Category: Alternative Sexualities

Show Your Partner You Love Them (Through Spanking)

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Wishing your lover would take a bit more control in the bedroom? Frustrated by his hesitation to be the boss while you happily submit? Don’t know how to bring this up without embarrassment and possible disappointment?

You are not alone!

Though there are a number of respectful and knowledgeable books on the market that inform new practitioners about the hands-on aspects of BDSM, what seems to be missing, or at least downplayed, are the psychological complexities many new fans are encountering.

An answer to your disappointment about your partner not taking the lead may come from an example from a client of mine.

Tom, a 53-year-old heterosexual man arrived in my office concerned about the sexual requests he was getting from his girlfriend of two years. She had told him she wanted more experimentation in their sex lives, and suggested some props. He enjoyed her sexy new outfits and picking her up in a bar while pretending they were strangers, but when she then asked him to spank her, he found himself in a quandary.

Raised by ardent feminists, he knew well the rules about “hitting” women. When he attempted to please his lover with a light spanking, she begged for more — and harder. Tom soon began to avoid sex rather than confront his anxiety. He felt torn between being a “good man” and a “good lover.” He came to me worried about his role and the future of the relationship.

Like you, Tom is in good company. Many people, regardless of gender, confront how BDSM intersects with abuse. The surface answer is simple: consent. If everyone playing clearly agrees with what is happening, it is not abuse.

The more complex answer is that, even with unambiguous and enthusiastic consent, it can be difficult to lay hands on another person. It goes against our ethics and our lifelong messages about not hitting another person. It can feel beyond naughty and sometimes downright evil.

What to do?

  • First of all, talk to your lover about your feelings. Ask for their views on what’s hot and what’s not and share yours.
  • Make lists comprised of What I Like, What I Would Like to Try, and What’s Off the Table, and then discuss those lists. Talk about your fantasies and fears. Negotiate your differences while you celebrate your similarities.
  • Establish safe words to be used if any of your limits are threatened, even unintentionally.
  • Proceed slowly…not with caution but with a sense of exploration. Add to your inventory of desired behaviours as you each and both become comfortable.

Tom found that following these tips led to increased vulnerability and intimacy with his girlfriend. In fact, ‘kinksters’ credit this open communication with strengthening their bond as well as keeping their sex lives hot and fresh.

If you long for more intense stimulation, or if someone you love is asking for more, consider how confronting your old messages and trusting in honest communication can enhance an already rewarding experience.

Trying new things is often scary. What is sad is allowing your fear to cost you growth and adventure!

Disappointing Sex. What happened?


Dear Dr Ren,

As a woman of a certain age, I learned to follow the rules. That included marrying a man I liked immensely, and burying my sexual attraction to women. My husband died three years ago, after which I decided it was time to act on this attraction.

Recently, I told one of my girlfriends my “secret,” and she shared that she’d had some girl on girl action in college. A bottle of wine later, I got to act on my desires for the first time.

Sadly, this is not a letter of rejoicing. I was ready for anything, but the experience was a complete letdown. I didn’t even have an orgasm.

I’m so depressed. I always thought sex with my husband was dull because I wasn’t really into his body. Now I finally have sex with my body of choice, and the sex is still boring! Is there something wrong with me?

I am so…


Dear Disappointed,

Sex, romance, desire, compatibility—all such complex experiences. We so want them to be straightforward and understandable. Media representations of ‘falling in love’ look so easy. Real life, however, requires some basic skills.

Not only do we need to know what it is that we like personally, we need to know how to communicate those wishes and how to hear the longings of our partners at times when blood is literally and figuratively rushing in our ears…and other bits.

First time sex is a cache of material for comics. We can all recount stories of sex gone wrong on first encounters. Add that bottle of wine, so useful to drown inhibitions but also so conducive to sloppiness, and you have the makings of a regretful evening. Please don’t use your one, sodden lesbian tryst as a yardstick for what your future sex life may be! I’ll bet if you recall your initial heterosexual encounter, you’ll nod with humorous recognition as well!

Another factor at play here is that, to date, you have been sexual with two friends. I suspect that if you play with someone to whom you are erotically attracted—I mean really sexually besotted—you’ll feel the earth move. Desire and arousal fuel one another.

So far you’ve been a good girl. You’ve followed the rules, played it safe, coloured inside the lines.  You have, quite correctly, identified this period in your life as time for you to meet your own needs. Your task now is to identify what those needs are.

In order to find lovers in synch with you, you’ll need to learn your own body’s appetites, so long buried. Become your own best lover so you can teach others what your body likes.

Experiment with masturbation toys. Learn whether you respond to penetration by using dildos and smooth, insertable vibrators. Think you are a clitoral gal? Your choices are many and varied. Do your swelling labia beg for attention? Or perhaps you respond wildly to anal or nipple stimulation. You don’t have to choose just one. Each of us expresses a unique symphony of preferences.

The point is there is no right—or wrong—answer to the ways arousal works for you, and Bloom is here to respond to the full range of women’s sexuality. There are toys for every woman’s choices.

Do not be discouraged. You are new to a grand journey of discovery. Give yourself permission to explore your possibilities. You’ll then be ready to share your knowledge with partners who can appreciate and augment your power and joy.

First Time Lesbian Sex

Dear Dr Ren,

I’ve always dated men, and happily so. I like sex with men. But recently I watched some lesbian porn that really turned me on. I would like to find out what sex with another woman would be like, but I’m not interested in adopting a lesbian lifestyle.


restful bedroomDear Curious,

You are what we describe as “bi-curious.” Though you are not actually questioning your heterosexual orientation, you would like to experiment with what sex with a woman feels like. This is common, especially as our culture is becoming more tolerant of sexual experimentation. Recent research, notably by Meston and Diamond, validates the fluidity of women’s erotic arousal targets throughout their lifespans.

With access to internet dating, realizing our fantasies can be a reality fairly easily. Remember that the majority of lesbian porn is still made by men, for men. The sex you are likely watching would not approximate your real life experience. To see how lesbian sex is in real life, seek out erotica made by and for lesbians.

How will sex with another woman be different?

First of all, there will be a lot more talking, and sex will take hours. Women tend to put emphasis on different aspects of sex. You will likely discover a more languid pace. Penetration is not a given. Dominant and submissive roles are not based on sex-role stereotyping, so initiation and flirtation must be shared or at least negotiated on some level.

Your emotions, too, will need to be managed. Sex with someone new is captivating, and the cascade of endorphins you’ll enjoy will feel a whole lot like falling in love. To avoid appropriately hurt feelings, you’ll need to stay aware.

Choose your partners carefully. Be clear with your intentions. Nobody wants to be a science experiment.

Once you’ve contemplated these factors and are ready to try dating, consider seeking bi-sexual women rather than those who identify as lesbian. The advantages are:

  • Bisexual women will better understand your primary identification as a straight woman. Many of them will share your diversity of attraction.
  • Bisexual women have a comfort with the bodies of both men and women, and what sex with same and divergent sex parts is like.
  • Identify yourself clearly as bisexual seeking an experience. This alerts lesbian women looking for another woman who DOES live the lifestyle.

If you want to proceed to finding a suitable date for this new adventure, see

Does this make you a lesbian?

You tell me you are curious about sex with a woman, but don’t want to adopt a lesbian lifestyle. There’s not one model, you know.

In other words, be willing to change your plans. Sex is mightily powerful, and so is friendship, and sex between women involves both. If you find yourself happy and content with a woman you intended to be solely an experiment, be prepared to change course. It is always your choice.

Don’t let these considerations to deter you from indulging your curiosity. Indeed, it is repressing our eroticisms that torments us and our lovers far more greatly than those we realize. Still, these are not mathematical equations you are trying to solve. Expecting this to go smoothly is unrealistic.

Be brave, be adventuresome, and be prepared. Immerse yourself in the heady intoxication of discovering something about yourself that you didn’t know beforehand. It will leave you smiling.


Can I Be a Lesbian and Date a Transman?

I’m a sex therapist in private practice. I’m asked all sorts of interesting questions on a regular basis. The following touched on sensitive and important issues deserving of being shared with others. Here’s the question. Do you agree with my answer?


I’m a politically active high femme lesbian. About ten years ago, I met an attractive Butch when we shared both political and social interests. We became friendly, and even sparked, but didn’t act on it.

Fast forward to the present. After years of living in different cities, we met again at a dance. Surprise! She’s transitioned to male. The chemistry is still there, and we’re both available, but now it all seems confusing. He’s asked me out, and his intentions are clear: to act on our long-standing mutual attraction.

I’m torn. I glory in being visible on the arm of a Butch woman…otherwise society reads me as straight. And my work is LGBT sensitive (as is his). My identity as a lesbian is clear.

Still, I know and like this person. We have good history, shared values, similar interests. This could be a wonderful opportunity.

Can I be seen as a lesbian and date this man? How do I maintain my identity when together we read as a straight couple?


Can you be seen as a lesbian? Nothing will change except when you are with your new lover. As a couple, you will probably be read by strangers as straight, just as you are now when alone. Outsiders will not recognize you.

You both work in queer-related jobs, and likely both have diverse circles of friends. Stay connected with your (now expanded) social network. You’ll find support there from those who matter.

You may encounter resistance even within your tribe, as identities and loyalties are sensitive to change. Some will resist the intersectionality of gender and sexual expression. However, you will come to understand difference and acceptance on a whole new level. When you analyze it, can you think of anything more transgressive than dating this man? It’s coming out multiplied!

And, don’t forget, you’ll now get to discover this person with whom you’ve shared a long term attraction, and to learn him as his authentic self!

Granted, you will be doing a lot of explaining. Even well-intentioned people will ask completely personal and inappropriate questions. You will need to be visible and vocal in entirely new ways. Dating a transman will stretch you, challenge you to examine how you feel about the rainbow of diversity that encompasses being different sexually and socially.

As your sense of sexandgender adjusts, you may need to adapt your language. “Queer” may fit better now than “lesbian.” There’s not one right answer, nor hurry to choose personally-appropriate labels. You can get yourself tee shirts that proudly proclaim you “Lesbian with an asterisk,” “Passing for straight,” or “Queer Femme,” and wear them while on your new man’s arm as well as when you are solo. Watch the world react, and monitor your own responses. A little discomfort is the price for challenging conven““`tion.

Make no mistake: you will be changed forever. Your sexuality will be recognized and responded to differently. Though your suitor is no more straight than you are, you’ll both be granted heterosexual privilege, even when you don’t want it. You will be in daring new territory and, as you develop your expanded identity, you’ll become more comfortable with your own way.

If you choose to date this old friend and comrade, do so because he is a transman, not despite it. He has lived within your camp, is fluent in your language, and appreciates feminism (and feminine!) in a truly unique way. And, wow!, does he get the Butch/femme dance!

Aim to match his bravery and authenticity with your own. The results may be spectacular! After all, the only time you run out of chances is when you quit taking them.

Fetishes: An Explanation

What are fetishes?

A working definition of fetish is ‘an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion’. Even if we remove the negative adjectives, we can see how fetishes impact our lives.

Though our culture is skittish about them, fetishes just are. They are part of our erotic signatures, much like temperament or humour make up our personalities. Some fetishes are socially condoned, like ‘Blondes have more fun’ or ‘tall dark and handsome’. And of course there is our obsession with large breasts, unquestioned because it is common and culturally sanctioned, but nonetheless qualifies as fetishistic. Less commonplace fetishes, such as ostentatious costuming or the inclusion of titillating objects are much more harshly judged. We are all too quick to confuse ‘different’ with ‘wrong’.

What do we know about them?

We know that males overwhelmingly report fetishistic preferences compared to females. Some statistics range into the 90 to 95 percentile. This is partially due to the interaction of the Y chromosome and the androgen ‘bath’ that male fetuses undergo to differentiate them from the default female model, and partially due to males’ higher testosterone (sex-driving) hormone levels. We also know that fetishes are developed between the ages of about two and ten, with the span between five and eight being most common. It is at this point that the (usually) boy experiences some connection between an object (red satin panties, for instance) and an erotic response (an erection). For some reason, this connection burns deep into the erotic framework for the boy, and remains there throughout the lifespan. It may well be that this initial awareness of erotic response binds with anything available at the moment….much as ducks will imprint on a basketball if that’s what stands in for ‘mother’ during the imprinting period….but research suggests that the moment of recognition is specific, the connection is permanent, and the object is fetishized as erotic regardless of context. In other words, once a strong erotic response is recognized, it is welded to the erotic signature of that individual.

Can a fetish be changed?

It seems that fetishes cannot be changed, though some are more pressing than others. We all have preferences regarding sex….we have individual favourite activities, settings, and patterns. Some of us go weak at the sight of silk stay-up stockings or shiny wing-tip shoes, but do not require these props to become aroused. For others, the fetish object is required to kick start and maintain interest and desire. We do not know why some fetishes imprint deeply and others do not….only that once imprinted, the object remains as a trigger for arousal.

How do fetishes affect us?

Though we hear horrible tales of sadistic sex murderers who require mutilation and torture to guarantee sexual gratification, these examples are sensationalistic and very, very rare. Most fetishes serve only to keep us paying attention to sexual clues. If we’re particularly drawn to women with well-defined calf muscles, or to a certain scent, we’ll notice if these stimuli cross our path. They serve as elements of attraction, and rarely do we need to be concerned about them.

Fetishes can be problematic, however, if they become rigid, which is true about many, many areas of our lives. If we find that we can’t attain orgasm unless, for instance, our girlfriend is lying in a pile of cold spaghetti, we may have difficulty finding sex partners, and of course must become extremely charming and skilful at negotiation just to ask for what we want.

In sum, fetishes can be good for us if we use them to augment our sexual responses and bad for us if they restrict our opportunities to enjoy a wide range of desire-enhancing signals. They can be quirky and fun and exciting, or they can confine us to narrow channels of experience. We cannot choose our fetishes, or even whether or not we have them. We do, however, have some choice in how we use them. Happily, most of us do so with light-hearted appreciation of a particular object or expression that establishes us as capable of heightened response and involvement.

Secret Sexual Desires

“Hello, Dr. Ren, I have a sexual problem that makes me very unhappy and could ruin my relationship.”

“I’m glad you called. Please tell me what is bothering you.”

“Well, that’s the thing. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this before. It’s hard to say it out loud.”

That’s how many of my phone calls begin. Many of us harbour sexual fantasies, desires and behaviours about which we feel shame and embarrassment but which we crave nonetheless.

Some believe their desires are so unacceptable that they do not tell even their lovers, believing without asking that they will be rebuffed because of their request.

Sometimes these cravings are quite harmless–like wanting anal sex or enjoying cross-dressing–and may be easily accommodated, but the fear of rejection overrides the risk. Some of my callers tell me they have been married for many years, coping with adequate sex and minimal sexual communication, longing to realize a fantasy and now regretting the fulfilling sex that might have been theirs. They want to know what they can do.

What happens next proceeds in a couple of ways. The first scenario sounds something like this:

Client: “I like to be spanked.”
Me: “How is that a problem for you?”
Client: “Are you kidding? My wife would never agree to do that!”
Me: “It’s a common sexual behaviour. Would you like some help learning to discuss this desire with your wife?”
Client: “Absolutely not. She would leave me.”
Me: “Have you ever broached this topic with her?”
Client: “No. I know her. She wouldn’t accept it.”
Me: “Okay. Then do you want to find ways to indulge in the fantasy of spanking that don’t jeopardize your marriage?”
Client: “Like what?”
Me: “Well, you could watch porn involving spanking, or spank yourself when you masturbate.”
Client: “I don’t like the idea of either of those things.”
Me: “If you don’t like things the way they are, but you don’t want change either, you are left with few choices. How would you like me to help you?”
Client: “I thought that’s what you were going to tell me! Listen, I’ll call back later, okay?”

You would think I wouldn’t hear from that caller again, but I often do, sometimes months later. Eventually the day comes when not taking a chance becomes more painful than risking a change. Let’s listen in on that call.

Client: “I called before. We talked about spanking. You told me it was a normal sexual activity, and I brought it up in conversation with my wife. Funny, but I had to do it a couple of times before I got her attention. It turned out it wasn’t such a big deal, but I didn’t tell her it was about me.”
Me: “Well done. It’s often the case that fear is worse than reality.”
Client: “I’d like to come in to see you now.”
Me: “Of course. What are you hoping to gain from our session?”
Client: “I’ve never talked about this before. I’ve been ashamed of this desire. Now maybe I have a chance to have the kind of sex I’ve always wanted. I want you to teach me how to present this to my wife in a way she can accept. That means I need to learn to accept it fully myself. I also want to learn how to communicate better about sex in general.”
Me: “You sound ready to learn those skills. You may be pleasantly surprised at how receptive your wife is to your willingness to be open and honest with her. This may be the start of the best phase of your lives together.”

The point is that if you want your life to change, you have to be willing to risk changing it. Change stresses, but so does living unhappily. It happens one step at a time, and each step brings you closer to your goal of sexual freedom and fulfillment.

If you are unhappy, consider doing something now to make it better. The answer may be only a phone call away.

A Kink Primer

I am frequently asked questions about kink, or BDSM. Folks wonder what makes it appealing–the extremes in sensation, the feeling of dominating or being submissive, the power and trust one gives to another? They are confused about whether BDSM and fetishes differ and, if so, what those differences are. They ask if orgasm is always a part of a ‘scene’. They say they now read more about kink than was true even five years ago—is it growing in popularity? Who does this stuff anyway?

It does appear that kink is gaining in popularity. Research suggests that 10% of the adult population are S/M practitioners. It may be that the actual numbers haven’t much changed, but our public recognition of BDSM has. Then again, as we speak more openly about alternative sexualities, more people may feel free to experiment and find they like them. Could be a combination. Whatever accounts for it, kink does now seem to occupy an accepted place at the sexual banquet table.

Why do people like it? Not all do, but fans list a variety of reasons. Some find the theatrical aspect arousing while others find security in the clarity of adopting a sexual role. Some find riding the wave between pleasure and pain transforms both into a highly erotic sensation attainable in no other fashion. Some relish the certainty of trust required in power exchange situations while others are simply sensation junkies. Some delight in the taboo of breaking rules of sexual decorum while others find heightened arousal in watching and listening to others test their physical and emotional limits in (semi) public settings.

Role playing is sometimes on the evening’s roster; other times not. Ditto sensation play, bondage, costuming, genital sex. What is always present is prior communication and negotiation, and this is elementally different from many sexual encounters that do not involve kink.

This discussion makes evident the players’ intention to engage in sex (whether genital or not). Everyone takes responsibility for what is about to happen, in effect saying, “I want to share this experience with you. What can we do to make it as wonderful as possible?”

This communication sets kink apart from the sort of dizzy, romantic sex modelled in the media where star-struck people fall into bed after little or no discussion about what they want or what their expectations are. In kinky play, each participant must acknowledge their own desire, so uncommon with our social attitude of sexual silence and our wish to be swept away rather to enter into sexual activity willingly and responsibly.

Put another way, I say I like to do this particular activity, and you respond that you like that very activity done to you. Perfect! We have a fine little interlude guaranteed, without the burden of hoping/pretending that we will walk into the sunset together. Our evening is intimate and powerful, whole unto itself. Sexuality is valid for its own sake, joyously and unapologetically. The preferred term for such sexual activity is “play,” indicative of the attitude of the “players.”

For those already in intimate, committed relationships, the intensity of BDSM can deepen those ties even further. It is no small gift to trust your Top with your pain, knowing they will transform it into pleasure. Likewise, the magicians who perform such alchemy do so with confidence and care for their bottoms.

What about orgasm? While kinky sex is definitely erotic, it is not always genitally focused. Sometimes ‘traditional’ sex will follow a scene, or a scene may morph into sexual comingling, but not always. They are apples and pears. Both delicious fruit, but different.

Let’s take care of some definitions. BDSM stands for: BD=Bondage and Discipline, DS=Domination and submission and SM=Sadism and Masochism. The whole lot comprises kink. We each get to choose whatever we like from any category, mixing and matching to suit our erotic composition and the opportunity at hand.

Fetish is a bit different. Fetish involves being turned on erotically by an inanimate object. Some common fetishes are high heels, leather, PVC, shiny metal. Then again, fetishes may be unique and completely individual. We use them to heighten our arousal in sexual situations or to signal our erotic intent. Unless our fascination with our fetish object(s) overshadows our interest in our sex partner(s), they are useful additions to our fantasy repertoire.

The more information we have about BDSM, the less stigma it carries. We conjugate the verb thus: I am erotic, you are kinky, they are perverted. And of course when we experience things for ourselves, we can evaluate them with less judgment.

Kink includes everything from holding down your lover’s hands during a spirited screw to suspending them ball-gagged from the rafters. It’s all okay as long as all the players are having a good time. It’s a long Canadian tradition that what we do in our bedrooms is our own business.

BDSM is about where we fit on a continuum of intensity, which depends on a number of factors. You can learn more by attending a munch, a workshop, or a public party. Talk to others. If you’re keen, add this new item to your sexual menu.

– adapted from a column originally published in XtraWest

How To “Do” a Threesome

S0 you’re wondering how to do a threesome? Sex research tells us that the most prevalent sexual fantasy among heterosexual males is a threesome with two women. Fortunately, many women share this flight of the imagination. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a position where this dream might be actualized,, regardless your orientation, you are probably wondering how to make it a positive experience. It is certainly a question I am frequently asked as a sex therapist.

There are a few basic guidelines for establishing a successful encounter. The first, of course, revolves around clear and honest sexual communication. Each couple must review and renegotiate their sexual exclusivity (or inclusivity) contract. Have you always had an open relationship? Has that been successful and gratifying…or not? If you’ve heretofore been monogamous, why do you now want to alter the arrangement? Are you both desirous of including others in your lives sexually? Is one of you doing this only to please the other? How do you make other important decisions in your relationship? Is your bond strong enough to risk the emotional backlash that may occur? You must take the time to explore these questions and agree upon the answers before bringing another person into your bed.

Once this renegotiation process is complete, and you have agreed that you are both desiring a sexual encounter with another person, you need to decide how you choose that lucky someone. Then you must renegotiate all over again with him or her. Because of our culture’s pervasive homophobia regarding men being sexual with other men, this article will assume that the third person will be a woman. It is important to determine what each party expects and wants from the encounter. You must all be on the same page, or you are inviting disaster.

puppy pile of women
How to Do a Threesome

Let us suppose that these steps are accomplished and you’ve made a date to meet to have sex together. How do you go about ensuring that all three people have a good time? This brings us to the etiquette of threesomes. The basic rules are as follows:

– Person A and Person B discuss how they can best pleasure Person C. They set about to be a team of two dedicated to making sure that Person C’s needs are met and that her emotions are safeguarded.

– Simultaneously, Person B and Person C get together to form their own team, planning how to give Person A the best possible time.

– And Person A and Person C also collaborate to guarantee Person B’s enjoyment of the activities.

What this system strives toward is everyone’s feeling connected, integral, and pleasured. It virtually eliminates jealousy because all parties concerned are meeting another’s needs in conjunction with someone else, while having both other people concentrating on them. With two folks responsible for, and responsive to, one other, everyone wins.

This is of course a distillation of the process. We do not move from zero to 60 quickly, at least not the first few times. Sex, intimacy, and trust get all mixed up together, and we’ve not even mentioned interpersonal tensions and personal apprehensions. Then, too, there are issues of body image, performance anxiety, and feelings of potential inadequacy.

So if you’re hoping to turn this common fantasy into a reality, plan well and plan well in advance. Be specific about how you hope your evening will progress and set up for success. Threesomes are memorable occurrences, and those privileged to share such encounters successfully recognize a bond that leaves a glow long after the actual sex has faded. Be careful, be fearless, be open-hearted, and be brave. The rewards can be enormous!

Is My Husband a Drag Queen?

Most people feel some initial trepidation approaching sex therapy and often ask what happens during a session. Of course each appointment varies according to the clients’ needs; however I thought presenting a case study might be helpful for those feeling a bit shy about beginning the process.

I was contacted by a mid-forties, white, disabled woman, happily married for a number of years to a sedate, hard-working man her same age. She came to the marriage with greater sexual experience than her husband, and smiled that she’d taught him everything she wanted him to know. Their sex life was active and fulfilling.

When searching on the computer for something unrelated, my client (let’s call her Jane) stumbled onto a file containing images of elaborately and provocatively clad women. She had no problem with her husband Bob viewing sexually explicit images, but wondered why he had kept it a secret. Upon closer inspection, however, Jane noted that the women were not women at all, but men dressed as women, drag queens she thought they were called. Quite understandably, she began to fret. Jane wondered if her husband was secretly gay and their marriage was a cover. If so, what did this mean about her? What did it mean about her marriage? She said nothing to Bob, far too confused to form coherent questions. Instead, she phoned me.

At our first appointment, we reviewed the strengths and vulnerabilities in her marriage. She agreed that she must ask Bob about his interest in these pictures. I explained Kinsey’s continuum of sexual behaviour (from homosexual to heterosexual, and everything in between) and reminded her that her husband could indeed be attracted to both men and women and still love her madly. I coached her on some communication skills and she left confident that she could frame unbiased questions and hear her husband’s responses. I was confident that her healthy attitude about sex and her abiding love for her partner would help frame a successful, if difficult, discussion.

Several weeks later she called for a second appointment. The ‘talk’ with Bob had gone well, but she was surprised to learn that he was not peering at drag queens at all, but cross dressers, and the difference is significant. Drag queens are predominantly homosexual men whose sexual expression involves exhibiting their feminine sides in order to attract other gay men. On the other hand, cross dressers (or transvestites) are predominantly heterosexual men who experience sexual arousal from the look and feel of women’s clothing and demeanor. As she learned the facts, Jane visibly relaxed but struggled to interpret what all this meant. If she accepted this aspect of her loving husband’s erotic makeup, did it make her a lesbian? Did it make Bob less interested in her than in her (or his!) clothing? How could she incorporate this information into her otherwise mainstream life? She needed Bob’s input, and left the office prepared with what she wanted to ask as well as what she wanted to say.

The third time I met with Jane, she reported that Bob had clearly and calmly answered her questions and settled her fears. He admitted that he had been drawn to cross dressing from an early age, but also knew he was a straight man. He implored Jane to accept him as she knew him in either persona. Such acceptance was what he had been longing for all his life. Jane wanted to do nothing to inhibit or sadden her husband. Still, she knew that inviting Bob’s alter-ego Cindy into their bedroom meant she must examine her own sexual definitions. She confessed that she’d always been curious about making love with a woman, though she had no interest in adopting a woman-centered lifestyle.

She loved Bob like crazy and wanted to accept him as he really was. What would that mean for her personally and sexually?

I explained that when wives discover their partner’s cross dressing, they ultimately have three choices: tolerate but condemn the behaviour, leave the marriage, or accept this uncommon erotic fetish with an open heart and incorporate it into the whole of the marriage. The first choice takes longer than the second to destroy the union, but it is just as effective. Only the honest acceptance of another person’s difference allows for the couple’s growth. Statistics tell us that those wives who accept their husband’s transvestism enjoy contented, long-term marriages with grateful, loving partners. Happily, this is the path Jane took. I recommended some helpful books and sent Jane home to experiment with life with Bob/Cindy.

Bob came in next. He thanked me for making a safe place in which Jane could unravel her reactions to her unexpected discovery. He explained that he had experienced the common practice of avoiding longed-for intimate relationships for fear of discovery and censure. In midlife he met Jane and soon knew that she was worth the ever-present risk. He had purged his female clothing and limited his feminine expression to viewing other cross dressers he could readily access on the Net. He added that he felt truly loved and accepted and that he and Jane were enjoying better communication…and better sex!…than ever before.

This might have been the end of the story, except that Jane called for another appointment. She arrived looking peaceful and happy and wanted to tell me about her personal journey. I listened intently. Jane discovered that when she eliminated judgment about orientation and expression from her analysis of sex, she found that she had a ‘best of both worlds’ situation. Her disabilities, and her husband’s stout body, had made intercourse awkward and sometimes painful, and the stress contributed to Bob’s occasional inability to maintain erections. Now Bob felt freer to use his tongue instead of (or as well as) his penis to pleasure his wife, and consequently sex had become more adventuresome and rewarding for both. Jane eventually welcomed Bob’s alter ego Cindy and became involved in helping her lover ‘dress’ for their dates. When Bob appeared, they had heterosexual sex; when Cindy showed up, Jane enjoyed the thrill of ‘lesbian’ sex with her new best friend. According to Jane, this was the best discovery she could have made.

The last time I spoke with this couple, they were off to Esprit, a weeklong conference holiday designed specifically for cross dressers and their partners. Jane and Bob had already enjoyed clothes shopping, makeup classes, and wig fittings together. They presented like giddy newlyweds. My work was clearly done.

Jane and Bob made my job easy. Not all wives can set aside their sex-negative conditioning and homophobic responses well enough to contemplate the value of adaptation to this issue. Many are not sufficiently secure in their marriages to risk such change. Conversely, Bob’s willingness to tell all the truth while simultaneously allowing Jane time and space to absorb his news set the stage for successful resolution of what might have been a divorce predictor.

Bringing cross dressing behaviour out of the closet and sharing it with your mate is not something to attempt unprepared. This is an absolutely appropriate issue for which to seek professional help from a sex therapist. With delicacy, skill, and openheartedness, many such unions can experience the successful resolution that Jane and Bob enjoy.

Discovering Cross-Dressing: A Sexologist’s View

Sometimes I’ll get a call from a frantic woman who has just discovered her husband’s cross dressing. She has no idea what this means about him or her relationship. She usually wants me to assure her that she is normal and he is sick. When I suggest the interpretation is less simple, her anger flares at me and the educating begins. Though not an ideal learning situation, she eventually calms sufficiently to consider alternatives to the divorce and/or homicide she was contemplating when she first rang up.

There’s also the call from the man tortured by his secret life, wanting to share with his beloved wife the truth about his feminine side but fearing what it can cost him. Or the call from the man who has been outed, humiliated and frightened that he is about to lose all he holds dear.

Regardless of who makes the call, I know the discovery is never simple or easy.

Despite its benign nature, the issue of cross dressing causes considerable distress for both men and women. It’s illogical, really, when we consider how we fight for gender-neutral toys, education, and opportunities. I suspect that men’s feeling comfortable in women’s clothing triggers some misogynistic alarm that confuses us. Despite women’s advances, males and masculine values remain dominant. Defiantly, cross dressers favour the feminine look. That is difficult for most of us to understand.

Then there’s the question of sexual orientation. If a man dresses like a woman, does that mean he wants to be sexual like a woman, ie: with another man? The answer is no…who you want to be is called sexual identity, compared to who you want to be with, which is called sexual orientation. If my male lover dresses like a woman, does that make me a lesbian? No, again, unless you are sexually attracted to women as well as to men.

What do we know about cross dressers? Almost all are heterosexual. They tend to be well educated, professional, loyal family men. They are described as gentle husbands and attentive fathers who enjoy a small circle of close friends of both genders. Their cross dressing generally begins in their youth with the pilfering of Mum’s or Sister’s undergarments which they use for role playing. They are—initially at least—erotically charged by the forbidden aspect of what they are doing. Throughout their lives, slipping into female mode brings them relaxation and comfort. They live in fear of discovery and go through repeated bouts of acquisition and purging of their carefully chosen wardrobes. They generally tell no one their secret, though they long to do so.

When their secret is discovered, often after years of marriage, they face relief and terror simultaneously. It is often at this juncture that they seek counselling, sometimes learning for the first time that they are not alone. Their mate’s response dictates the course of their relationship.

Both the cross dresser and I as the therapist must now be ready for the partner to go through a grief process before she can think rationally about the marriage/relationship. Her eventual decision will depend upon a complex interplay of factors including her feelings, attitudes, and sexuality as well as the history of the relationship prior to the discovery. In many cases divorce will be the answer. In others, the marriage not only survives, but thrives. Regardless the outcome, the husband will be out of the closet and experience a metamorphosis.

Cross dressing is not a psychological problem; it is a social disorder. A hundred years ago women would be slandered for wearing trousers. The Victorians were so obsessed with sex that even the legs of furniture were concealed so as not to inflame the prurient sensibilities of the household males! Though we’ve still a long way to go, eventually, gender-variant clothing will become simply another sexual expression.

Until then, education is the key for cross dressers and those who love them. The unprepared discovery of such a misunderstood behaviour unleashes a swarm of fears and myths. When those are countered with reason and facts, the relationship crisis can be shrunk to manageable size and, with sensitive and informed professional direction, the couple can get on with loving each other, not as before, but now with a new dimension of understanding and acceptance that oftentimes deepens the commitment beyond what they had once thought possible.

It’s a cold wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good. This is one situation where that old adage is sometimes true.

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