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“I am a 50-something married male who has been cross dressing and out for decades. I love to dress and need to wear specific clothing (especially certain shoes and stockings) in order to feel fully feminine and to get sexually turned on. I have been going to CD events for a long time and notice that for some people cross dressing seems to be very sexual and for others it is not sexual at all. I identify as a fetishistic (and sexual) cross-dress because dressing is partly a fetish for me. What is a crossdressing fetish and why don’t all crossdressers have it?”

Dear N.

A fetish is a special relationship with an object, an activity, or an idea.  For some people the fetish object or activity is necessary for sexual excitement.  For other people the fetish is not the only source of sexual excitement, but it is a reliable source of sexual excitement.  Simply put, someone with a crossdressing fetish is sexually excited by wearing clothing of the opposite sex. But crossdressing in general is much more complicated than that.  As you have noticed, not everyone who crossdresses has a fetish. People who crossdress do so for many reasons.  First, let’s talk about fetishistic crossdressing, and then we’ll talk about other reasons that people dress.

Most fetishistic crossdressing evolves in childhood and adolescence.  But there are some people who develop the interest in adulthood.  Most people who crossdress have sexual relationships with other people (usually with women, but not always), but sometimes the crossdressing is so primary that the experience of ones’ self as a woman is the main sexual turn-on.  Some people need to fantasize that they are female in order to orgasm during masturbation or when they perform in their heterosexual relationship as a male.  (They usually report that they imagine that they are the person being penetrated when they make love with a woman.)  This is not true for all crossdressers or even for all fetishistic crossdressers.  There are endless fantasies and individual perspectives on why people dress and what about it turns them on.

In general, we can observe that women’s clothing tends to be more body- revealing and deliberately alluring than men’s clothing.  The fabrics are softer and they are more overtly sensual.  They are made to facilitate the role of women as objects of sexual desire.  It is no wonder that many boys and men are drawn to the clothes.  Male people also want to feel desired.  In addition, for those who have a sexual interest in women, the clothing represents the female body and touching and wearing the clothing can be a way of experiencing access to a woman and inhabiting a female body.  The panties or other items of clothing may become part of masturbation as a substitute for a woman and over time the person responds sexually to the objects themselves.  Individuals may develop more complicated personal relationships with clothing and with the fantasy of being a woman.  The fantasy of being a woman is not necessarily part of crossdressing.  One person will simply put on panties and masturbate without any other thoughts, while another engages in complicated fantasies of being forced to dress like a girl by a group of women.  There is tremendous range in the crossdressing world and you never know what crossdressing means to a particular person unless they tell you.

There is much more to say about how and why people cross dress.  Many people will find their motivation for dressing the descriptions below.

To feel closer to women through an item of clothing or by completely dressing.  This is an expression of heterosexuality.

To express a female aspect of the self.  One may use clothing to give expression to a feminine feeling or a fully-developed persona.  For some this female persona has a name and a social life of her own and of course she wears women’s clothing. For others the female aspect is blended with their presentation so that they mix male and female qualities.

Sometimes the wearing of women’s’ clothing is not sexually exciting, but rather relaxing, comforting, or just gives one a feeling of “rightness”.   Some people who report this experience were sexually excited by the clothing earlier in their lives and lost that excitement over time.  Others never found excitement in clothing, but feel good when they can express themselves as women.

So, back to the question of why don’t all crossdressers have a fetish.  Probably because crossdressing looks like a single phenomenon but the meaning is determined by what the individual brings to it.  The high heels which are objects of magical transformation or worship for one person are simply footwear to another.  The answer to why lies in the person’s individual psyche and personal history.

And what about transgender or transsexual individuals? People who wear clothing that reflects their true gender identity are not crossdressing.

Best to you all,


Dr. Katherine Rachlin is a clinical psychologist, gender specialist, and sex therapist in private practice in New York City.  Her website is    You can also reach her at or (212) 206-3636.


One response »

  1. what do you do if you live in a phobic area of new york, and very sexually frustrated,and cannot dress because of the scrutiny and ridicule?
    its major frustrating!-what do you do if you have no one to share this with?
    what do you do if youre fighting inside, for balance in your life as a result of going thru these fem feelings?-im personally very attractive as a crossdresser, and im very sexually insatiable.being a hot cd, is frustrating with no support.-id love to meet -but where?-in discretion?i dont have current employment, and im sick of purging, letting my beard & mustache grow back,and just so i can have peace of mind amongst the neanderthals i have to live amongst- i dream of having serious money to fulfill what is natural for me, but i have no friends in the cd community at all.


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