How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
My husband and I have been happily married for 16 years and together for 17. We have four amazing children. Our sex life has always been amazing, never boring. We have worked to keep things interesting and make intimacy with each other a priority. Within the past year he has revealed to me that he has fantasies about dressing up as a woman in the bedroom. I made sure my reaction wasn’t off-putting and took time to think about it. I decided to give it a go. When the kids were out, he got dressed up in a skirt, underwear, bra, and one of my shirts. We had sex. He loved it a lot. I acted excited, but I was still trying to process it. Over the past few months, it’s gained more and more momentum. He even tried out some of my makeup at one point and now has several pairs of his own high heels, and he bought me a strap-on to use on him. He says he has no interest in dressing like this in public. He is also very adamantly straight.
I am having a really difficult time sorting out my feelings with this. It is not in any way a turn-on for me. It is actually a complete turn-off, but I don’t want him to have to hide a part of himself from me. I want him to be free to be himself with me 100 percent. I just don’t know what to do to be all right with this. This is causing me a lot of anxiety (I have started taking anxiety medication because of this) and I feel like this could change our relationship whether I say something or not, and I don’t know what to do.
—Not Into Cross-Dressing
Kinks, particularly when they’re newly explored or indulged, can result in a fairly selfish zeal. His experience might go something like “Oh! I’m finally able to talk about this. My wife is willing to participate in my desire. Exciting! Let’s do all the things! Fun, fun, fun!” without space to consider whether you are enjoying yourself, too. This is where you have to advocate for yourself. Your desires and satisfaction are of equal importance to his. And you’re taking anxiety medication to cope with your feelings, so your relationship has already changed, in a way that is detrimental to your mental health.
You’ll want to begin addressing this sooner rather than later. Whoever is prescribing the anxiety medication seems like a good place to start. If they offer therapy, can you afford a few sessions with them to talk through your feelings? If not, is there a sex-positive therapist you could speak with? If the cost is prohibitive, journaling, walks, showers—whatever helps you think—can be useful. The better organized your thoughts are, and the better you understand your feelings, the more productive the conversations with your husband are likely to be.
You’ll want to choose your time wisely and tread carefully. If you bring up your turn-off response in the middle of a sexual interaction, or even when he’s hinting at cross-dressing play, there’s a higher likelihood of him receiving your communication as judgment or rejection, or feeling shame, which can make clear thinking and discussion difficult. Directly after sex is also likely to be problematic. And you’ll want privacy and enough time to have a full discussion.
Start with your appreciation of him and your desire to support him in living his fullest sexual life. What you’ve written here is great—you want him to be able to be open with you and be himself 100 percent. Then move into your own experience: You aren’t aroused by him in women’s clothing and are engaging in this with him because, presumably, you love him and want him to be satisfied. Ask for his help in figuring out solutions that work for both of you. This might mean catering to his desires sometimes and to yours at other times. This might mean agreeing to open up your marriage to professional or recreational partners who do enjoy cross-dressed sex. This might mean that the two of you are no longer a sexual match. You don’t have to come up with answers immediately, and give yourself and your husband plenty of space and time to process. You might find that something you think will work doesn’t when you actually implement it, or you might find an unexpected compromise. Good luck.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a 31-year-old woman who’s been in a relationship with 29-year-old man for the past 2.5 years. For the first three months of our relationship, we had pretty good sex. Not as good as my previous relationship, as I’m a sub and that’s not what my current partner is into, but the rest of the relationship was better, so I was happy.
Then suddenly the sex dropped off quite drastically, not at my choice. I fretted and tried to figure out what had changed or what I was doing wrong. It was quite a source of stress for me. I tried to talk about it many times but was shut down. Eventually, through some snooping, I discovered that he has a foot fetish. I didn’t bring it up, with the idea of giving him time to feel comfortable with telling me, but he never did.
Then about a year ago, through more snooping, I found out he’d been going to foot-worship sessions during our (monogamous) relationship. I was very upset and told him what I had found and considered ending the relationship but figured that now everything was out in the open, things might get better. Our level of communication improved for a while. He told me that he feels hugely embarrassed about his fetish and didn’t think anyone would stay with him once it came out and that no previous girlfriends have known about it.
But now we rarely have sex and have stopped talking about it. I’ve given up. I suppose I feel a bit resentful about always being the person trying to fix things. I know he is the way he is as a result of a childhood that made him feel generally ashamed of who he is, and I don’t want to contribute to that even more. I know that he still views foot-fetish material online, and when I asked once if he would ever go back for a foot-worship session, he said “No, I’d be too worried you would find out.” I’m also aware that there’s a submissiveness to his fetish, and I’m no longer attracted to him because of it. I fantasize about having sex with a very macho partner, and any attempts he makes at initiating sex make me cringe because it feels like we’re just so incompatible. Am I a bad person for wanting him to be more macho? Is there any way for us to work on this and make it better again?
Dear Frozen Feet,
I really don’t like that his response to whether he’d go to foot-fetish sessions again centers on fear of you finding out. You’re not comfortable with him engaging in sexual activity with others—even professionals, even when it’s something you’re not interested in—and his reply indicates that he’s more concerned about what he can get away with than what the two of you have agreed to. And yes, his childhood of shame is sad, but it’s not your responsibility. You can be supportive, but you shouldn’t stay in a relationship that doesn’t work for you because leaving might make him feel bad.
And wanting a macho partner doesn’t make you a bad person. Wanting someone who doesn’t fit your definition of macho to be macho also doesn’t make you a bad person, but it’s probably futile. For a few months you had adequate but not-as-good-as-you’ve-had sex, and now you’ve dated for an additional 2.25 years. If sexual fulfillment is important to you, it is long past time to move on.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m 44, my husband is 47 and we’ve been together since I was 19—married 20 years this summer. Overall, we’ve been very happily married with two teenagers. A couple years ago, perhaps in a midlife crisis mode of sorts, I began feeling like he was not interested in me as much sexually and that I needed more attention (sexual and in general). My husband tends to be very focused on his own things and his career foremost, but is loving and caring. Long story short we decided to open our marriage with me as a hotwife (he was not interested in his own adventures). This worked fine for a while to respark our flame, but then we both lost interest.
Move forward to just before the initial coronavirus lockdown, I met a friends-with-benefits partner whom I have been in love with ever since. I still deeply love my husband, but I think in some ways our relationship has morphed into more of a familiar/friend one. He has been very generous in accommodating me, but I’m afraid his one fear in opening our marriage—that I would fall for someone else—has come true. He knows about “Guy” and has met him but does not know the extent of my feelings.
My mind says I should let Guy go, but my heart says follow my heart to be with Guy. I’m pretty sure Guy would go for it. And because husband and I do love each other and have pretty good communication and would put our children first (our children have stated they feel like we’re better alone with them anyway), that a divorce, though painful, could work out for the best. Am I just being a spoiled, self-centered asshole? Obviously, I need to talk with my husband and Guy, but I’m just looking for someone outside to look in and tell me what they see. If I could, I’d like to be poly with husband and Guy, but I’m not sure that would sit well with either of them.
—Forest or the Trees
A big part of your answer to this question involves your two teenagers, and I’m not quite sure what “our children have stated they feel like we’re better alone with them anyway” means. If your teens—old enough to have a somewhat sophisticated take on the subject—are reflecting back at you that you and your husband are obviously drifting apart, that says something pretty significant. Your children shouldn’t be responsible for making the decision or spoken to directly about divorce before you speak with your husband, but getting more information on what they mean when they say they feel like you’re better alone with them seems useful.
Do your best to separate your desire to leave your husband from your desire to be with Guy. The grass is always greener. New relationships can cause your body to release chemicals that make you feel ecstatic and attached—and can interfere with our ability to evaluate whether someone is a good match. Guy is likely to be negative at some point, and almost certainly has some exhausting or irritating habit—we all do. Before you make any moves, I think it’s worth imaging yourself alone. How will you feel if you leave your husband and things don’t work out with Guy? Will you want to go back to your husband? If so, why is that? If not, that says something important.
As for being poly with both of the men in your life, it’s worth spending some time figuring out what you’d like that to look like. Would you continue have sex with your husband? Would he be free to pursue other relationships as well? Which person would you live with, or would you live on your own? Would you want Guy involved in the lives of your children? Would you want to be able to have dinner together, all three of you? Once you have an idea of what you want, you’ll be in a better position to find out whether the other people are open to your preferred arrangement.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a male who lives alone. Over the last few (lonely) years I have found myself branching out from my heterosexual norm and enjoying watching gay porn and transexual porn. In between girlfriends I also had a brief period where I used Grindr and had a few hookups with other men, where we gave each other oral and I very eagerly bottomed.
Does this make me bisexual? Or am I just horny? I don’t feel romantic feelings or attraction toward men. I don’t enjoy kissing or being intimate with men. I love women with my heart and my soul. I feel as though I am only interested in men’s sexual organs and the pleasure that can be derived from them. I enjoy gay porn and straight porn in a nearly equal measure at this point, but I can’t tell if I am just touch-starved, horny, and/or in need of a partner to align my energy with.
—Gay-zed and Confused
When you say “transexual porn,” I assume that this means porn that features transgender women with genitals that are marketed as penises. I also assume that you’re simply repeating the language that platforms such as PornHub use in their tags. You should know that many trans people find the term transexual deeply offensive and hurtful—Buck Angel being one notable exception—and you should err on the side of caution by not using it unless specifically requested.
Now let’s talk about the term bisexual. It’s pretty loaded. Looking at the actual word, along with homosexual and heterosexual, a person could reasonably assume that we’re talking about the people we like to have sex with. In common usage, there’s a whole lot of assumptions about interest in dating, romance, shared family-building, and porn-viewing habits that come along with each. These single-word descriptions can sometimes be an efficient way of communicating interests and at other times can cause a lot of misunderstanding. When you’re communicating with another person, they’re a great starting point and can broach more thorough sharing. When you’re working to understand yourself, they may be counterproductive.
You’re interested in dicks and in vulvas. And you’re romantically, emotionally, and aesthetically attracted to some women, but not men. You may become more interested in intimacy with other men over time, and you may never be interested in more than a narrow range of carnal activity with them. You might build a monogamous relationship with someone and never encounter another catalyst to question your sexual and romantic orientations again. It’s an exploration, and uncertainty is part of growth and self-understanding. Most of us have details about our desires and identities that don’t fit into basic categories. Along the way, remember to treat your partners as humans, even if all you’re interested in is their genitals, and communicate clearly about what you’re wanting to engage in with them.
More How to Do It
I never thought I’d be in this position. I am married and love my wife (30s). A gorgeous woman at work who works in a separate department (same office building) struck up a conversation with me one day at an after-work event, and she later added me on social media. I posted a photo one day and she replied flirtatiously in DMs, but she is also married and I didn’t think anything of it. She kept it up, and I barely responded, but then yesterday, she straight-up propositioned me for sex. No strings: a safe, one-time thing. I am an average guy, and women haven’t come on to me like this since I was in better shape in my late teens and early 20s. I don’t think I’ll get this opportunity again while I’m still young, and I don’t want to give it up. I know my wife would never give me a pass, 100 percent, but we barely have sex anymore post-kids. Is there any way I could do this, be happy it happened, and then move on, or am I kidding myself?
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