Erotic Imprinting – Overview

Erotic imprinting is a key component in transgender identity development. This is also a factor is cross-dressing, cross-dreaming and other cross-gender behavior as well. Unfortunately, psychology currently has no way of changing erotic imprinting. Particularly in natal males, it acquires a fixed character and once that happens it cannot be changed. However, the situation is not completely hopeless. Erotic imprinting can be managed, and sexual behavior is like any behavior it can be conditioned (for good or for ill).

There is a critical period for erotic imprinting. John Money suggested this occurs between ages 5-10, but no one is sure of the exact ages. In particular, we know that younger brains show more plasticity, so the imprint window might still be open in early puberty. Erotic imprinting is similar to other imprinting such as language acquisition, where there is an imprint window. This is why people who learn languages at a young age do not have accents, but those that learn them after the imprint window has closed do.

In particular trauma or any strong events in childhood can override erotic imprinting. This is what John Money referred to as a “vandalized love map” Such overwriting can be total, but is usually only partial. This creates a kind of dual sexuality where a person has a typical sexual imprint (hetero/homo/bisexual) as well as some fetishistic scenarios that turn them on. These dual sexual imprints compete. This if found in many other sexual imprints and is not specific to gender issues. There is also a dynamic competition which is life long. Fortunately, one does have some control in this scenario, and a person’s actions have some say in the relative strengths of these two imprints.

There is good reason to favor the original imprinting. One is that imprinting is like to be more functional in finding relationship partners. The function of sexuality is to connect us to others, and the original sexual imprinting is more likely to succeed at that. It is also more likely to be in harmony with one’s organic sexual needs. Your Brain on Porn suggests a way to determine what your organic needs are in case things are confused.

Also if one’s sexual imprinting has been corrupted through trauma, to allow that side to dominate is to allow the traumatizers to win. There is something empowering in choosing connection. It is also possible to find partners where one can connect to both sides of their sexuality at once, however this can limit one’s choice of partners.

We see this dual sexuality play out all of the time when MTF-spectrum people are struggling with gender. The cross-gender feelings can go away when one finds a new partner and come back after the limerance has passed. They also tend to increase in times of stress. If there is also a negative schema present, the erotic fantasy can act to discharge the tension caused by the schema (schema avoidance). This also strengthens the schema, creating a feedback loop. The fantasy is never enough, and there is risk of escalation.

If one has this dual sexuality, the side one feeds is strengthened. There are two traps in managing erotic imprinting. If one wishes to manage an erotic imprinting they do not wish to enact, it should neither be fed or repressed. Both of these give energy to it. Simple acceptance is best. An example of repression would be to attempt to suppress fantasy or deny it. These thoughts should be accepted with curiosity, as is described here

Neither should this side be fed. Feeding is seeking out ever increasingly intense porn or enacting the fantasies in compulsive ways with others. This will strengthen the fantasies and lead to the dopamine-based escalation we see in all porn addictions. Porn is like alcohol, gambling, or any vice, okay in moderation, but unhealthy if it fits a pattern of escalation. Unfortunately, today’s porn is very powerful and is more like meth than alcohol. Not only can it lead to wasting lots of time, it can shift sexual tastes. This is different than the imprinting I referenced earlier, this is conditioning. Conditioned responses will reverse if porn is stopped, but imprinted responses are permanent.

This is just an overview, and I will discuss more in future articles about methods for managing sexual imprinting.


  1. There are a few interesting parallels of other fetishes and their psychological internalization, especially those described as “autophilic” (“love of oneself as….” or rather arousal by the relation of oneself to certain symbolism)

  2. “Simple acceptance is best. An example of repression would be to attempt to suppress fantasy or deny it. These thoughts should be accepted with curiosity…”
    Yes, the site you linked to is one which, unfortunately, I found long after conquering my porn addiction. The steps they outlined are ones which I simply do naturally now.

    For me, transition is part of the acceptance process. Which is interesting and possibly counter-intuitive (although I think many aspects of being autogynephilic is counter-intuitive), since the changes wrought upon my body by exogenous hormones could be described as “feeding” this aspect of myself. Strangely, it seems to pacify it – for now. The libido-lowering effects of HRT have been immeasurably helpful in accepting the aspects of my transition which are motivated by AG while at the same time not engaging actively in them.

    The concept of the “vandalized love map” makes a certain kind of sense in the context of my autogynephilic sexuality, my sex dysphoria, and my problematic connection to other people intimately. Narcissism and autosexuality play a big part in all of this, and to deny the role of childhood sexual trauma upon what otherwise may have been a more normative path of development would be a great disservice to my future health.

    Certainly, this is a fine line to walk between repression and feeding. Transition seems to be making this line easier to balance upon. However, if I maintained the sex-positive, gender-positive, magical thinking stance I see most other trans engaging in, I would still be watching porn, doing drugs/alcohol, probably having unsafe sex, and that line would be getting thinner and thinner.

    Thanks for doing what you do. Great post. Look forward to more on this topic, really close to home for me.

    1. I am glad you have found something that works for you and is improving your well-being. Reducing testosterone will definately reduce/eliminate any desire for porn. Indeed anti-androgens are often used as the treatment for unwanted sexual compulsions. I always say that if estrogen/ anti-androgens are improving your well-being then they are right for you. It is a complicated issue.

      Narcissism plays an important role as well, I feel my real journey has been a 20 year log slow, gradual recovery from narcissism into health. Really the gender issues were secondary to that. Learning how to connect to others and not be caught in a loop with my own reflection was my whole journey.

      Thanks for the reply, you seem to have a good heart and a commitment to self-growth. That is very powerful.

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