His first letter
I have really appreciated your responses and advice to people but having read your articles for some years and your recent book, “Sex Counsel”, I cant help but think that you are very negative and dismissive towards married or otherwise committed men who are trying to come to terms with their fetishes. Your response always seems to be from the position that men are constantly hiding their fetishes from their partners until it is too late to have them discussed, accepted or understood.
Some people, myself included, struggle with their identities, personal understanding and acceptance of their fetish for years and may have made many attempts to rationalise it, seek help and discuss it with their partners. Even with counselling, we live a very difficult life coming to terms with ourselves and our partners reluctance to engage on any level.
My own particular fetish is relatively uncommon (a mild form of infantilism fixated on babies dummies and feeding bottles), but whatever the fetish it is usually very difficult for people, inclding the fetish owners, to come to terms with. The more unusual, the more embarrasing and difficult to talk about; especially when you struggle to understand it yourself!
I often look for solace and compassion in your columns, writings and advice in the hope that some context, understanding and practical advice might be forthcoming. But every article of yours that I have read on the issue of fetish just dismisses it with a response of “you should have said something before you got into this relationship”. There is never any understanding or appreciation as to how difficult it can be to accept your sexual drivers or suggestion that your drivers are OK.
So, why is that? Can you not give any helpful advice to people who honestly struggle with their desires and the ability for them and others to accept them?
I’ll continue to read your otherwise excellent columns in the hope that this approach may change!
I really appreciate your writing in and I would love to have the opportunity to explore these issues in greater detail. Maybe I come from a different generation but I just can not imagine going into a marriage and hiding such a big aspect of yourself and your identity. I would love to know more about why you made that choice and what happened when you did tell your wife. You can reply to me privately if you like, but if you use this open platform, other men and women who are in the same situation as you will have the opportunity to join in, or to learn from your experiences. It will all be anonymous and I will moderate the responses. Many thanks Suzi
Your response comes from the assumption that I understood my fetish or was accepting of my desires when I got married. The simple answer to your question about making the choice of hiding this part of myself is that very often a person does not understand the reason for their fetish or the potential impact of it. Therefore they cannot contextualise it nor have a rational conversation with their prospective partner about something so intensely personal and potentially embarrassing. We fear how it might it be viewed by others and in my case, my fear was how it would be viewed by the person I love. If I can’t accept or contextualise it myself, how can I start to do that for others? This isn’t ideal or textbook relationship best practice, but it’s real life.
I was not in a position to understand it or contextualise it into anything rational and I doubt that others are able to either. It has taken me some 15 years into my marriage to get any level of personal understanding and self-acceptance regarding my desires, which I have had for some 40 years. I don’t think I am unusual in that process. How many grown men can rationalise or contextualise the fact that they like to have a baby’s dummy whilst being sexually stimulated, for example? That’s irrational! Personally, I tried to reject this part of me, primarily as a result of embarrassment. I didn’t understand it or realise the impact of it in my personality or the relevance to my psyche. Given the innate embarrassment that it has caused me, I felt it was something that I should move on from and not sully my life relationship with what I have always felt was some kind of abberence. After all, I had “managed it” prior to my marriage, although I had occasionally enjoyed my fetish with previous partners. I felt and hoped that it would be something that I could put behind me, something that I could grow out of, (no pun intended!) However, after three years of marriage and eight years into my relationship, I realised that I could not negate this element within me, that this was part of me that I couldn’t or didn’t want to ignore. The thrill was too strong and enjoyable. Although I was (and am) able to enjoy a “normal” sex life, I was still getting incredibly powerful sexual responses from using a babies dummy or feeding bottle whilst masturbating and fantasising that my wife would indulge me in this. I longed and craved for the attention, commitment and caring which this form of fetish ultimately gives to the recipient. I also longed to be honest with my wife, and to share something that I felt, and still feel, is intensely personal and intimate.
After considerable angst, much soul searching and aborted attempts, I eventually told my wife about my desires and my practices. My first attempt of explaining wasn’t entirely honest, due to my continued embarrassment about a grown and otherwise “normal” man liking to have a babies dummy or see an adult woman with one. So I dressed the revelation up into a hybrid lie which was that I had relatively recently discovered this desire and that I only wanted to experience it with her. I declined to confess that I had always had these desires and had in fact enacted them with other partners. Somehow this approach felt that it might be more acceptable. There was something about personalising it which I mistakenly thought would make a difference. This sounds deceitful and Machiavellian at face value but my point is that people do not understand or accept their fetishes and strive, sometimes painfully, to come to terms with them and what that says about them as individuals.
My wife listened. She didn’t understand, but neither did I! Much to my continual dismay, she refuses to acknowledge it or engage with it on any level. Over the last 13 years I have attempted several conversations with her and have tried several different approaches. Over the last four years, I have been in personal therapy to gain some understanding and, most importantly, self-acceptance and I am pleased to say that I am finally beginning to achieve that. Probably for the first time in my life, I am beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin and am accepting my desires and thrills as a positive thing. I am grateful that my wife has occasionally been party to this counselling and that she has agreed to some occasional couple counselling. For my own part, this has not been very successful. My wife’s refusal to acknowledge this part of me is extremely difficult and the whole issue is contentious and ultimately damaging to our relationship. I am also acutely aware that this issue is of my making.
However, this is not my main concern in regard to discussing this with you. My fetish, and anyone else’s is an issue and they doesn’t go away. It can be hidden or disguised but it is always below the surface. It is part of a person and sometimes, dependent on the fetish in question, it is an essential part. I think that fetishes are extremely difficult for some people to come to terms with. They are paraphilias, not aberrations. People don’t decide that they are going to have one; you don’t select an wierd one off the designer shelf or choose a reasonably acceptable one like a ready-made suit! They can lie dormant; they can be discovered or rediscovered at different stages of life. Clearly, they cannot be forced on other people and their appearance raises many questions for long term relationships. But they cannot be ignored and rarely can they be successfully suppressed, although I accept that people can decide not to indulge themselves.
I long for a healthy sexual relationship with my wife and I yearn for an honest relationship where I can occasionally have my desires acknowledged or met. The position that a person can always come to terms with their fetish and that they shouldn’t hide this part of their identity from prospective partners lacks understanding of the context. This is just my opinion and I hope that others find it helpful. I, too, would find an extension of these views interesting. Many thanks and to those reading this who think you might be the only ones…you’re very probably not!
Thank you so much for this incredible insight into your situation. I don’t know what age you are but I suspect you may be a lot older than me, so your attitude is probably constrained by the huge taboo that was associated with fetish in the past.
Things really have changed. Although fetish still isn’t common, nor is it universally accepted, since the late eighties the fetish scene has expanded to such an extent that rubber, cross dressing and bondage are now viewed as relatively mainstream predilections amongst more broadminded social circles.
I’d be curious to know whether you have made contact with other people who have the same fetish as you, and whether the realisation that you are not the only person in the world who feels as you do has helped in any way?
I know hindsight is always 20/20 but I suspect that if you had done therapy before you married, you would have realised that you needed to love yourself before you tried to love anyone else and I do think it is sad for you, and for your wife, that you suppressed this part of yourself through a five year courtship. Withholding your sexual secret may initially have had a beneficial effect on your sex life with your wife but it was always going to surface, wasn’t it?
If you yearn for an honest relationship, I suspect you need to start by having an honest relationship with yourself. You sound like a man who has used marriage to help you to conform to what society expects of him, but your sexual identity refused to comply. Your wife has unwittingly been pulled into your self-deceit and as such, it is hardly surprising that she refuses to accept your fetish. This marriage is not what she signed up for and I very much doubt that she believes you woke up one day three years into your marriage and suddenly decided that you wanted to explore infantilism.
It isn’t easy for you, but nor is it easy for her, and perhaps an acceptance of her ‘refusal to accept’ is the first step towards liberty for you. It is perfectly feasible to accommodate sexual fetish within a marriage – just look at Grayson and Phillipa Perry – but as I have said before, it has to be negotiated from the outset.
Do write back. Suzi
I don’t think that age and generation are a factor here; at 51 I am only 4 years older than you! Regardless of societies broader acceptance of fetishes, I think there will always remain an issue of self-acceptance and understanding from the individual with the fetish. That is my main point.
Your advice and comments are very accurate and useful. I also suspect that earlier therapy may have resolved my personal situation and your comments about the reality of my situation are very astute. My own therapy has helped me to come to these conclusions but I would not have been able to be at my current position of relative acceptance without counselling.
I have changed therapists on a few occasions as I have reached levels of understanding and self-acceptance. The exploration process that therapy offers has revealed a lack of personal attention at early key stages in my development which drives me to seek out attention and love, almost a kind of unconditional positive regard. This combined with some issues around babies’ dummies, secrecy and perceived embarrassment caused through women responses (real and imagined) to me with a dummy or feeding bottle has resulted in my own particular fetish gaining the strength and psychological impact that it has had. But it is only through exploring it, discussing it and contextualising it that I have been able to give it any proportionality.
I have not been able to do hardly any of that with my wife, despite my attempts to do so, which in itself is an issue. Therefore, I have developed this understanding and comparative acceptance by myself. I have wanted to share this, but have not been able to. And this brings me back to my initial issue. You cannot deal with this in isolation and say that you should have revealed all before you got into the relationship! Because, very often, you might not have known all, let alone had any understanding of it. For me, the background issue has always been baby’s dummies and feeding bottles and the potential association or link to age. My personal fetish has nothing to do with children. But the possibility of that misconception has always made it difficult to talk about.
I have not made contact with other people who share my particular fetish. My innate embarrassment of it has prevented me from doing so, and I think this may have been a mistake. However, counselling has enlightened me and has made me realise that I am not alone in having desires which other people may find different or odd. It has validated my right to have a desire and to feel better about myself.
My own position is that I feel I may be coming to an acceptable point in my self-discovery; a point and level of understanding that I can deal with. I am aware that I have options and |I need to be strong enough to deal with those options and the consequences that may bring. I am committed to my wife and my family, so those options will remain difficult. In my case ‘my acceptance of her refusal to accept’, is more than the first step, it is critical. It is difficult because that means losing hope and I can’t bear to think what losing hope and the implications of that might mean. That makes me very sad.
I wholeheartedly agree that it is perfectly feasible to accommodate a sexual fetish within a marriage. I am seeking such accommodation and desperately want to know what that might look like! An accommodation implies a two way process and my message is that you can’t deal with this alone. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with this without therapy, which was and remains my proxy for exploring it. You are absolutely correct in your statement that this marriage is not what my wife signed up for. But I didn’t seek to mislead her; I unknowingly sought to mislead myself and she became a victim of that. If I could do it all again, I would have told her what turns me on before we married. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!!
I really want other people who struggle with accepting their desires to have a better ride than I have had and am having and I think that a more sympathetic and understanding response to fetishes from those who we look to for understanding would be welcomed. To those of you who share concerns about aspects of their sexuality, my message is to talk about it and seek some context and proportionality which will help you to understand and cope.
I hope this has been a useful debate. I’d be very keen to hear other people’s views and I thank you, Suzi, for taking the trouble to extend this discussion. It’s been really comforting to know that someone knows and to realise that I haven’t shrivelled up and died!