Another Monday, another reader question. Today’s topic is introduced by an anonymous reader and involves sexy lingerie. Here’s his story:
J – My wife and I have been married for three years now. During that time I have given her various gifts of lingerie around holidays, birthdays, random days… I love it when my wife gets dressed up in anticipation of sex. To me, a very visual man, it’s her way of inviting me to be intimate with her, kind of my version of foreplay. Just like when I bring her flowers, prepare a romantic dinner date, spend time holding her and kissing the nape of her neck. When she gets “dressed up,” she’s telling me she’s interested in pleasing me (she knows I’m visual), wants to look her best and have me devour her with my eyes (because my eyes are only for her), she wants to seduce/pursue me (and I want to be seduced/pursued).
This last weekend I was gone on a men’s retreat. When I got home I was looking forward to reconnecting with my wife. As she went to take her shower I asked if she was going to put on anything special for the evening.
She got angry.
For the first time my wife revealed her thoughts on lingerie. She hates it. Wishes no one ever invented such things. She had a few reasons why: it’s uncomfortable at times, difficult to put on at times, she feels ridiculous in all that lace and silk. All of these seem like good reasons, and I think they can be remedied: buy things that fit better, are easier to don, things you actually like the look and feel of.
However, the most significant reason for her distaste, and the most troubling, is that she equates lingerie with the culture of porn, strippers, and unrealistic expectations of female beauty. She feels that by wearing such things she’s trying to reach some unattainable standard of perverted beauty that plays in the fantasies of men.
To say the least, I was abashed. I had never viewed lingerie in that manner, and my wife had never mentioned it herself. I view it in much the same way as when a woman does her makeup, or puts on an evening gown for a night out. You’re accentuating your assets, revealing some but concealing enough, and putting your best foot forward.
So here are my questions: Am I completely wrong? Is my wife correct that lingerie comes from the world of pornography? Is my desire to see her get dressed up from some perverted male fantasy of what a woman should look like? Do many other women share the views of my wife? If I’m not out in left field, how do I address her concerns and still let her know that I feel loved when she puts on something pretty for a night in bed?
I’m not all that familiar with what’s worn in the pornographic world because the second I see any such images (stupid Google search), I click them off and let the images fall out of my ear. Because I can do that. However, I know that most men can’t.
Men are indeed visual, and this is something that women have sincere difficulty understanding. Yes, we get it logically, but really understanding what it’s like to be so automatically drawn to skin, genitalia, and sexiness is a little past most wives’ grasp. Plenty of women still tend to think of it as something you guys should be able to turn off and on at will. (I submit as evidence the scanty attire that many women wear without realizing its effect on men.)
Then when we do understand it, we worry a little. Did my husband notice that girl at the gym with clearly fake breasts and the tank top two sizes too small? Do his eyes linger too long at that model in the beer commercials? Can I walk by the Victoria’s Secret display at the mall with my husband beside me and still know he has eyes only for me? Does he want me to dress up like that floozy he saw in that porn magazine years ago? Does he only want me for my body . . . and not me?
And here’s something you men don’t easily get: We can have all those thoughts and many more in about twenty seconds. We aren’t inviting them; they just appear like your five o’clock shadow. Also, we aren’t trying to be self-deprecating or need extreme therapy for our low self-esteem. It’s actually pretty typical for wives to desire reassurance that they are both beautiful and far more than simply their looks.
Yes, this is why a compass, encyclopedia, degree program, and a trip to the top of the mountain to see some guru — all designed to teach you the ins and outs of women — would still never result in mastery. We are a labyrinth of loveliness . . . but what else is so worth exploring?
So here’s a general tip for men on any conflict in marriage: When your wife reacts negatively in a way that surprises you and seems to come out of nowhere, dig. Dig deep. You have hit a sensitive area, and you need to figure out what’s down under that surface or at the center of that maze.
Why does dressing in any kind of lingerie make your wife feel ridiculous or merely like a male fantasy? Do you or have you had an issue with porn? If so, that needs to be dealt with because we wives absolutely do not want to feel like stand-ins for your fantasy girl. And yes, that’s how it feels to us when our guy uses porn and then wants to engage sexually with us. Does your wife have a family or personal background that causes her to link lingerie and strippers or porn? Does she feel neglected by you in other ways and only interesting to you when she’s “dressed up to please”? Does she need reassurance about how beautiful her body is because she’s become so aware that it doesn’t conform to unrealistic societal standards, or the way she used to look?
What visceral chord does this topic strike in her? If there is a deeper issue, that needs to be dealt with first.
However, I do not believe that lingerie = perversion. Yes, there are some outfits and costumes that I consider a bit extreme. For instance, if hubby insists that his wife dress as the Catholic schoolgirl or Catwoman, I think you may have crossed a line.
And it is completely legitimate for a wife to say, “I don’t want to wear that [lace/silk/leather/ saran wrap] because it’s uncomfortable.” More than you want to know . . . but I personally don’t think I could wear a thong longer than it takes me to sing “I’m a Little Teapot” (which would kill the mood, right?). That’s on my No-Go List. Other women are quite happy to wear thongs day in and day out but would never wear a teddy or a push-up bra or whatever. There are personal preferences, and the wife should have some say in what she wears, even if the attire is supposed to be visually pleasing to her husband.
That said, no husband — hear me on this, wives — NO husband wants his wife to come to bed night after night in a long flannel gown or a ratty old t-shirt and pajama pants. You might as well post this sign on your body:
See Sheila Gregoire’s hilarious video on this! Why Women Feel Guilty about Chocolate.
So where’s the happy medium? It’s wonderful if couples can shop together. A husband can give input on what he’d love to see his wife wear, and the wife can look for lingerie she would feel comfortable wearing. You can probably find items that match both goals. The world of lingerie is so vast that it’s now possible to find feminine, flirty, cotton or silk items that flatter a gal’s figure but are still comfortable.
I am lover of pretty and comfort, and my own lingerie collection reflects that. However, my husband (whom I fondly refer to as Spock here) goes from Vulcan to Ferengi when it comes to this topic: He most enjoys his wife showing up in the bedroom buck naked. (Or do you say “butt naked”? I’ve heard it both ways.)
I’m not sure a wife can go wrong with showing up naked or merely wrapping herself in a sheet or a ribbon.
While I suggest finding out what the deeper issue is with this particular wife, and while I encourage couples to find bedroom attire that pleases both spouses, I will end with this thought: You can’t control your spouse. You can’t make your wife wear some sexy teddy any more than I can convince my husband to finally (please, honey) get rid of that hideous multicolored sweater that he pulls out every winter with a loopy grin on his face.
You all know what I’m talking about. Your spouse will wear or do something that irritates you, and while you can and should express your feelings about it, you can’t make them change. That’s not your job.
Your job instead is to see the beauty that is in your husband or wife — whether your spouse is dressed in beautiful black silk-and-lace or the ugliest sweater you’ve ever laid eyes on.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.”
Song of Songs 4:7
A related read for the wives: Nightie or Nudie?