DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #45: Thwack, Thwack, Thwack


Dear Sugar,

Two days ago my boss let me out of my shift early. I tried calling my boyfriend on the phone but he didn’t answer. When I got home and opened the door to our apartment, I found him standing in front of our full-length mirror in my panties. He slammed the door shut and locked it before I registered what I saw.

I was surprised, sure, but I was more surprised that when he opened the door back up, fully dressed (in his own clothes), he acted as though it never happened. We’ve always had an open and fun relationship, both sexually and emotionally, so I was thrown by this secretive behavior. I’ve always showed willingness and interest in experimentation. I can’t understand why he’d keep this from me.

Should I say something to him, or better yet, do something to show that I’m not turned off? Or do I continue to follow his lead and say nothing at all?

Sharing Panties, But Not Fantasies



The first time the man who has taken up permanent residence in the Sugar Shack spanked me we’d been lovers for a week. By then we’d fucked so hard, so often, so enthrallingly and excellently and shatteringly that the heat of what lived between us practically scorched the paint off the walls. I was jammed up against the bathroom sink and he was jammed up against me, both of us facing the mirror. I saw how his expression went serious and studied and a little bit hard the moment before that first thwack.

“You like that, baby?” he whispered into my hair and I made a little moan of assent.

Thwack, thwack, thwack.

I didn’t actually like it all that much, baby. But neither was I opposed to it. He was such a stellar man, such a stunningly adept lover, so unlike anyone I’d ever met and so profoundly much like the best, most secret parts of me that I was willing to put up with a mildly battered bum if that’s what got him off. The thought of him being aroused by spanking me was more than enough to convince me to play along that first time, as we worked our way hotly down the sink’s white porcelain pedestal to the dank underworld beneath, where we finally went still on the cream-colored vinyl floor among the grimy silver pipes, wondering exactly how we got there, so exquisitely spent that it didn’t matter.

“Did you know your sink was made in Argentina?” I asked when I was able to speak.

“Argentina?” he replied.

By way of answer, I reached up and ran my finger over the tiny sticker on the bottom of his sink that said Made in Argentina.

“That was fun,” he said. “Wasn’t it?”

“It was,” I said. “Really fun.”

Thwack, thwack, thwack, we went, all through the next month. (“You like that baby, don’t you?”/“Yeah.”) Thwack.

After a while, in spite of everything, I grew the slightest bit annoyed. His timing often threw me off my own little pleasure ride. His hand occasionally landed painfully on my tailbone instead of the fleshy bottom of my rump. “Can you please hit me lower?” I once snapped so sharply in the middle of the act that I ruined the mood and we had to stop.

“What turns you on about spanking me?” I finally asked him.

“It’s sexy,” he said with a nonchalant air.

“But what’s sexy about it to you?” I pressed.

“That it turns you on so much,” he answered.

“That it turns me on so much?” I replied.

“Yeah,” he said and his eyes met mine.

It didn’t take anything more than that. The way our eyes locked, we both understood in a flash that we’d been acting out our own pornographic The Gift of the Magi—each of us making a sacrifice that nullified the gift of the other. I no more wanted to be spanked than I wanted to fuck a kangaroo. And vice versa. We were doing it because we thought that’s what the other one wanted to do.

After we stopped laughing, we traced it back—how we’d come to this misunderstanding. Turns out, I’d made a comment on something like day three of our relationship that had to do with sex and control and submission and domination and tenderness and surrender and the social construct of gender and desire and incest and transgression and masculinity and power and a teenage fantasy I’d had that involved the Superbowl and a bunch of men in business suits and he took it to mean that I wanted to be punished like a naughty girl in a nunnery so he spanked the motherloving breath out of me for a month.

Isn’t that the sweetest thing you ever heard?

“Actually,” I said, “spanking doesn’t do a thing for me.”

“What does?” he asked.

And that is where we began nearly fifteen years ago. With his question, followed by my answer. With my question, followed by his. It was how we proceeded. Not on the heat so powerful that it might possibly scorch the paint off the walls, but with the sturdier, this-is-scary-but-let’s-do-it-anyway nerve that it took to say what was true not just about ourselves, but about our sexual selves.

Which sometimes oddly, sometimes thrillingly, sometimes amusingly, sometimes darkly, sometimes depressingly turns out to not be terribly much like the sexual selves we’d choose if we got to choose them.

There is no question that your lover is embarrassed about the fact that he likes to wear women’s panties. Who wouldn’t be? What man would ask for such a thing? This isn’t to say he can’t cozy up to the idea—and I sincerely hope for his own sake, he will. But it’s clear he isn’t there yet. He’s ashamed of it. Very likely he loathes it, and yet there it is and he can’t deny it and so one day when he’s got the place to himself he caves in and strips himself down and dresses himself up and without warning you appear—you! His emotionally and experimentally open lover!—and he slams the door in your face and pretends it never happened.

You know why? Because no matter how experimental he is, his life isn’t an experiment. His life is like your life and my life and all the lives of all the people who are reading these words right now. It’s a roiling stew of fear and need and desire and love and the hunger to be loved. And mostly, it’s the latter.

You walked in on him at what he perceives as his most unlovable moment, sweet pea. The pervert in the girly underpants. You saw his secret self before he told you his secret and that humiliates him beyond words.

There is no going back. You can’t unwalk in on him. You have to address what you saw, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to “do something” to demonstrate that you’re not turned off. You need to talk to him, honey bun. It’s going to be scary and awkward, but you can do it. When I have something to say that’s particularly hard to say I often write it down first. If what happened to you happened to me I’d write: “I want to talk to you about that day I came home from work early. I’m nervous about having this conversation, but I care about you and our relationship is important enough to me that I’m willing to risk feeling uncomfortable. First and foremost, I want you to know that I don’t judge you for what I saw—in fact, I’m intrigued. When I opened the door and saw you standing there in my underwear I was surprised because I thought you’d been open with me about your sexuality and desires, but I was far more surprised that you shut the door and didn’t discuss it with me later. It’s been bothering me because I want you to trust that you can be honest with me and also because I want to be intimate with you and I don’t think we can do so with this silence about what happened that day between us. Will you talk to me about it?”

If he says no, your relationship is dead, though you may continue to fake it for a while.

If he says yes, that is the place from which you will proceed.

It’s a real place, an underworld place, a place where we are all spent and crouched among the pipes, fingering the foreign and covert origins of our most primal desires. While you’re down there with your guy, I suggest you share some things of your own. Give him a peek at whatever would make you slam the door shut if he walked in and caught you in front of the mirror.

That Made in Argentina sticker isn’t under the bathroom sink anymore. We don’t even live in the house with that bathroom sink. Before we moved out—years after we first became lovers—the man who has taken up permanent residence in the Sugar Shack meticulously peeled the sticker off and with it he made me a card.

Made in Argentina it says on the front. Inside he wrote, “But it feels just like home.”