I cross-dress and my wife doesn’t know

A reader has a panty fetish that he's kept from his spouse of 19 years. Does he have to tell her?

Topics: Am I Normal?, Sex, Gender, Love and Sex,

I cross-dress and my wife doesn't know (Credit: iStockphoto/DigitalZombie)

I’m a 40-year-old male that has been married for 19 years. It has been about as good as it gets except … I have a lingerie fetish that I have been trying to repress since I was a teenager. It ebbs and flows, but I can’t remember going over a couple of months without putting on something satin, typically panties, but I love adding thigh-highs and a satin nightie if available. I realize I look ridiculous, but it feels great against the skin, and mentally brings on a sense of relief, calm and arousal.

Over the last few years I have had a couple of same-sex experiences and a dominatrix that specialized in forced fem. It was all good, but the dominatrix was best. In all of those cases it felt good to be accepted with my secret and not to feel like a freak.

I have tried to share this side of me with my wife a couple of times over the years, but she is not having any of it. The last time I slipped on her thong, she got mad and said, “Never do that again, I don’t want you to stretch them out.” I then went on a two-month drought before she let me touch her again. She never mentioned it, but it was chilly. She is a great mother and wife, and I do love her, but I can’t repress my fetish despite trying several things.

Do I just accept my fetish, enjoy it safely, and keep my secret to myself? Or wait four more years when the last child is off to college, tell her about it, and give her the option to leave or accept it? If she reacts badly, I will need to be able to move out of state and probably lose my family because I’m certain she would advertise in the paper to humiliate me, and they would all stop talking to me. And that’s just the best case.

If a woman would doll me up and play with toys on occasion, I would be in heaven. I’m just not sure that exists.

You’re not sure if that exists? I would ask you if you’ve ever heard of this thing called the Internet, except that you emailed me your question. A woman willing to doll you up and “play with toys” absolutely does exist (see FetLife).

Unfortunately, it sounds like your wife is not that woman. I say this not because she yelled at you for slipping on her panties without any explanation, but because you say you’re “certain she would advertise in the paper” to humiliate you. I don’t know your wife, so I can’t say whether this is your outsized perception of the shamefulness of your kink or whether she would really do such a thing. If it’s the latter, all I can say is that it makes me terribly sad to think of a loved one treating you so cruelly.



Speaking of cruel, though, you’ve slept with other men and had a dominatrix session – presumably without her knowledge or permission. Maybe that’s why you anticipate her having such an extreme reaction; your kink pales in comparison to the ways that you’ve attempted to satisfy it over the years. By trying to tamp down your proclivity, it’s just popped up elsewhere. Life is too short to keep such things private (it’s also too long to do so successfully, as you’ve already found), and your wife of nearly two decades, whom you love, truly deserves a choice here. You must tell her, and maybe by giving you some perspective on your fetish, I can give you the tools to do it – and sooner rather than later.

First, some background. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defines transvestic fetishism as “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behavior, involving cross-dressing” that “causes clinically significant distress or impairment, whether socially, at work, or elsewhere.” The latter part is required for a person to earn that pathologizing label — in fact, it’s the distress, and not the extent of the cross-dressing, that is most essential to a diagnosis. More broadly, according to the book “Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender,” it’s estimated that the incidence of sexualized cross-dressing “among adult males is probably lower than the incidence of homosexuality and higher than the incidence of transsexualism” (the latter being total identification with the opposite sex). Most cross-dressing men are heterosexual and married with kids, and the behavior typically begins at a young age, even before puberty. Sound familiar?

There is no one identified cause of a cross-dressing fetish, but there are loads of theories out there that point to everything from Freudian “castration anxiety” to the social strictures of masculinity. One of the more popular psychological yarns is that boys begin cross-dressing “to elicit positive emotions associated with the clothing itself or to facilitate positive social relationships with family members, or to alleviate negative psychological states associated with being masculine,” and that self-soothing behavior later becomes entangled with arousal, according to the handbook “Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment.” Whatever the reason for your kink, one thing is fairly certain: It isn’t going away.

Dee A. Levy, the 56-year-old founder of the online support group Cross Dressers’ Wives, has been in a similar position as your wife. Her husband came out to her one evening after a decade of marriage by donning lingerie and putting the moves on her. She struggled to stay in the marriage for another 10 years until her child was out of the house — but she doesn’t recommend taking the same path, unless your wife turns out to be totally accepting of the kink. Above all else, she says it’s important that you tell your wife so that you can both “start living true, authentic lives.” One way or another, she will discover your secret, she says: “Eventually the wife finds that bag or the box or the suitcase that he’s got his goodies in.” Just because she hasn’t figured it out in 19 years doesn’t mean she won’t — Levy, editor of the newly released book, “The Cross Dresser’s Wife: Our Secret Lives,” has met women who found out after more than 30 years of marriage.

I can understand why you haven’t told her: You’re terrified of being rejected and humiliated and alone. On the other hand, I can see feeling like it’s no big deal: You like putting on women’s underwear every once in a while, so what? But it’s more than that: It’s an unceasing desire that has led you to lie to and cheat on your wife. It’s something that feels essential to your sexuality, and yet you’ve kept it secret even from the woman closest to you. That is sad not only for her but for you too. My hope is that you can start being kinder to the both of you. Individual and couples therapy is a great place to start — you’ll both need support getting through this, regardless of whether you stay together.

Good luck.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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