emulating sex with a cis man, but its enhancement of sexual pleasure and interaction. I can be satisfied in one way while also being able to connect with a partner’s face and body — continually and beautifully extending the intimacy between us.

When life is already so hard, why deprive ourselves of one more way of truly connecting with each other?

Team No Strap

“I learned how to stand firm in my no when it came to penetration, if they didn’t like that answer then they could leave.”

I thought my pussy was broken.

No matter what it was — Fingers, penises and of course, straps — the moment it was inside me I’d be in pain to no end. I talked to my doctors about it and they just chalked it up to stress and lack of relaxation. I thought that after my visit with them I’d leave with fewer questions about why my pussy was so anti-penetration, but that wasn’t the case. I’m a pretty wound-up chick I’ll give them that, but something about their diagnosis just didn’t feel right, it had to be something else.

To me, it always felt like because I had a vagina there was this ungodly push for me to be penetrated. Once my partners or crushes found out that nothing had ever successfully entered my vagina, it became the ONLY thing that we could discuss. I eventually made the decision to follow through despite the pain, and lost my virginity quite frankly because I was tired of talking about it. I didn’t like it at all, not that first time or any time after that. I didn’t enjoy it with men when I was dating them — or later with women when they used strap-ons. The women that I had sex with thought that maybe they’d have more success with penetrating me. Working under the assumption that unlike cishet men, they would be more in tune to my body’s needs. My first girlfriends figured that playing with girth, width, etc. coupled with their attention and focus would alleviate my pain, but they were just as off as the doctors were.

I very rarely talked about it because I was embarrassed. I wanted to be able to take a strap so badly, but my body was working against me. The fantasy I had of getting strapped down and having my ass slap against my partner was getting further out of my reach. For a while, I faked enjoyment and tried to trick myself into liking it. I gave people that I wasn’t interested in access to my body hoping that one of them would successfully change how I felt when I was penetrated. When that didn’t happen I once again felt broken, but then I became even more determined to figure out what was going on. After a few more unsuccessful doctor visits, I stopped and thought maybe there was no issue. I mean, I enjoyed every other aspect of sex — I took charge, felt uninhibited and relaxed — until it came to penetration. When a partner and I got to that point when we were being intimate, that’s when it went from enjoyable to deeply cringe-inducing. After putting it all together and listening to not just my body but my mind it finally clicked, I just didn’t like penetration and that was totally okay.

I started to take power in knowing what I didn’t want. That challenged my partners to find new avenues to please me and not just rely on strapping me down to do so. I also learned how to stand firm in my no when it came to penetration, if they didn’t like that answer then they could leave. The ones who stayed took their time with my body, exploring every inch of me and watching my reactions carefully. I found a world of sex toys beyond dildos and straps and learned that incredible things could be done with tongues. Because of one partner’s patience and desire to explore, I eventually had my very first orgasm. Sex became pleasurable for the entire experience and gone were the nerves that it was going to take a turn for the worse. I no longer felt broken or like less of a queer woman because I didn’t want to be fucked with a strap-on.

Sex can be intimate, intense and you can achieve orgasm and pleasure outside of penetration. The pressure on queer women in our community to want to be strapped down makes it hard for people to feel comfortable exploring, and also makes it difficult to discuss discomfort and pain with partners. When I began to honor myself and my desires, sex became truly exhilarating.

You deserve sex that is going to fulfill you, not torture you. We all do.

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Addie Tsai

Addie Tsai (any/all) is a queer nonbinary artist and writer of color. They collaborated with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater on Victor Frankenstein and Camille Claudel, among others. Addie holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is the author of the queer Asian young adult novel Dear Twin. Unwieldy Creatures, their adult queer biracial retelling of Frankenstein, is forthcoming from Jaded Ibis Press in 2022. They are the Fiction Co-Editor at Anomaly, Staff Writer at Spectrum South, and Founding Editor & Editor in Chief at just femme & dandy.

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25 year old writer working on being a cool mom. I'm working on becoming more of myself in my writing and I hope you enjoy it.

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  1. The linked video workshop on strap-on sex is blocked as A+ content despite saying in the description that though the live workshop was for A+ subscribers, you’re now sharing the recording “for everyone to enjoy.” Is there any chance that it can be unblocked?

    • Hello J! So, this video was part of our Queer Sex 101 workshop series, which had 4 videos, 3 of which were made available to the public. The whole thing was supported by A+ members, so this video (and the password to access it) remain behind the A+ paywall as bonus content for our members.

      A+ starts at $4 a month or $30 a year and supports everything we do here. AND we also now have our A+ Gift Membership Pool, where A+ members have donated free memberships for people who couldn’t otherwise afford to be members. If this sounds like something you (or anyone else reading this reply) would be interested in, I encourage you to check it out! Thanks so much for reading and I hope this was helpful!!

    • Strap-on’s are often referred to as “Straps” when using AAVE in many queer Black & POC circles. BUT agreed, it is VERY valuable and important to be specific when communicating with a potential partner.

      As it pertains to this instance tho’ — This series was created by A Black person, and many pieces in the series are written by Black folks. They may or may not have AAVE in them and I as the editor am happy to do the work of breaking down terms that may not be familiar to some of the audience — just drop a comment and I will help out!

      Thanks for reading Mae!

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