Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

We were halfway through our third date, at a lovely French restaurant in Mayfair, when Paul grabbed my hand and said, "Let's do something impulsive - let me take you away on Saturday night." Immediately, my thoughts drifted to the "lingerie fetish" he mentioned on date number two. The next day I headed out in search of some first-time-away knickers, but at the first three lingerie boutiques I visited, the window displays made my blood run cold. There it was: Sexy Santa underwear.

I can definitely see the allure of prancing around in a French maid outfit or PVC Catwoman costume at Hallowe'en. But suiting up in a "belted velvet dress with marabou feathers and matching pom-pom hat and gloves" would be a bit like asking my man to make love to Mrs Claus, which crosses the line between cute and creepy. And the Sexy Elf costume, complete with bell-tipped hat and striped green and white stockings, would, in my opinion, eliminate the need for birth control. So I dragged along my friend John, who was also in search of a present for his new girlfriend, for a second opinion.

He quickly picked out a pair of cheap crotchless panties. I reminded John that underwear-buying mistakes can linger in the bottom drawer for ever as a damning indictment of the guy who got it wrong. And that "novelty" gifts are cute and funny only when masking a better, non-lame, gift underneath. "Remember, the present should reflect her taste," I gently reminded him, "not your taste in porn." Everyone has a different idea of what's sexy, which is why communication is so important - as is subtly figuring out sizes beforehand. This goes for women as well: I feel for the guy who finds the "snowman pouch", a men's thong with a snowman's head attached to the crotch, under the tree.

I'll never forget the Christmas when I ended up with crotchless red and white knickers with tiny "jingle bells" attached to the side. I put them on and tried to look enthused. When we had sex, it sounded like we were on a sleigh racing downhill.

The only true way to know what a woman loves is to observe her style, both in and out of bed. Outerwear can sometimes be misleading - the corporate lawyer may get off on having frilly pink bows on underneath. Shops such as Agent Provocateur and Myla have helpful assistants and a non-threatening ambience for male shoppers, and can ensure that they don't go home brandishing a "Santa's Coming" furry hat. Coco de Mer even has webcams in their changing room so girls can send e-mails to their men about what they want them to buy. I steered John towards a black corset and bought myself a festive red silk bra, knickers and suspender belt.

Paul and I had an amazing weekend, and put the lingerie through its paces. I hope he'll be nice and buy me something lovely for Christmas. But if he's naughty, I can always go back for that elf costume. It should kill his sex drive for weeks.