Every time I tell someone what I do for a living, they take it as an opportunity to get some free sex and relationship advice. I don’t really mind because this is what interests me after all. Not only that, but the questions I get asked serve as great fodder for the blog! One of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked lately came from a woman I met at a party who was very concerned that her boyfriend might secretly be gay. Below, I provide a recap of her story and a more elaborated version of my response.
My boyfriend is a masculine guy. He’s a steel worker, which means he’s pretty built and pretty macho. We’ve been together for a little while and have a good sex life. However, the other day, he asked me to put my stockings on him while we were making love. I thought it was a joke at first and played along. But it turns out it wasn’t a joke at all—he really enjoyed it. And I mean REALLY enjoyed it. Now it seems like he wants to wear them all the time. I’m confused. Is he gay or what?
Without talking to your boyfriend, I can’t tell you with any certainly what’s going on, but my guess is that he’s not gay at all. Instead, it sounds like your boyfriend has a fetish for women’s stockings. Fetishes refer to cases where a person’s sexual desires and behaviors depend upon the presence of a specific object, such as shoes, panties, or feet (although people can have fetishes for virtually anything, including cars, balloons, dirt--you name it). People with fetishes need their object around during sexual activity in order to achieve maximum pleasure. It may still be possible for them to become aroused and achieve orgasm without the object, but sexual pleasure is usually less intense in these cases.
Fetishists connect their objects to sex in different ways. Some people like to fondle, sniff, or lick their items, while others like to wear them. In the case of people who like to wear the clothing of the other sex because it turns them on, this has traditionally be labeled transvestism. There are varying degrees of transvestism, with some people wearing just one piece of the other sex’s clothing (like your boyfriend), and others going all the way and dressing completely in the garb of the other sex.
Here are a couple of important things you should know about transvestism: First, your typical transvestite is actually a heterosexual, married man . Contrary to popular belief, a guy who gets turned on by wearing women’s clothes is unlikely to be gay. Second, although transvestism appears in the DSM, the manual that psychiatrists and psychologist use in diagnosing mental disorders, transvestism is not truly considered a disorder unless it causes personal distress or impairment in one’s life. So unless the desire to wear stockings during sex is causing personal problems for your boyfriend, his behavior would not meet the clinical criteria that merit treatment. Third, being a transvestite just means you get turned on by dressing up as a member of the other sex--it does not mean that you actually want a sex change (see here for an article about the difference between transvestites and transsexuals).
The key question here is whether you are comfortable with your boyfriend’s sexual interests and behaviors. If this is something that really bothers you or turns you off, it will likely be tough to save your sex life. He may be very comfortable with himself and his cross-dressing, and you cannot force him to change. Also, even if he happens to be distressed and seeks treatment, there’s no guarantee that a sex therapist can help him lose his penchant for wearing stockings forever. However, if you accept his cross-dressing, there’s no reason you two can’t have a normal and healthy relationship. In fact, research on cross-dressing married men has found that most wives are accepting of their husband’s behavior . Some of these women reported going as far as helping their husbands get dressed in women’s clothes—and some even said they helped their husbands apply makeup. As you can see, fetishes don’t necessarily have to be a relationship deal-breaker. You just have to figure out if he’s the right guy for you and if you want to make this relationship work.
To read more about fetishes and why they develop in the first place, check out this article.
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 Docter, R. F., & Prince, V. (1997). Transvestism: A survey of 1032 cross-dressers. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 589-605.
 Talamini, J. T. (1982). Boys will be girls: The hidden world of the heterosexual male transvestite. Washington D.C.: University Press.
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