I just finished The Sex Diaries Project by Arianne Cohen… it was a fabulous read! The format of the book was easy for me to get used to- I love reading more stream of consciousness diary entries. As J’s mom said, Reading other people’s diaries is pretty fun! Yes, it is 🙂
Cohen has some fascinating insights regarding relationship styles. Her theory, after reading 1,500 diaries from across the country, is that there are priorities that divide relationships into three main styles. These priorities dictate how partners live together, and the amount of priorities sexual, physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual connection receives. She categorizes these three main relationship styles as Lovers, Partners, and Aspirers. Lovers place a high priority on sexual and physical exploration and fulfillment, intellectual or spiritual soulmate connection, and creative communion. Partners place a high priority on having a life partner, religious partnership, daily companionship, and long-term familiarity and habit. Aspirers place a high priority on financial security, professional partnership, parenthood and family, and division of labor. She makes the point that couples can move in and out of relationship styles, but conflict comes when two individuals have different relationship priorities. Two people can make excellent day-to-day companions, but if they have different priorities, their relationship can become very unsatisfying for both people.
Because Cohen herself has an open relationship, she gives a very fair and engaging discussion of open relationships, quoting Helen Fisher and Christopher Ryan. She also gives fair room to kink relationships, the benefits of masturbation and defining sex as a broad experience (not just penis-in-vagina), and the context of cheating (and how cheating can be redefined depending on the relationship and people).
Throughout reading this book, I have continually tried to fit J and I into these boxes. I am not so sure I can. If anything I would put us squarely in between Lovers and Partners. However, if we define sexual exploration as an activity or hobby that J and I enjoy as a couple, I would label us as Partners. Because we enjoy so many other daily activities, enjoy our day-to-day living together and habits, and view each other as life partners, labeling ourselves as Partners makes sense. After talking about it this weekend, we also agreed that we probably fit more of the Lovers role at the beginning of our relationship, when we were head over heels for each other and in the honeymoon stage of our relationship. We also have been thinking about our parents’ relationships… I think my parents are definitely Partners, and I definitely see J’s parents as Aspirers.
I really enjoyed Cohen’s take on relationships, and I also recognize that this is one way to organize our understanding of relationships. She read 1,500 diaries, and organized them into ways that made sense to her. She also offers some basic insights: the happiest diarists know what their needs are, they feel they are on the path to getting them met, and structure their romantic relationships in a way that best supports their needs and connection. In addition, she offers this wonderful statement: “Monogamy is less common than you think.” She sees three basic states of relationships that diarists find themselves in: solo, partnered, and poly. One of her most helpful and insightful pieces is the idea that relationships are not static. We are raised to believe that once we find our “one” we will be with that person forever. That idea induces high pressure for many people, especially younger couples who see the rest of their lives vastly stretched out before them. Is it really realistic to think that we will have one primary partner our whole life? She makes an excellent point that I love: all relationships change and all relationships end (through some kind of separation, including divorce and death); some relationships stick around for a few months while some stick around for decades.
If you are looking for a highly entertaining and thought-provoking read to fly through over a weekend, pick this one up! The myriad diaries offer so many different viewpoints and orientations toward romance, sex, parenting, financial responsibilities, work, and love; you are bound to read diaries that are completely opposite of your experience and ideas, and so you are bound to learn something new and exciting.
PS: If you go to the website, you can register to record and submit your own diary online, which is totally fun! and read other submissions not in the book! In fact, I am starting the week-long project tomorrow 🙂