How to Do It

After Five Years, My Husband Finally Revealed His Fetish

I’m so angry.

A couple angry at each other in bed with neon panties in between.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by PeopleImages via Getty Images and Anna_leni/iStock/Getty Images.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Nothing’s too small (or big).

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage. I love my husband, but throughout our five-year relationship, our sex life has had its ups and downs. It has mostly involved what I thought was my husband’s fairly continuous masturbation while he is at home and I am at work (we work different schedules), which he says leaves him undesiring of sex with me when I get home. We’ve fought about this many, many times, with him promising to change and leading to some “up” moments, only to be right back to the same issue a few weeks later. He’s also lied many times about the amount of time he spends masturbating (and watching porn), and I’ve felt like he’s constantly hiding something from me.

Well, a few days ago, I caught him in another lie, and I told him we were either going to see a marriage counselor or I was leaving. He agreed to counseling. Later that night, however, he decided to tell me that he has a compulsion to wear women’s underwear, and it excites him sexually more than anything. He’s been buying women’s lingerie since before we knew each other and has worn my underwear multiple times. I got pretty upset by this, not because I think there’s anything wrong with him desiring cross-dressing, but because he now wants to make it part of our sex life even though it’s a complete turnoff for me. I’m all for exploring a kink, but I also feel like this is a desire I should have been told about since the start of our relationship. The way he talks about it, he makes it sound like cross-dressing is the only thing that gets him going sometimes. If he HAS to have it as part of his sex life, what should I do if I just can’t get into it? I don’t want him hiding things from me again, but I also don’t enjoy the idea of having sex while he’s wearing women’s lingerie. Is there any way to get through this?

—Boy Shorts

Dear Boy Shorts,

I remember reading Dan Savage’s answers to questions almost exactly like yours when I was in my pubescent years. By which I mean you’re by no means alone, and this isn’t a new phenomenon. Fetish mismatches happen in relationships, one partner masturbating to the point of unavailability happens in relationships, and partners hiding kinks and quirks happens in relationships.

To move forward, you’ve got a few options. You could try to trade off—engage in sex that involves women’s lingerie sometimes, and whatever gets you off most other times—presuming you can power through, to use your words, a complete turnoff for the sake of your husband’s pleasure. Focusing on the joy it gives him, how turned on it makes him feel, and how much you want to see him happy and aroused might be enough for you to engage. You won’t know for sure unless you give it a serious try.

You could leave your husband largely to his masturbatory practices. When he’s feeling exclusively cross-dressery, he can handle himself like he’s been doing for years. You’ll be ignoring that part of the man you married, but that isn’t necessarily worse than giving up on someone you clearly care for. You might take up or spend more time on masturbation yourself.

Or you could wait and see if, now that the cat is out of the bag, your husband is able to reserve an erection for you often enough to keep you satisfied. His reluctance to tell you about this apparently important facet of his sexuality has driven a wedge between you, but sometimes just airing the secret does a lot of good. You can also talk about opening up the relationship, whether that freedom is just for you or a mutual arrangement.

Mostly, I want to make sure you don’t lose sight of the couples’ therapy agreement. It might be easy to get distracted by this surprising, slinky secret, but keep your eyes on the goal and make sure you get there. You have understandable anger surrounding your husband’s more-than-five-year silence around something that has affected his behavior toward you and your relationship to each other. Getting an expert in to help you two work through this conflict in real time seems crucial.

Dear How to Do It,

I have been with my husband for six years. Our sex is decent—not amazing, but not awful either. I have been OK with that; I am not a very sexual being. That said, I have been slowly developing sex anxiety since having my first child two years ago. Right after my daughter was born, my husband went on deployment for seven months. When he came back, sex seemed to push my boundaries a lot more than it used to. Anything outside of our admittedly vanilla routine made me freeze up and immediately turned me off. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem, except my husband is sexually adventurous. He wants to try all sorts of new positions and ideas. I would like to too, but when it comes to actually doing them, I find it very difficult to get out of my head and enjoy the experience. I get unreasonably upset and feel very hollow afterward.

My husband is very supportive and wants to know how to help. But I haven’t the slightest clue. Is this normal? I don’t think I’m worried about my performance, so what else could it be? And what am I supposed to do about it?

—Hollow

Dear Hollow,

I’m glad you have a supportive husband. It sounds like you care for and are committed to each other. When it comes to bodies and sex, we’re only recently finding out just how varied “normal” is. I think you should make an appointment to see a doctor. The timing—right after your first daughter’s birth—has me suspicious that there might be something hormonal going on. It’s worth ruling out.

In the meantime, you can gather data. Do you masturbate? If you don’t, would you be willing to try it? Even if you don’t have an orgasm or even get particularly turned on, your reactions to touching your erogenous zones yourself could be telling. If you experience the same anxiety, tell your doctor when you see her. If you don’t experience anxiety, I might have a few more ideas. Can you comfortably think about sex with your husband while you’re masturbating? If you can’t, it might be a psychological issue. If you can, well, you probably know where I’m going with this.

In small stages, escalate your interactions with your husband. Start with him in the same room, on the opposite side, with the lights off. Try to keep yourself at a four or five on a 1-to-10 distress scale for a few minutes, and deescalate things to your comfort zone for at least a few minutes afterward before you stop—unless you feel overwhelmed, in which case, stop immediately. Take it easy and be gentle with yourself. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on, but asking the questions you are asking and wanting to change are good first steps to moving past it.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m in a committed relationship with an amazing guy. My trouble? I’m poly; he’s not. I kind of discovered this recently and want to explore it. A friend of mine and I are really into each other. Neither of us is really looking for anything more than being friends with benefits for now. We’ve already fooled around some and we’re both extremely excited about it. Should I continue?

—Poly Folly

Dear Poly Folly,

So, when you say your guy isn’t poly, that seems to imply that he isn’t OK with, or maybe doesn’t know about, what you’re doing with this friend. If any of those are the case, and you’re fooling around, that would be clearly inappropriate. Wait—you are fooling around, so that is inappropriate.

You should not continue. You’re doing a wrong thing. Why are you doing a wrong thing to an amazing guy? Cut off sexual interaction with your friend, prepare yourself for the fact that we rarely get everything we want simultaneously, and come clean with your guy. You might have to make a choice—exploring whatever poly means to you, or having this specific guy in your life in a romantic capacity. Apologize to him for hooking up with someone else without talking it through with him first. Understand that he might not forgive you. Understand that he might surprise you with more openness than you expect. You won’t know until you talk about it.

Dear How to Do It,

I reconnected with a former boyfriend. We’ve been good friends for 25-plus years, and we have a supportive, easygoing relationship. Our sex life is incredible—our sessions last four or more hours and are very satisfying. We explore each other’s fantasies enthusiastically, and nothing is off limits. Trust and honest communication are key.

But since we got back together, and maybe a few times in the past, we have a problem. I’m always ready for penetration sex. We build up to it with hours of foreplay. When he puts on the condom and gets ready to enter, he … wilts. He literally has developed some sort of last-second performance anxiety, right about when he puts the condom on. I’m there ready to GO, and he is back to square one like a nervous virgin. I haven’t made a big deal about it. I usually shrug it off and head down for a blow job (which he loves), and he pops right back up again. So we’ll try penetration again and … nothing. I love our marathon sessions. I orgasm several times through other methods and always make sure he does too. But I also want good old-fashioned bed-busting penetrative sex, and I want to expand to anal. I don’t think this is ED—he is skilled with other forms of sex and stays hard throughout—so I don’t think ED pills would help. It’s not for lack of trying, or his wanting to. I think this is a mental block rather than a physical one.

—Wilted

Dear Wilted,

Are you sure the condom is big enough? Seriously—half the wilting willies I’ve encountered in my personal life have just needed a larger condom. It’s about girth, and many people are surprised by how not-really-huge the larger size is.

You can also try digging into what your partner is experiencing emotionally during these attempts at penetrative sex. It’s possible that there’s some performance anxiety happening, or the condom reminds him of something that undermines his erection. You may be right that ED meds won’t help him, but a conversation with a professional might.

Before I wrap up, I want to point out to you how lucky you are to have a good, supportive friend whom you have an incredible sex life with. I know sometimes it’s hard to be appreciative when we aren’t getting something we really want, but you’ve hit a certain kind of jackpot, and I hope you realize that. Dwelling too much on one act here seems unlikely to change it, and it would be sad if it undermines what you two do have.

—Stoya

More How to Do It

When I had sex with my first boyfriend when I was 17, he came very quickly, within a minute. He was embarrassed. I told him it was normal—I think I confidently asserted this based on teen movies—and that he would last longer the next time. The thing is, he never really did. Every time we had sex, after maybe a minute or two, he’d have to pull out or he’d be done (yes, he tried the baseball trick). The other thing is, I started to really love this. It turned me on so much that he couldn’t help but lose it with me. We ended up dating for six years.

Well, we broke up last summer. I’ve had a fun time exploring sexually, because up until then, we had more or less been each other’s only partners. My problem is that I miss my two-pump chump, so to speak. Some guys can really go a long time, and seem proud of their “stamina,” but my vagina gets pretty tired after a few minutes! And I’m not sure if this is a thing, but I think it’s almost a fetish for me now to have a man come quickly; I find myself seeking out premature ejaculation porn sometimes. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but what can I do here? Put on Tinder “must come embarrassingly fast during sex”? How do people deal with guys who want to bang for 20 minutes straight?