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By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/24/2008 8:53:25 AM ET 2008-11-24T13:53:25

Is it legal to hire a dominatrix as long as you don't actually have sex? And what does it mean exactly when a woman happily partnered with a longtime boyfriend suddenly starts longing for a lady lover? Sexploration answers your most intimate queries. Got a question? E-mail us .

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Q: Paying for sex is illegal in most of America, but what about paying for fetish services? Can you legally hire a dominatrix or escort for any of the countless things besides intercourse? Where is the line drawn?

A: If you have a hankering to strap on a codpiece and pay a woman for the privilege of scrubbing her floors while she drips hot wax on your back, the legal line is drawn at the border of the state or country in which you live.

If you live in the United Kingdom, you can scrub away. Formula One president Max Mosley may have been embarrassed when spy pictures taken of his professional interactions with dominatrices popped up in a British tabloid , but he wasn’t doing anything illegal by paying them for a stern scolding and a little spank.

But if you live in Arizona, where the law defines paying for “flagellation or torture by or on a person who is nude or clad in undergarments or in revealing or bizarre costume or the condition of being fettered, bound or otherwise physically restrained on the part of one so clothed” as illegal, you can wind up in trouble.

In New York City, you probably wouldn’t. But across the river in New Jersey, you would. Get the picture? Even within states, laws can vary from town to town, says Susan Wright, spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. “It is a big gray area,” Wright explains. Often, she says, “it depends on how the district attorney wants to interpret the prostitution laws and how they define sexual conduct.”

Some states are so specific they make sex read like an instruction manual for assembling an IKEA bookcase. But some leave it vague. Generally, if money is changing hands and somebody is inserting anything into anybody else or touching genitals, it’s probably against the law. Beyond that, though, you have to research the laws where you live. You may wish to skip the money and get to know people happy to participate free of charge by attending a convention, or searching the Web. Many fetish enthusiasts I have interviewed found each other on social networking sites.

Q: I’m a 42-year-old woman in a seven-year relationship with a man. Lately all I think about is having sex with a woman. Yet I would never give up sex with my boyfriend. Can you tell me why all I think about is [giving oral sex to] a woman?

A: Nope. But I can tell you this is not a rare fantasy. In their landmark study of American sex, published in 1994 as The Social Organization of Sexuality, Edward O. Laumann and colleagues reported that 9.2 percent of women aged 30 to 39, and 8.3 percent of women aged 40 to 49 reported an attraction, appeal or desire for sex with another woman. Far fewer had ever actually had a same-sex partner. I’d be willing to bet they would get higher numbers today.

There could be many explanations for your thoughts. If you are disturbed by them, ask a professional. If not, you don’t have a problem.

Q: I am in a new relationship. My new partner is not circumcised. Are there different “rules” when it comes to pleasing an non-circumcised man?

A: Circumcision, like just about everything else, has become unnecessarily politicized with some people likening cutting off a baby boy’s foreskin to child abuse. It robs the future man of his sexuality, they say, leaves those babies emotionally scarred.

Nonsense. New research has shown that both circumcised and non-circumcised men enjoy sex. In fact, in this month’s issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, a study of 2,784 Kenyan men conducted by researchers from the University of Washington reported that “circumcised men reported increased penile sensitivity and enhanced ease of reaching orgasm.”

Circumcision can have a very real disease preventive effect, too. It has been proven to lower rates of infection with some STDs , for example.

That is not to say there is anything wrong with keeping the turtleneck. This is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Men with foreskins must do a little more maintenance by manually retracting the skin and washing to keep the penis clean and sweet smelling, but that’s about it.

As for “rules,” well, you may wish to take it easy on the foreskin at first. It can be very sensitive. Check his face for grimacing. Better yet, ask if it feels good. Otherwise, if it pleased a circumcised man, it’s a good bet to please a non-circumcised one.

Brian Alexander is the author of the new book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction."

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