Labels

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!