Question: I have met a really nice guy for the first time since I became an adult almost two decades ago. As a teenage girl I was outgoing and incredibly happy and had lots of lads chasing after me. Then something traumatic happened that left me with both physical and emotional scars. I did not achieve my college or career dreams and spent the best part of my 20s and 30s downcast and lonely.
I have always longed to meet someone good looking, intelligent and funny who would whisk me off my feet, love me and father my children. Then, about one year ago a contractor with all those attributes arrived at my office – this guy practically serenaded me, leaving me somewhat overwhelmed but ready and excited for whatever was to come. In the lead up to our first date, we exchanged some outrageous texts – he described himself as animalistic, wild and at one with nature. We slept together on the first date. It was my first full sexual encounter and I was nervous, but I was literally let down. The sex did not last too long and was frankly a bit dull.
A few weeks later we met in the afternoon and drank until late into the night. He asked me to put on an outfit that made me look like a cartoon squirrel and then he dressed in something similar that made him look like a wolf. I thought it was a bit of a laugh imagining that these clothes were probably left over from amateur dramatics. This time the sex was beyond my expectations. We met a couple of nights later, although this time we were sober, he gave me a similar outfit and he became his wolf again. I started to think that this was ridiculous. But I was beginning to have feelings for him, and I did not want to risk him ending it.
The sex again was fantastic. The relationship started to become more than just about sex, but whenever we do it, he has a range of outfits for me, they are always subordinate animals or birds, whilst he becomes a dominant creature.
I find it humiliating but have never told him.
The only time that I ever objected was when we went to a house party dressed in this garb as was almost everyone else, he hadn’t told me that he knew people at the party would be openly having sex with strangers. I took the outfit off and got a taxi home and we never spoke about it since.
But that has not stopped him buying me new outfits online and expecting me to wear them. My dreams are invested in this man. I feel stupid even writing this letter as I don’t want to jeopardise my future.
I am just afraid that he knows that I don’t have the courage to tell him that I do not want to dress up any more.
Answer: It seems that an honest conversation is in order plus some understanding of what is sexually satisfying for both of you. You say that the relationship is now a year old and that you are considering spending your life with this man, yet you did not bring up the topic of the sex party and that does not augur well for an enduring and trusting relationship.
The real issue is that trust has been broken and neither of you are willing to engage in a conversation about it
Sexual fantasy has always been linked with desire and it seems that playing at being a dominant animal creates sexual delight and prowess for your boyfriend but if you experience this as humiliating, then the two of you have a problem. It is also discomforting that your boyfriend brought you to a scene party without any prior warning or preparation. These parties usually involve full consent and agreement, yet you were not consulted in advance.
Perhaps your boyfriend was worried that you would not agree to go along and perhaps judge him for his desires, but the real issue is that trust has been broken and neither of you are willing to engage in a conversation about it. The chances are that, for both of you, fear is holding you back: you because you fear returning to your previous lonely state and he because of exposing his vulnerability as someone who has unusual sexual desires. The beginning of an answer to this issue of sex is to risk talking – this, in itself, is an act of huge intimacy and trust. The idea here is that the relationship can be large enough to take both sets of needs in account, ie sometimes you can have fantasy sex and other times you can have straightforward, intimate sex where you are fully yourselves.
One is not necessarily better than the other but both partners must feel desired and appreciated as they are now. If you feel you will never want to have a shared sex experience, then your boyfriend needs to know this, and you need to discuss whether loyalty in your relationship can stretch to handling this desire of his. If he says that he will forgo these parties, then you must understand what this costs him, and not just create a silence by burying it deeply. These conversations can be very hard, and it might be that you both need some help (given the years of disengagement in your part) so you might consider engaging a therapist to assist you both. If you are really engaging in a life-long partnership, this commitment to difficult conversations could well be the basis for a strong foundation. It might help if you could do some research into sexual fantasy and you could start with Brett Kahr’s book – Sex and the Psyche (Penguin, 2014).
Courage is your first step towards making this a relationship worth having and facing your fear of loss, through instigating conversation, will be your contribution to the development of the relationship. Indeed, your past trauma has now surfaced acutely in your life and this might also present you with an opportunity to engage with it and seek appropriate help.