Relationship Counseling

J and I decided to start seeing a couples counselor, mainly to help ask questions we perhaps haven’t considered with regards to getting married and the negotiation of our open relationship. We wanted to find someone who supported people in open relationships, especially since I has had some less-than-supportive comments from my individual counselor. For example, my counselor has said a few times that I should be prepared, because of our open relationship, that J will meet someone else he likes better and leave me. However, everyone, regardless of being in a monogamous or open relationship, has to be prepared for that possibility! J would also argue that because of our open relationship, we are at less of a risk for that, because we are both more satisfied with our relationship and feel more strongly connected to each other. My counselor had also assumed that our open relationship was an “experiment” until she finally asked me if we were planning on carrying it into a marriage, at which point I felt some more judgement from her.


Anyways, J and I decided that finding a counselor who specializes in LGBT counseling would be a good place to start. It took calling down the list, but we finally found someone who could see us soon and also was comfortable with and supportive of open relationships. I had one counselor who I called who, after explaining to her what we were looking for, said, “I’m sorry, that’s not my forte” and hang up. Yikes!


The counselor we saw decided after our first appointment that we will basically walk through premarital questions, but not make our open relationship the focus of our sessions since it isn’t causing any problems for us. I think that approach makes sense; our open style is one, although a fairly huge, part of our relationship, and we can negotiate and answer premarital questions as they are informed by our open relationship. Our main concern with this particular counselor is that she hasn’t had a lot of experience working with people in open relationships. Hopefully she can still be as supportive as she says she is!

Rope Play: An Update!

Here is our long-awaited update to our first rope play post….

We finally got K tied up!! 


There is an older man who frequents our sex club who has been tying up women for years. He is actually the same person who did the initial rope-on-wrist demonstration for us, and showed us that we might actually like it. Well last night, he offered to tie K up so that J could play with her that way! It was AWESOME. We even did it on the orgy bed, adding a thrill to K’s exhibitionist side!

I (K) was nervous. I didn’t know if I would feel suffocated or claustrophobic. But J was there and of course I trust him and we communicate well, and this man is very experienced and always keeps scissors on hand. So I went with it!


I could see in J’s eyes how exciting it was for him, too. It was almost animalistic, the glean in his eyes. It turned me on so much to see that! Every time some of my skin was pulled or a new twist to the rope was made, he got excited. He was also involved in tying me up, helping hold rope away from my body, and watching his face while I was kneeling on the bed getting tied up was completely satisfying for me.

I got tied up with my arms folded behind my back, and rope supporting and crossing my chest. I even had some rope in my mouth for a little bit. A “handle” was made on my chest so that J could grab, pull, and push my body however he wanted to. He also had a piece of rope that could be hung from a hook above and I could be forced higher up (I wasn’t hanging but could be pulled up to my tip-toes). It felt exactly like how I had romanticized Jasmine feeling in Aladdin when Jafar has made her his princess/slave (weird? maybe I should look up some erotica like that…)

Anyways, after I was all tied up (I’m not even sure how long it took- I felt like I was in a timeless space!), J and I made out, he fingered me, and then I went down on him until he came. We wanted to have intercourse doggy style, but we couldn’t figure out this first time how to have my head and neck supported (next time, we are planning on having my arms tied up above my head and doing at least missionary!!) It was all so different without the use of my arms and hands, and feeling totally controlled by J (although, of course, I could have stopped it at any point by saying our safe word). Being so submissive definitely turned me on, and I also loved the feeling of the rope tight against my skin. Letting myself feel that vulnerable and exposed was truly amazing. The whole experience spoke to our intense level of communication and trust; I felt completely safe and was so excited to be in the position I was in. Not only that, but the exhibitionist aspect completely turned me on! I loved that people were watching us.


Our only disappointment is that we didn’t get a picture of the beautiful job our friend did…. It was an intricate and lovely design and would have made a nice addition to our sexy photos! But we are planning on exploring this more, and know there will be a next time when it comes to rope play!

Rational Emotive Therapy

I have been seeing a counselor for about six months, and started seeing her for body image issues. I have a tendency to ruminate, and thoughts become easily ingrained in my head. Thoughts will go round and round, in an automatic and cyclical fashion, and I often have a hard time breaking the pattern.

My work on body image thoughts has come a long way since then, and I credit rational emotive therapy. RET is the process of analyzing thought patterns to identify irrational thoughts, and to consciously and actively address the root irrational thoughts to create healthier and more rational thought patterns.

Unsurprisingly, I have found that this same RET process is helpful for me when I have jealousy issues come up. Often for me, jealousy and insecurity issues are related to irrational beliefs like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m just ugly” or “he likes her more than me.” Even when I know a belief is not irrational, per say, it can help to address them in a more rational manner. Beliefs like “He will leave me for her” are not irrational: many people in both monogamous and open relationships leave their partner for someone they like more. J and I believe, though, that we are taking a lesser risk with our open relationship, because we are both more satisfied with our relationship than before, making it less likely that either of us will leave. Even though a belief like “He will leave me for her” is not irrational, because it could happen, RET helps me to address is calmly and reflectively, and to look at how feeling that way affects how I think and act and also how it then affects my relationship with J. I can then choose a different feeling, and a different way of thinking and acting.

In any case, the following series of questions have been extremely helpful for me in getting past certain situations that trigger jealous and insecure thought patterns. They are helpful in many other contexts, and I suggest the exercise to anyone who gets stuck in a rut with unhelpful thoughts!

Write down the following:
A. Triggering Event
B. -Rational Thought
-Irrational Thought(s)
C. Consequences of the irrational thought(s) (how does it make me feel, think, act, etc.)
D.-Choose the irrational thought
-Is there any truth to this idea? (my answer is pretty much always “no” to this question; otherwise I am not confronting the root irrational thought)
-What evidence exists for the falseness of this idea? (what rational thoughts and other things do I know to be true that contradict this irrational thought)
-What evidence exists for the truth of this idea? (the evidence for truth often lies in what I have convinced myself of, or from what I have chosen to believe taught to me by society, media, etc.)
-What is the worst thing that could happen? (i.e., if I continue to believe this irrational thought)
-What are some good things that might happen? (i.e., if I choose to not believe this irrational thought)
E. -Alternative thoughts
-Alternative emotions


I keep a journal of these exercises, and it is so interesting to me how my thought patterns are stubborn and static; they hold on fast and change very little from time to time that I write. However, it was amazing to me how quickly, relatively speaking, my negative body image self-talk reduced after doing these exercises every day. It makes me hopeful for reducing any jealous or insecure self-talk that I run into. I am able to rationalize my feelings, and consciously weigh the costs and benefits of feeding or cutting off those feelings.

Judgements

J and I have noticed a couple of related odd trends among some people that we have talked to in the “open relationship” community.

There seems to be a tendency for some open folks in general to look down at people in monogamous relationships, and also a tendency for people in polyamorous or polyfidelitous relationships to look down at people in open relationships who have more “casual” ties to their other partners.


The first tendency and trend is weird to me, because up until six months ago, I had lived a life of serial monogamy. I know what our society, media, families, and religious institutions teach in terms of what a healthy relationship is (monogamous, long-term, etc), and I remember not questioning any of that. (J, however, had questioned these ideas). I don’t think most people will question the issue of monogamy unless there is some catalyst that requires them to think about it. I do not think that I (or anyone else for that matter) am in a position to judge our friends and family in monogamous relationships for how they form their relationships. As long as relationships are healthy and satisfying, it doesn’t matter what form they take. I can still judge other relationships in the sense that I can differentiate the values that those relationships are based on, but I don’t think I have the right to form and hold harsh opinions about other relationships.


The second tendency and trend is frustrating on another level. People in open relationships are already a minority in our society. Why must we divide into even smaller groups? Just because people in polyamorous relationships have different boundaries and rules than people who “swing” with their partners, and different boundaries and rules than people who have a group of friends with benefits, does not mean that any one group of people is “right” or “wrong.” They are just different. And again, as long as relationships are healthy and satisfying, it doesn’t matter what kind of boundaries and rules dictate the form open relationships take.


Part of my excitement about building a community of sexy friends is the opening up of a quiet minority group. I feel proud of where J and I are, and I am proud of all of our friends that have gone through similar conversations to be where they are with their relationships. I feel aligned with almost everyone we have met who are also in open relationships. Even if other people have very different rules and boundaries for themselves and their relationships, I respect and value learning about other open relationship styles and teaching others about ours. I in turn expect respect from others, and it disturbs me when I hear and see other people in open relationships de-value and disrespect what we, or others, do because it doesn’t exactly match up with what they do.


These trends remind me of how broader minority groups in our society sometimes team up and sometimes don’t, and how it always makes more sense to me for minority groups to align themselves even if there aren’t the same exact values at play. It just doesn’t make sense to me for people in open relationships who identify as one way or another, or who have different rules and boundaries, to focus on our differences versus our similarities and strengths as a community.

Helen Fisher TED Talk on Romantic Love

Alright, so I know that I (J) have not posted anything on this blog for over a month, but that doesn’t mean that I am not constantly thinking about open relationships and non-monogamy. I just don’t have time to post my thoughts as often as I would like.  

I often listen to and read articles that present opposing viewpoints in order to deconstruct the messages and remind myself of the societal messages that reinforced my societally expected monogamous life for 22+ years before embarking on the difficult but rewarding journey of creating an open relationship.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Helen Fisher that stirred up a powerful emotional response because I was just so taken aback by her point of view.  The TED Talk is available at http://www.ted.com/talks/helen_fisher_tells_us_why_we_love_cheat.html and I strongly encourage anyway who follows this blog to go and watch the TED Talk because it is fascinating. It is fascinating not because of the ideas that Ms. Fisher presents but rather the manner in which she presents her ideas.

To get the most out of the remainder of this post you will almost certainly need to watch Ms. Fisher’s TED Talk. Ok, so now that you have watched that. . . here we go. I am going to list off the problems that I see with Ms. Fisher’s TED Talk.

1) Ms. Fisher is an ANTHROPOLOGIST. I expect an anthropologist to more carefully consider the way that science is impacted by cultural ideals and values. It seems to me that Helen Fisher set out to prove specific things rather than conducting research and then drawing conclusions based on what she found. Helen Fisher seems to want to prove that 1) romantic love exists, and 2) it exists as a means of bonding a man and a woman who can then have sex and raise a child. Ms. Fisher’s entire TED Talk merely reinforces long-believed scientific theories about men and women and relationships and the reasons for them and does not add anything new to this discussion or present the information in a new or thoughtful way. Even if Ms. Fisher is not a cultural anthropologist (I don’t know what kind of anthropologist she is) I would at least expect her to acknowledge the impact that her beliefs and that society at large can have on the research that she chooses to conduct and the conclusions that she ultimately draws from the research she conducts.

2) Adultery. Ms. Fisher makes a comment about how women often ask her, “Why is it that so many more men than women are adulterous?” Ms. Fisher responds to this comment by saying (paraphrasing here), “Who is that these people think that men cheat with? It is simple math that if all these men are cheating then there must be just as many women cheating. It is simple math!” I find this comment disturbing in several ways. First, it is not simple math that just because a man cheats there is necessarily a woman cheating.  Many men may be cheating with the same women who are cheating or perhaps men are cheating on their partners with women who are not cheating (either because they are single or in open relationships) or, perhaps, men are cheating with other men! It is disappointing to me that Helen Fisher so greatly simplified and misused statistics because I expect more from a professional researcher.  

3) Orgasm and Oxytocin: Ms. Fisher has a brief discussion about the fact that men and women experience a release of oxytocin into their bodies upon orgasm. This is absolutely true and there is significant evidence to back her up on this point. Her conclusion from this is that men and women are not really capable of having casual sexual experiences with people because the release of oxytocin will cause a bonding whether or not they are prepared for that. I think I can safely say to our readers. . . SERIOUSLY?!?! K & I have experienced lots of very deep and meaningful sex and we have also experienced amazing orgasms where we would not be distraught/depressed if we never saw the person again. Once again, this seems like an attempt by Helen Fisher to draw a conclusion that supports her worldview rather than questioning all of the evidence that suggests that the release of oxytocin really is not a very powerful bonding agent (think for example of the high rate of divorce, people who have casual sex partners, swingers, etc.). What Ms. Fisher ultimately concludes from her discussion about the release of oxytocin being associated with orgasm is that it is meant to bond a man and woman together so that they are able to raise a child. However, Ms. Fisher acknowledges in a separate point in her TED Talk that the strong initial feelings of being in a new relationship (often called New Relationship Energy) usually fades in 1-2 years. Considering a gestation period of 9 months for humans, it hardly seems that the release of oxytocin being associated with orgasm supports the idea that men and women will be bonded long enough to raise a child at least in terms of how we view child-rearing today. (Generally it is not considered sufficient for a man to help raise his child until the child is 3-15 months old before leaving.) I think this is yet another point in the talk where Helen Fisher takes solid scientific data and uses it to support her view about relationships and the “purpose” of romantic love.

4) The part of the TED Talk that inspired this entire blog post is the part that follows. However, I must preface this part with a little information about Helen Fisher’s theory of love. Fisher believes that humans have three different brain systems at play when people are in love: lust, romantic love, and attachment. She explains that the three brain systems are not always aligned and that it is possible for people to feel intense feelings in one or more areas for different people at the same time: “You can feel deep attachment to a long-term partner while you feel intense romantic feelings for someone else, while you feel a sex drive for people unrelated to these other partners. In short we are capable of loving more than one person at a time. In fact, you can lie in bed at night and swing between deep feelings of attachment to one person to deep feelings of romantic love for someone else. In short, I don’t think that we are an animal that was built to be happy. We are an animal that was built to reproduce.” Ahhh! Oh no, Helen Fisher, WHAT HAPPENED?! I thought Fisher was about to make a profound breakthrough about how our society doesn’t support our natural urges, but instead, she concludes that we are not meant to be happy! Instead of questioning the societal norms that make this unacceptable, she concludes that humans were not “built to be happy.” It is because of this statement that I argue that Ms. Fisher is caught in a paradigm; she has conducted scientific research that causes her to conclude that humans are capable of loving multiple people at the same time but instead of questioning the societal norms that make this unacceptable she merely concludes that humans were not built to be happy. Why does Ms. Fisher (an anthropologist) so quickly jump to the conclusion that simply because humans are capable of loving multiple people, they are also not meant to be happy?  I would like to use the research that Ms. Fisher has gathered which has caused her to conclude that humans are capable of loving more than one person and then ask the question, “If we are capable of loving more than one person at a time, then why is it so frowned upon by society to act on those urges?”

I think that Ms. Fisher’s TED Talk is a perfect example of the sort of scientific research that perpetuates a paradigm rather than questioning the underlying rationales of the paradigm. This statement is somewhat circular in the sense that a paradigm is exactly that; it is the underlying framework that merely perpetuates our worldview rather than questioning it. The research that Ms. Fisher does and the conclusions that she draws from her research is clearly influenced by her deeply held beliefs about romantic love and the goal of attaining long-term one-man-one-woman relationships.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I wanted to write this post after doing some intense, yet fun, research on the history and trends of hair removal. But I have a ton of (academic: read: not so fun) reading to do and papers to write. So my hair-removal-in-the-history-of-humans research will have to wait until perhaps my winter break.


In any case, I just think it is fascinating that there is such a craze to remove hair (and I am mostly interested in pubic hair removal, although those who would prefer to be hairless everywhere are also part of a fascinating trend). I definitely participate in this craze. I recently started laser hair removal for my Brazilian area. (Yes, it hurts! But my experience went MUCH BETTER than my Brazilian wax!!)

These are some of my questions:
Is this craze only a craze in the US? Is it a developed country (because of resources and ability to spend time and money on leisure hair removal), or worldwide, phenomenon?
When in history did humans start equating hairlessness with beauty?
Did this trend start out of a desire to be further removed from other animals? To convince us that we are somehow better, more divine, cleaner, more sophisticated, more civilized than our primate ancestors?
What are our motivations for removing hair? Are they primarily aesthetic? Practical? Sexual? A sense of perfection?
Are we (those of removing hair) selling ourselves to the cosmetic industry, and those who tell us we aren’t beautiful the way we are? 


Hopefully I can make some time to look some of this information up! I am interested to see any trends, distinctions, and preferences throughout time and among cultures for hair removal.

Vulnerability

Just finished watching the following TED talk, courtesy of some long-distance sexy friends: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Things that have been whirling around in my head are making a little more sense. Things related to being open to possibilities, being open to bad and good experiences alike, being an open person, and being open to both intimate and less-than-intimate encounters with people.

Being vulnerable means giving yourself up as the person you are: I am who I am, with all of my imperfections. And yet, I am deserving of wonderfulness and happiness. Being vulnerable means being satisfied with my imperfections, and letting others in to see myself for the wonderful person I am.

I have noticed that every time J and I decide to continue a relationship with other open friends (sexually or non-sexually), I have this moment (anywhere from five minutes to a few weeks) of “oh, shit.” And it wasn’t until I watched this TED talk that I realized that that “oh, shit” moment stemmed from intense feelings of vulnerability. And for the most part I think, I have allowed myself to feel vulnerable and to ultimately open myself up to new connections with other vulnerable, open, and happy people. That intense moment though allows me to sort of swim through an uncertain wave of: what if this turns out to be really bad? what if there is rejection or disappointment? what if it actually turns out to be really good? what if it’s just sort of okay? I don’t know what is going to happen by opening up to these people! 

Opening up and letting vulnerability be a part of life and forming new connections means letting in the bad with the good, and being open to not only the fear, rejection, disappointment, frustration, and anger but also to joy, gratitude, connection, love, and acceptance.