There are so many labels that we have come across in the past few months, and have found that even the use of labels is difficult because everyone has their own interpretation of what the label means. With many definitions it is necessary to ask clarifying follow-up questions in order to determine exactly what a label like “open relationship,” “polyamorous,” or “swinger” means to someone.
To identify as “swingers” felt very comfortable for us when we first opened up our relationship because it was a way of exploring physical connections without having to consider the implications of creating meaningful emotional attachments with others. Swinging felt very comfortable to me (K) when we first started researching non-monogamous possibilities. It still fits within the paradigm of monogamy; you have your life partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, whoever. But there is only one other person you are with. You are not encouraged to develop feelings or emotional connections with other “playmates.” It is a highly social activity, with several websites and clubs dedicated to “the Lifestyle.” Older swingers we have met subscribe to this “traditional” view of swinging: sex and feelings are kept very separate as very distinct expressions. Sex is about physical attraction, desire, and fulfillment. Feelings of love and caring are only for one’s primary partner. Many “swingers” who are around our age reject this notion, and are instead much more fulfilled by good or best friends who they can occasionally (or frequently) hop in the sack with.
For a little while, both J and I felt we may identify closer to the polyamorous end of the open relationship spectrum because of the rejection of keeping feelings totally separate. However, neither of us wants to make major life decisions with anyone else. We have been building our relationship for five years together, and adding someone else into the mix of “where should we go to school? Where should we move? What kind of house should we buy? What about finances and paying back loans?” seems too complicated. It seems too complicated to us to provide other partners with the level of commitment and sacrifice that we have provided each other. And neither of us is particularly sure we would even want that. That being said, we both agree that feelings develop over time, and that it would only be natural to develop intimacy and deep feelings of love and caring for people we consider to be good friends who we also share physical connection with. It is not solely because we share a physical connection with others but rather that we have developed a meaningful friendship with these people over time. We liken that expectation to how we even love our vanilla friends; why is that so different if sex is involved?
J and I opened up our relationship with the intention of getting away from monogamy, and not to be exclusive with other people. This is the idea of polyfidelity: having a monogamous relationship with other people. We see polyfidelity working for us under specific circumstances: to diminish the possibility of contracting an STI, or perhaps because of an inability for geographic reasons to meet new people.
We realized over time that the term “open relationship” works best to describe what we do. This term gives us the flexibility to clearly identify ourselves as being outside of the traditional realm of monogamy without being instantly prejudged or have people make unwarranted assumptions about what that term means for us. (I will pause here to say that K and I are both aware that there are certain connotations and misconceptions associated with the term “open relationship” – we know this because K and I both had these ideas. They are things like “people in an open relationship are just fooling around,” “they just want sex without a ‘relationship,’” and “they just don’t want to actually commit to each other.”) By telling people we are in an open relationship we have the flexibility to explain exactly what that term means to us and how we approach non-monogamy. We do like getting to know and care for people and we want to develop long-lasting and meaningful relationships with others; however, just like in “vanilla” dating, we do not actively seek these things out but rather allow them to happen naturally. We want to be open to the idea of caring for and loving other people merely because we feel it is only natural that these sorts of feelings could develop over time with the right people. We feel very fortunate to have met many other incredible, intelligent, and attractive people near our own age who are also involved in open relationships who feel very similarly to us about the idea that feelings can and likely will develop over time.

Lastly K and I want to draw a distinction between life partners and loving other people. K and I are in love with one another and we have also made a decision to spend our life together because we are both in love with each other and because we are compatible in terms of our future goals, the way we like to live, travel, spend money, work, play, etc. K and I have spent 5 years building a meaningful and loving relationship with one another and we love one another, so even if we love other people, we are not looking to replace each other with a new life partner because we feel there is more to a “life partnership” than merely being in love; it is a combination of love, compatibility, and time.

My B.O.M.B: Our Right to a Fulfilling Sex Life, Regardless of Age, Ability, or Shape

Okay, so first I will spell out what this B.O.M.B is all about: it stands for the Burn on My Boob. Sound stupid? It is! What is really is, is a superficial start to a deeper line of thought.
So I was curling my hair about a month ago… naked. I’ve never dropped the curling iron, I swear! Well, until I was curling my hair while naked. Suffice to say, I now have about a two and a half-inch scar on my boob. I don’t think it is going away anytime soon.
There is a Craigslist ad we frequently see: a man and woman looking for another couple, but the woman is in a wheelchair, and “you have to be okay with that.”
Have you ever heard of the documentary “On a Roll”? It is about Greg Smith, a man with muscular dystrophy who has had a successful career as a salesman, radio talk show host, and motivational speaker. There is one really great segment about how the sexuality of persons with disabilities is often overlooked and ignored by our larger society, by friends and family, and even by medical providers. Why would someone with Down’s Syndrome need birth control? Why might someone in a wheelchair need a caretaker who can help move that person from his or her chair to a bed and back again? Why might someone with a learning disability even need sexual education? (The implication behind these questions being of course that persons with disabilities aren’t sexual beings.)
What about fatism? (My term for prejudice against overweight people) I will be the first to admit: I like taking care of my body and I enjoy other people who also take care of their body through exercise and eating well. I will also be the first to volunteer that not everyone has the means to go to a gym or buy fresh food or has the time for exercise or go grocery shopping. (That’s the highly-present public health voice inside my heart and head). That being said, our culture has a serious obsession with body size and body part size. And it is an obsession that affects our sexual expectations and desires.
Here is my point: I have a burn on my boob. If I ever take boudoir photos it will show. Anyone who I get naked with will see it. And at the same time, I am healthy, fit, attractive, respected by others, and have grown up with the means to take care of myself. I can walk and talk and swim and run and get around in my day-to-day life without the assistance of others. I don’t have to rely on someone else to take care of my basic needs. I don’t have to worry about being rejected because of something out of my control: a car accident that left me as a paraplegic. Being born with a severe learning or mental disability. Growing up poor without the means to buy fresh and healthy foods. Working two jobs to provide for my family without the time for recreational exercise. I don’t have to worry about finding fulfilling sexual encounters.

Which brings me to my final, basic point: we all have a right to a fulfilling sex life. And everyone has the right to the information and resources that can help them lead sexually fulfilling lives.

“Play” Versus “Sex"

When K and I first entered this “lifestyle” I was not fond of the term “play” because I felt that it minimized the sexual experience and made it seem exceedingly casual and light. I think that my perspective of the term and my perspective of sex have simultaneously shifted to the point where the term “play” is an acceptable term to describe what it is that we do when we are intimate with other couples. 
What I mean by saying that my “perspective of sex has shifted” is that K and I have deconstructed the idea that sex is sacred (more about this idea coming soon) and have come to understand sex as just a natural part of the human experience: it is just another way that people connect and share themselves with those that they want to be intimate with. We feel that sex is just as natural and normal as sharing a meal or a good conversation with another human being. This is not to say that we are not highly selective about who we play with but we do not attach any significant emotional meaning to sex solely because it is “sex;” we attach meaning to sex that is important to us for other reasons such as: doing it with people we care about, people we respect, people we want to be closer with and share an intimate physical experience with, and people we love. We recognize that sex can be very emotional or very meaningless depending on the relationship that accompanies the physical act of sex but we do not think of sex as inherently “special” or “emotional.” Sex to us is merely a physical act that can have as much or as little meaning attached as is appropriate for the level of relationship that we have constructed with those who we share the experience with.
K and I decided to include this aside about the term “play” versus “sex” because we recently met a couple who seemed put off by our use of the term “play.” When I was discussing writing this post with K she shared an interesting insight with me about her understanding of the term “play” and why she has come to adopt that term to describe what we do. For her, the term at first seemed superficial but she now feels that the term is appropriate because it is more encompassing of a wide range of sexual behavior that can range from light and fun to deep and emotional. The term “play” encompasses, for K, sex that is light and casual and sex that is emotional and profound, depending on the relationship that has been established that underlies the sex. She also explained that “play” more broadly is a fundamental part of the human experience and that it is something that everyone can relate to and does throughout their whole lives. Play is merely a time to interact and connect and have fun with other human beings and “play” that involves sex between consenting adults is the same way!

For both K and I, we now prefer the term “play” because it is a unique term that does not come pre-loaded with preconceived ideas about what sex is.  “Play” for us is “sex” but it is encompassing of a wide array of sexual activity ranging from meaningful sex to casual and light sex.

What Counts as Sex?

What qualifies as sex is a question that has come up quite a few times for K and I since we started into this “lifestyle” and it has come up in several different contexts. K and I often find ourselves referring to penetrative intercourse as sex and other things by different terms even though we both think that “sex” encompasses far more than just sexual intercourse.
One of the incidents that caused us to question what qualifies as “sex” is same-sex play. It seems that many people we have met in the lifestyle have jealousy issues when their partner is with someone of the opposite sex but that they do not have the same jealousy issues when their partner is with someone of the same sex. What is the reason for this? Is it because they are less concerned their partner will leave them for someone of the same sex? Is it because they think their partner is not enjoying it as much? Is it because they themselves get more satisfaction from watching it (girl on girl seems to be a major turn on for most men)?  Or is it some other reason altogether?
K and I have run into many couples in the lifestyle only looking to add another woman to their sex lives and have no interest in additional men. We have found that many people want to add an additional women for one of three reasons: 1) the women is bisexual and the man is not, so by adding an additional woman, the woman is able to fulfill her sexual desire to be with a woman within the confines of a “monogamish” relationship (term blatantly stolen from Dan Savage) 2) it is a fantasy for the man and the couple is seeking to make that fantasy a reality and 3) both partners want to be with other women and neither partner is interested in having another man to have sex with.
The reason that I included the previous paragraph in this post is because of reason #1 that people choose to add an additional women; it seems to be closely connected to the idea of “what is sex?” We have spoken with many people where the woman controls the entire open relationship experience and the man simply goes along with whatever the woman wants. This is fine so long as all people involved (including the woman being invited to participate) are happy and fulfilled by the situation and the rules and boundaries and discussed openly and honestly by everyone involved (see previous post about rules- specifically equality of rules). Often times these “woman-controlled couples” entered the lifestyle as a result of the woman recognizing, after entering into a long-term monogamous relationship with a man, that she is bisexual.
With these “woman-controlled couples” that choose to add an additional woman to the mix in order to fulfill their bisexual urges, there often seems to be a disconnect in regards to what counts as “sex.” What I mean by this is that the couple is often okay with allowing an additional woman to participate in their sex so long as that woman only plays with and desires to be with the female half of the couple. Many couples seem to be in a balancing act in which the couple trades off their strong desire to be monogamous and shield themselves from issues of jealousy with a strong desire to also allow the woman to fulfill her bisexual fantasies. But why is this a shield?
The reason that K and I think that this may be a shield for some couples is because women having sex with other women is not “threatening” to a relationship for many people because it is people of the same sex; perhaps for many women, women playing with other women is not threatening to a relationship because it is “play” that is on the “light and casual” end of the spectrum rather than the “deep and emotional” side of the spectrum.  Perhaps it is not threatening to some people, because there is not a lot of emotional meaning attached to “play” for many women merely seeking to explore their “bi side.”
Whatever the reason we think it should be acknowledged that same-sex “play” is just as much “sex” as that between different-sex people. Whatever a couple’s reason for wanting to include only an additional woman into their sex, we feel that the fact that same-sex “play” is “sex” should still be acknowledged.
Another situation where we have encountered this idea about what qualifies as “sex” is in the distinction between purely physical sex and intimate sex.  This is a different idea in the sense that we are discussing what qualifies as “sex” not based on the actual physical acts or the people that those acts are between, but whether or not something is “sex” based on whether or not it is accompanied by intimacy and deep emotional feelings.
The authors of The Ethical Slut also include a section on what counts as “sex,” and how different erotic and intimate encounters can count as “sex” depending on the people involved and the levels of expectations, desires, and needs. One extremely interesting piece of their discussion includes a story from a sex worker who was one day paid by a regular client to simply lay with him and talk. She described it as the most sexual experience of her life, simply because there was a level of intimacy and care present in that situation.

For us, we like the word “play” to encompass a wide range of sexual activities that we enjoy with a wide range of people and situations (post on that specifically to follow!) We think, ultimately, that “sex” can describe many sexual encounters, from manual stimulation to oral, anal, and vaginal stimulation and intercourse.

Sexual Explorations: The Bi Side, The Animal Side

So a question for all you women out there: does watching animals having sex turn you on? Does your brain immediately start thinking about sex? Are you physically turned on? And I am talking about any kind of animal: dog, gorilla, goat, turtle, butterfly, worm. I am even talking about humans who you might not find attractive. I will answer first: YES I DO. As long as it is real sex, and not some fake act (I am thinking of bad, cheesy porn here—I don’t know if you could find non-human animals who have fake cheesy sex), I am turned on. What the hell?

What the hell, because: J is not turned on by anything, he maintains, except attractive humans having sex. (J now editing: I swear, it just doesn’t do it for me!). What?? Sex at Dawn goes a bit into the research behind this, and the research behind what turns on gay men versus straight men versus straight women. Apparently gay men are turned on by other men, straight men by women, and straight women by… pretty much anything. Lesbians are similar to gay and straight men, in that they are turned on primarily by other women (according to the studies in Sex at Dawn). I get turned on—that “switch” flips—when I watch pretty much anything have sex- bugs, gorillas, lions, and humans! J is pretty much only turned on by seeing attractive humans having sex… I am even turned on watching people who are unattractive to me having sex… do I just have an indiscriminate switch?

This also relates to something that I have been thinking about since we started exploring our open relationship, and the swinging community in particular. I think that it is much more culturally acceptable for women to explore their sexuality than for men, even if it isn’t acceptable to be gay. I think we get a lot of messages about how it is okay for college-aged women to “explore” their sexuality by being with other women, even if deciding that one is bi or gay is not ultimately okay in our society. Men don’t have that brief encouragement. In the swinging community, bi women are the norm, at least from our limited experience. Bi men, however, and not to mention gay men, are excluded; there is also a strong sense I get from many straight men in the community that “Of course, I’m not into men.” Why? Frankly, it turns me on to think about J with another man, or even being with two bi men… maybe I just need to get some gay porn. (J again: This was MY suggestion!)

I have had erotic and sexual dreams since middle school in which my partner is a woman. I have also had many dreams with men. Recently, my erotic dream partner was a trans woman. Since negotiating and experiencing our open relationship, I have been able to explore how I feel sexually with women; J hasn’t had that opportunity to do that with men, and while it is not something that he is interested in, it bothers me that he doesn’t have similar cultural messages to at least explore. J feels, like nearly every other straight man we have gotten to know, that he is not interested in exploring sexual encounters with other men: is this deep, deep cultural repression, or something different about men and women? The authors of Sex at Dawn maintain (based on multiple studies) that men’s sexuality “cements” at an early age: you either cement into a straight or gay orientation and there are very few men who lie along the spectrum between straight and gay. However, they point to research that says women have a fluid sexuality throughout their lives, and are also more flexible in how they express their sexuality in accordance with cultural norms.

For me, this line of thinking fits my experience. J asked me how I felt growing up having dreams with women in them. I told him that I was never ashamed I had them; I just didn’t think deeply about them or think about actually trying it: it was just a dream. My first few times with women were for selfish exploration: what does it feel like to grab someone else’s boob? Or to finger someone else? Or to even kiss a woman and hold a woman’s hand? My comfort with women grew, and became something I liked to do as part of group play: I could now sexually connect not just with J and another man, but the other woman as well! Thinking about playing with women, especially on my own, really turns me on now. I don’t know where that puts me on the sexuality spectrum, but I am fairly confident that if J and I hadn’t opened up our relationship, I would not have tried to experience being with a woman on my own. It just wasn’t something that had really been brought to my attention; it wasn’t in my immediate lens for what my life could feel and look like.

Rope Play: Stay Posted!

This past weekend we visited our local “swingers” club with some friends just to hang out.  While we were there, there was a man providing rope demonstrations and speaking to people about rope play and bondage.
We had in fact gone to our “swingers” club on a night catered specifically to the BDSM lifestyle (this night was not) and decided that for the most part we are not into most of what that sort of play encompasses.  We have both decided that, for the most part, we like our sex to be “vanilla”. . . we just like a lot of different varieties of vanilla.  So imagine our surprise when the man providing rope demonstrations gave us some basic information about rope play and did an exercise with us in which K was orgasmically turned on by a simple pull on the wrist involving a rope.
The man providing the rope demonstrations provided us with a jumping off point with information about rope play including different ropes, pressure points, endorphin release associated with rope play, and the incredible trust that must be established between two people involved in this sort of play.
J is still trying to figure out whether or not he would be interested in rope play although we do know that we both have fun playing with our bed restraints and “love cuffs.”  He is unsure if it is something that he would ever want to do. However, just like many other things, when K is incredibly turned on by something, J is eager to try it out and explore it because he is so turned on when K is turned on!  And, the way that K has described her desire to explore in this area has actually served to turn J on because he is always excited to learn about a new kinky side of K.

We will probably look into this more because of the incredible reaction that K had to this simple exercise.  We merely decided to include this blog post as a way of reminding people to remain open to the possibility of different types of play and with different types of people.  There is always something new to explore and try and you may not even have found the thing that most turns you on yet!

Sexy Friends: Meeting People Online and In Person, and Building Community

J and I are natural homebodies. We don’t drink and we never were into the club or bar scene. You can imagine how the past few months have been so different for us given that meeting with new people often involves a dinner out, meeting for “drinks,” (J editing: Shirley Temples!) or going to a sex club. Frankly, we love our new-found social life. We love that we all of a sudden have so many down-to-earth, funny, sexy, open, honest, thoughtful, intelligent and all-around good people to hang out with. Sometimes we feel like there aren’t enough nights in the week to see everyone we want to!
We have corresponded online with probably around 100 couples and met 20 couples in-person initially (at our local club), met with about 15 for drinks/dinner, and have played, to varying degrees, with five couples and two singles. My point is: we love good conversation and intelligent, scintillating encounters just as much as we love awesome play encounters. Creating a community of open people that we can talk to infrequently or on a regular basis has been incredibly important and meaningful for us, especially since we have very few vanilla friends and family that can relate to our experiences, give advice, ask good questions, and reciprocate with similar stories and sentiments. Making good friends with the people that we meet through online and on-site venues has been just as important to us as finding great sex partners. Just because we don’t have play chemistry with everyone we meet and talk to doesn’t mean that we discount those encounters; they are in fact so of the most important as they have given us more to consider and talk about!
We look for sexy friends through Craigslist and websites that cater to “swingers” (Lifestyle Lounge and Swing Lifestyle are the two we use). We also like to meet people through our favorite “swingers” club. We often look for people who are intelligent and educated, funny, who laugh and smile a lot and aren’t afraid to be expressive and open with their emotions, and who are fit and take care of their bodies. We like sharing ourselves and getting to know people who have similar values: openness, straightforward honesty, respect for their bodies and others’ bodies, an eagerness to learn from others and to experience new things. We also look for similar social and political leanings, mainly because we honestly cannot imagine clicking with folks who don’t believe in the equality of marriage or with people who are homophobic or transphobic. This isn’t about the political party that someone identifies with but just about how they treat people, including us, and how they feel others deserve to be treated.
Because we often meet sexy friends through “sexy friend” venues (online and in person), a transition of some kind often needs to be made: will we stay platonic friends who can openly talk about our sexual experiences? Is there good chemistry? Is play an option? What are everyone’s rules, boundaries, and comfort levels? What are the reasons behind these rules? Are they rules that we can agree to follow? Is it our ideal encounter or something that we think will be fun? Saying “no thank you” to potential playmates can be tough, but I think we have both become better at being direct with people to avoid any weird ambiguity. Perhaps even more difficult is learning to ask for what I (and we) want, both in and out of play. Being assertive with what works sexually and platonically is what makes play and get-togethers fun, and is definitely something that we both have gotten better at.
I love that we are building our own little Pacific NW network of sexy friends, and through this blog, we have actually made connections throughout the country! Also a big thank you to our international readers! We get such a kick out of everyone who reads this blog, and we are so excited to continue to build community through open communication and willingness to bring sexual desires, likes, dislikes, fantasies, and kinks further out into the open!


I have a good friend from high school, who grew up learning to never say the word “jealous.” Instead, she and her family would say, “I am so ‘j’.” I am not advocating for jealousy: it is an awful feeling. I strongly dislike feeling jealous. It makes me feel out of control and crazy and weak and insecure and small. But we need to own our jealousy, face it, and work through it. Otherwise, it sits there, building up over time, waiting to pour out at the worst moment.
I grew up learning from pop culture, and probably my family and most definitely my friends, that being jealous is appropriate. If you aren’t jealous of your partner giving someone else attention, something is seriously wrong with you! And how many Top 40 songs are about making someone else jealous or being jealous? “Crimes of passion” are much more acceptable and excusable in our society than I think they ought to be. In fact, my most serious high school relationship ended pretty much on account of jealousy. The first four years or so that J and I dated, I was jealous of J’s good girl friends, of girls that got onto the treadmill next to him at the gym (crazy, right?!?!), and of the girl who made his sandwich at the campus store (also whacko!). Opening up our relationship has made my jealousy dwindle to an actual manageable and faceable emotion. It sometimes comes on like a little annoying fly. I am able to hold it, examine it, figure out what is really going on, and let it go.
Since we opened up, my jealousy has evolved quite rapidly. I feel so much freer and happier and more secure in our relationship than I ever did before. At first I thought I might be jealous of seeing J have sex with other people. That quickly diminished after we read Sex at Dawn. In fact, I highly, highly enjoy watching J pleasure and be pleasured by other partners (this is sort of the opposite of jealousy—dubbed “compersion” in the open relationship world; a post on that is sure to come!). I am now on the tail-end of facing and letting go of my jealousies that have resulted from our separate play option: I was at first very jealous thinking about J with someone else, without me there. I realized that it was about a fear of losing J, and mostly about a selfishness of sharing our shared time together. I also quickly recognized that my insecurities spread like a virus when I pictured J with some “faceless” individual: she looks like a supermodel, is super smart, witty, makes him laugh until his stomach hurts, can run super long distances at his pace, skis like a pro, and can make killer cinnamon rolls. The most ideal woman for J pops into my head! Once I realized that my jealousy and insecurity stemmed from the unknown, J and I were able to have a constructive conversation about what to do about that insecurity (thus, our rule about knowing each other’s partners, as J described earlier).
I am also still processing my jealousy surrounding more emotional relationships, where J shares a deeper emotional and/or mental connection with someone else and I am not a part of that. Part of my processing comes from the recognition that J is a separate individual with separate emotions and feelings, with separate dislikes and likes and interests, and separate friends. Understanding that we can both have connections with other people helps me to mitigate this jealousy.
Another deeper jealousy that I think a lot of people in “vanilla” relationships perhaps do not deal with is the idea of one’s partner having a sexual relationship with a close, long-term, “vanilla,” friend. J has an amazing friendship with someone from his junior high years, and I actually have been able to begin confronting and working through the jealous feelings that have arisen when I think about their relationship evolving into something else. Before we began negotiating our open relationship, this would have impossible. I was jealous that he even talked to her on the phone every so often. Another issue that has come up, that has given me jealousy issues to work on, is the idea of J meeting back up with ex-girlfriends. I think because they were from his “vanilla” past, it would be interesting to negotiate a new kind of relationship with them. I would also need to have the chance to get to know them well before anything really happened between J and them.
Feeling jealousy and letting it sit inside of me allows me to move through the emotion. Bottling it up, letting fears and resentments grow, is not particularly healthy or helpful to the process. Crying, journaling, taking hot showers, getting a manicure, talking with J, talking with friends, exercising, and meditating are all ways that I have found to help myself work through jealousy. Naming and processing jealousy are integral to having clear and honest communication in general, and have definitely been important for me in negotiating our open relationship.


Rules (agreements, understandings, arrangements, or whatever you want to call them) are an integral part of a successful experience in this lifestyle. Rules have been an essential part of ensuring that K and I have successful encounters that leave us feeling satisfied and happy. This post is going to discuss (1) the reasons we have rules (2) dealing with other people’s rules, (3) equality of rules, and (4) our rules, including how those rules have changed over time and why. I have spent almost four hours trying to write this post now and I am still struggling with exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. This topic ended up being much more difficult to write about than I anticipated so please bear that in mind as you read this post!
The Reasons We Have Rules
The primary reason that K and I have rules is to ensure that we have a satisfying experience with every person we encounter, that we are clear with other couples about what we want, that everyone is able to enjoy themselves to the greatest extent possible, that we are safe, and that no one is left feeling jealous, insecure or upset about a situation. 
K and I try to keep our rules general so that they can be applied to all situations equally, but the sort of behavior that we are open to is different with every couple depending on the level of physical and mental attraction felt by both K and I and by the other couple. With some couples we almost immediately “click” and we are comfortable being very intimate early on. With other couples we may not feel immediately physically and/or mentally attracted but the more we get to know them the more comfortable we become with the idea of playing. This is not to say that K and I strive to reach a point where we feel comfortable playing with another couple. However, because K and I view sex as an added bonus to already fun relationships with “sexy friends” we like to always maintain sex as an option for our relationships with “sexy friends” just in case the proper chemistry ever develops!
K and I have rules to clearly inform other couples about what we are looking for and what we hope to gain by having an encounter. When a couple has rules that they are able to clearly and effectively communicate to K and I, we can make sure not to violate those rules which ensures that everyone has a great time and nobody is left feeling angry or disrespected. Just as we are respectful of the rules of other people, we expect them to be respectful of our rules and understand that we have our particular rules in an attempt to ensure a positive experience for all involved. Our rules are meant to protect us from having an encounter that is unsatisfying or upsetting; by clearly and effectively communicating our rules to couples we meet ensures that they understand exactly what we are looking for and what we expect from a situation.
Dealing With The Rules of Others
It is for all of the same reasons that we have rules that we are always respectful and understanding of the rules communicated to us by other couples. We merely ask that a couple always communicate their rules to us openly and honestly before any intimate encounter. So long as a couple’s rules have been clearly communicated to us prior to an encounter, we have the ability to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to play with a couple with those particular rules.
While we respect that all couples have different boundaries and comfort levels and we always abide by all rules that are clearly communicated to us, we have noticed that we are often skeptical about the motivations for particular rules.  Specifically, K and I are often wary of getting involved with couples with particular rules if they are being used as a means of mitigating jealousy issues.  If a rule was created as an attempt to mitigate jealousy issues we often are skeptical about whether that rule will actually suffice as a means of mitigating jealousy or whether it is merely a Band-Aid on a much larger issue. 
For example, we have met couples that have a “no penetration” or “no kissing” rule and that, to us, often demonstrates insecurity issues that should be addressed by that couple before continuing in the lifestyle and it often raises a red flag for us in terms of whether or not we should become involved with this couple. (I just want to pause here and say that we have also met couples who have who have similarly restrictive rules but the motivations are entirely different- in those cases we are still completely open to the possibility of playing.  For us, it is about understanding the specific rule and the reason the rule was created.) The reason that we are cautious to become involved with a couple with restrictive rules that were created in an attempt to mitigate jealousy is because we have a fear of overstepping other, potentially less-obvious, boundaries that may spark feelings of jealousy and insecurity which generally ruins the mood and makes the encounter less than satisfying. We have learned from personal experience that we are only able to relax and have fun when everyone involved is able to completely relax and enjoy themselves; when someone involved in a situation is experiencing feelings of jealousy, there is the potential for the encounter to be miserable for all involved rather than a positive experience.
Equality of Rules
Sometimes rules appear unequal and unfair from outside of a relationship, but that is okay so long as both partners are in agreement about what their rules are. Each partner must feel that their needs and desires are taken into account by their partners during the negotiation/creation of the rules and that the rules that are created are a product of negotiation stemming from both partner’s desires and needs. Both Opening Up and Ethical Slut address the idea of rule equality and are in agreement that rules for partners do not have to appear to be equal so long as both partners are happy with the rules that are created. 
K & I have come across the topic of rule equality in our own rule making and we have dealt with the possibility of having rules that would appear “unequal” to someone not involved in our relationship but in reality this rule still served both our interests. (This will be explained below)
Currently K & I have the exact same rules for one another so our rules are, in a sense, “equal.”  However, there was a point when K and I were discussing the possibility of separate play and K expressed the sentiment that she may not be okay with separate play as an option for me. I responded by informing K that I would still want her to be able to play separately even if she were unwilling to afford me the same opportunity. My reasoning for this was that, merely because K didn’t want me to play without her, it did not change the way that I felt about her playing without me. I actually encouraged K to play separately if it were something that she desired because that gave me the ability to opt out of potentially uncomfortable situations without taking away K’s possibility of playing. I saw this as a win-win situation because it allowed K to play separately which saved me from the pressure that I may put on myself to engage in a situation that I may not be completely comfortable with, simply so that K could do something (or someone) that she really wanted to do. Even though this rule would not have appeared “equal” to an outside observer of our relationship, it was still the product of negotiation and would serve both of our interests.
Our Rules
1) No Taking One For the Team: This rule developed very early on in our swinging experience. This rule developed as a result of me feeling left out in certain situations because the man and woman from the other couple were both very into K but nobody was into me. I began to feel like I was merely there as extra baggage that had to come along in order for K to be able to play and I did not enjoy feeling that way. Because of this, K and I developed this rule and the option to play separately. For K and I this rule is not so much about the level of physical attraction that we feel with our potential playmates; instead, it is about whether or not we anticipate the experience will be a positive experience overall for each of us. This rule means more to us than simply not feeling physically attracted to our playmates; it is about having an experience that is satisfying and fun. If one of us expects that the experience will not leave us feeling happy and satisfied then we will either (a) opt out of the situation entirely or (b) choose to play separately so that only the partner who is desirous of an encounter need be involved in the encounter. 
2) Separate Play as an Option: This rule developed out of our strict adherence to our “no taking one for the team” rule. We reasoned that it would be better to have our partner play when they want and allow the other partner to not play when they do not want to rather than hold back the other one from partaking in a situation that they expect will be enjoyable. The other reason we created this rule is because we did not want to inadvertently put pressure on our partner to play when they were not feeling like it was something that they wanted to do. The final, and perhaps main reason, we created this rule is because, in our experience, four-way chemistry is extremely difficult to find. There is often good chemistry between two partners but not between the other people; in these situations we want our partner to be able to take advantage of the connection that they feel to another person and enjoy that connection. 
3) Knowing our Partner’s Partners: This rule developed as a result of being able to play separately. We have this rule as a way of mitigating our own jealousy and security issues around potential separate play. While we wish that we had no jealousy or insecurity issues (and we are constantly working on them), we do. The purpose of this rule is to take away the jealousy associated with our partner having an intimate encounter with some “faceless” person and instead be able to know them as another human being with both positive and negative qualities. I personally like this rule because I cannot imagine finding someone that I would be so physically and mentally attracted to that K would not also like. K likes this rule because it ensures that she has a second person (me) to help her vet potential playmates which is important to her as she has had some less-than-great encounters with men in her “vanilla” time.
4) 110% Comfortable: This rule was actually suggested to us by a family member very early on in our experience after we explained to her some of the issues that had been coming up for us while we were playing. One of the main things that was coming up early on in our experience was that neither one of us was able to fully relax and enjoy the situation because we were constantly concerned whether or not our partner was comfortable with a particular situation. The rule here is that both of us will always assume that our partner is 110% comfortable with the situation; otherwise our partner will immediately put a stop to the situation by using our “secret gesture.” The purpose of this rule is that it allows both of us to simply relax and enjoy the situation knowing that our partner is completely comfortable.  This rule is not nearly as important to us now that we have been doing this for a while and with people who we know we are comfortable with but it was very important when we were just beginning. This rule has been violated a couple of times by K and it was extremely frustrating to me when this happened. We had created this rule for a particular reason and violations of the rule caused me to second-guess whether K was actually comfortable with a situation. These violations put all of my attention back on K during encounters and made it so that I was unable to relax and simply enjoy a situation. Because K knows how upset I was when she violated this rule she has agreed to do her best to never violate this rule again and I have been able to reestablish my trust in her ability to follow this rule and always let me know when she is not 110% comfortable with a situation.
5) Close Encounters: The rule here is that we do not travel great distances to meet couples that we have met online since it is so difficult to find a couple that we will potentially play with. This rule developed after our first in-person meeting with a couple that we had met online. We drove about 35 minutes to meet this couple only to realize after less than 3 minutes that these people were a terrible fit for us! We had been deceived by their pictures, they were not our type at all, we had nothing in common, and we were not attracted to them at all. We endured the evening and as we drove home we crafted this rule, which is that we would never travel more than approximately 10 minutes to meet with a new couple because the chances of a successful encounter are so slim. Since this first in-person encounter we have become much better at determining whether or not we will likely be attracted to a couple by reading their emails, looking at their pictures, asking them the right questions, etc. I am including this rule because it is an example of the importance of being flexible with rules and occasionally breaking rules. . . I am writing this post with a grin on my face because we broke this rule last night by driving an hour to meet with a new couple and. . . WE ARE SO GLAD WE BROKE OUR RULE! We were really confident that we would like this couple because we could tell from our emails that they were very cute and that we had a lot in common with both of them. This rule is an example of a rule that was important to us early on in our experiences when we were still learning how to determine through emails and other electronic forms of communication whether or not we would likely be attracted to someone. However, this rule is less important to us now that we have gotten better at this. I think we can safely say that after having broken our rule for this couple we will once again feel confident trusting our intuition about whether or not we should bother traveling very far to meet a new couple.
6) STI Protection: This rule seems like common sense to us but we still want to include it because it is something that we are very serious about. K and I are both STI free and it is important for us to take all reasonable steps to minimize our risk of contracting an STI. Before playing with another couple we always speak with them openly and honestly about our STI status, when we were last tested, what steps we take to ensure that we remain STI free, and the fact that we always play with condoms. We also always offer to show our most recent STI testing results to a playmate so that they can verify for themselves that we are being completely honest about our STI status and when we were last tested. Another way that we ensure our safety in this area is to play with couples who are drug free and maintain a healthy lifestyle so that we can trust they are not taking extreme risks with their health and well-being. While we understand that we are taking a risk by engaging in this sort of behavior, we have come to the conclusion that it is a risk we are willing to take so long as we take all reasonable precautions to minimize our risk.
7) Physical and Mental Attraction: This rule is not a “rule” like our other ones but I am including it in this section because it is something that is important to both K and I. We have found that for both of us it is important to feel both physically and mentally attracted to our potential playmates. Because K and I both like ongoing “relationships” where we can enjoy both sexual and non-sexual activities with our playmates it is important to us that we have both types of attraction to the people that we play with. If we are only mentally attracted to potential playmates, then we usually prefer to just add them to our list of “sexy friends” and share stories, hang out, give and receive advice, and have an awesome time with them! Because these experiences are in addition to an already excellent sex life, we are generally unwilling to compromise on the importance of having both physical and mental attraction with our potential playmates.
In Summary
Our rules, while constantly in flux, have served us well up to this point in our experience. We are constantly reevaluating our rules to ensure that they are reflective of the experience that we are seeking or whether or not we would be better off by tweaking and/or changing our rules. Thank you for getting through this whole post as it was a very long and complicated one. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have or anything that I should clarify!

The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

I recently finished reading The Ethical Slut by Catherine Liszt and Dossie Easton. It seems like one of the standard books one comes across when expanding one’s views on human sexuality and sexual relationships. I had heard of it before, and wanted to read it to expand my knowledge of the books written on the subject of open relationships.
The main premise of the book, I think, is that being sexually promiscuous (being a “slut”) is not a “bad thing.” It actually is a positive experience to live as a slut: to have the freedom and ability to express one’s sexuality and to act on (consensual) sexual desires. The authors attempt to reclaim the word slut as a label that positively describes someone’s ability and desire to have a variety of positive sexual encounters, experiences, and partners.
While there were a few things I did like about this book, there were also some things I was not as fond of. The writing feels disconnected from my generation. The authors seem to place an emphasis on “free love” which feels out of touch with the way our society is structured and with how most people live right now. This isn’t to say that I don’t think “free love” is a humbling and sort of noble idea; I would actually prefer it, I think, if people had the humility and security to love many people and have sex with many people without it causing anxiety, fear of loss, jealousy, and anger. Overall, though, it doesn’t feel like a practical guide to expanding relationships and sexual experiences. The authors actually admit to having their roots in 1960s San Francisco, and most of the book feels couched in a small, small slice of the American experience and not applicable to mainstream America.
I really did like, however, their discussion about how the taboo nature of sex has led to distorted views about the sexual experience and misinformation. If no one can openly talk about sex and ask questions when there is confusion about the real mechanics of sex, then I think people go off of the messages they receive from mass media and porn. Sex is always passionate, right? The woman always squirts, right? The man is always bigger than the woman, right? There is always a lot of grunting and screaming, right? I think if we all talked to all of our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, we would find out that the sexual experience is as diverse as people are in general. Because social constraints keep us from talking openly about sex with everyone we might want to, we have no way of knowing that not every man grunts, not every woman orgasms the same way, that sometimes sex is just sex and not some mind-blowing, earth-shattering event. One of their suggestions for breaking yourself out of your own “sex is taboo” box is to write down all sex-related words that you can think of, and then choose the ones you like (cock, dick or penis? Vagina or cunt? Squirting or female ejaculation?). Say them out loud five times in a row so that you actually feel comfortable saying them. It makes it easier to communicate to yourself and others what you want, what you like, and what you want to do.
They also lead a thoughtful discussion about body image and how body image distortions and anxieties affect our expectations surrounding sex (body image distortions create and further emphasize our feelings of inadequacy, worry about loss, etc). This part honestly really hit home for me because I have struggled since high school with breast size: why can’t mine be BIGGER dammit?? Don’t all men want their partners to have big boobs? Since I don’t have them, does that mean my partner is unsatisfied? Will he leave me for someone with bigger boobs?? See, I wrote that, and I know it sounds ridiculous! But Liszt and Easton are definitely on to something when they discuss how our culture’s perceptions of beautiful bodies affects our perceptions of what sex should look like and feel like.
The chapter on jealousy was also solid, and had some great tips about how to manage and face jealousy. A lot of their suggestions had to do with relaxation techniques, being honest with yourself and your partner, appropriate ways to respond to jealousy, and how to problem solve and manage conflicts peacefully and constructively. The chapters on health and raising children were also informative and helpful. Lastly, I really liked the authors’ ability to talk about the “real-world” constraints of having an open relationship: time, money, and one’s ability to have sex many times a day are all limited! It does take honest negotiation and communication to make an open relationship work.

Overall, I am glad I read The Ethical Slut as it seems to be integral in open relationship literature. I definitely think it has some valuable parts in it. Besides the 1960s feel to the book, I would recommend it to anyone looking to expand their views on what relationships can look like and how to ethically create open relationships.