TMI Tuesday – Should We?

This weeks TMI will involve a few terms that can be mis-interpreted or possibly unfamiliar. This article will give some background to these terms.

  1. Agree or Disagree – If people want to have more than one spouse they should be allowed to do that.

In theory yes. There are many positives about a situation where there are multiple spouses. However in cultures where multiple spouses are allowed (usually a man with multiple spouses) the practice can be less than desirable. Often the result of the man rich enough to support multiple spouses exercising his rights can restrict the rights of other people in his community.

2. Do you believe in ethical non-monogamy?

Yes, obviously. That lifestyle choice is what spawned this whole blog.

3. Is polyamory something you want?

Sometimes I think yes. Other times I think no. Similar to my answer to question 1. the theory sounds good and there are examples of polyamory kicking around that show it is possible and sometimes an awesome way to live. The realities of polyamory can sometimes be quite different. If you think about the amount of effort that goes in to keeping one relationship running smoothly then think about how much effort will go into maintaining two or three intertwined relationships simultaneously. The effort does not increase evenly as each person is added, it expands exponentially.

Yes I am a Mathematics teacher. Graphs make a bunch of sense to me!

4. Do you wish that your ethical non-monogamy was a societal / cultural norm?

Yes. It would make my life much, much simpler. I do feel that there is a gradual shift towards acceptance of this kind of lifestyle but, like the acceptance of same sex marriage, the progress in infinitesimally slow. The internet has allowed people to read about and become educated about a lot of sub – cultures which is helping with this acceptance.

5. If you are in or have been in an open sexual relationship, what are the best bits?

The freedom. In my relationship I am free to pursue things that are not always available to a 48 year old married mother of two. I am free to explore sexual antics and have adventures without fear of damage to my relationship with my husband. A note of caution however. Open relationships do not mean open slather. This is where the ethical part comes in.

Bonus: Describe what your ideal intimate and / or sexual relationship would look like today.

I SUCK at outlining exactly what I want. I can’t think what would be different from what I currently have in my ideal situation.

Bonus Bonus: Now that I am on holidays I really should play with my selfie stick and perhaps work out the timer thingy. But here are some shots I took last Saturday when I had my fancy undies on.

This post is part of this week’s TMI Tuesday. For more TMI goodness click the image below.

Unexpected Implications of Monogamy

I posted recently about our deeply rooted ideas and feelings structured around monogamy. I alluded to the way that our thoughts surrounding monogamy are so deeply ingrained that they bleed into our feelings. I started writing that post a few days ago. It was in response to a comment passed by a Twitter follower. As I wrote it I had no idea about how ironic the content would be in my own life.

I have documented a few times on these pages about my encounters with Johnny. I have known this man for about seven or eight months. From the time we first made contact it was electric. There was never an encounter I had with him that left me feeling unsatisfied. He was always a perfect gentleman.

A few days ago I received a message from him (worded beautifully) telling me that he had started a serious romantic relationship and our time had to end. He wished me well and told me a bunch of stuff that made me tear up. As I write these words I feel the tears threatening to make their appearance again. I want to emphasise that my relationship with this man was in no way romantic. We never went on a date. We never even had a drink together. The weekend we met Covid restrictions were starting to be enforced and all public meeting places like bars and coffee shops were closed. We met in a park for about fifteen minutes before that first electric touch and it was all fucking from there.

But fucking is not impersonal. It is the most personal thing we can do as humans. There is no clothing, you are skin to skin, breath to breath. Neither of us held back or lied or pretended it was OK when it wasn’t. We shared and we pushed each other to try new things. Well I pushed him mainly but he didn’t argue. Even though I don’t know how he drinks his coffee and what he does for a living or what kind of music he likes I know the look he gets when he is about to cum. I know how hard and fast and deep he likes it. He knows the parts of my body that most people will never see, thankfully. Just because our friendship was made of a chain of naked, sweaty sessions of sex and not a million mundane conversations about children and food and abstract ideas does not make it less intimate. I does not negate the feelings of loss when it is ended.

And so I was sad when I received his message. Not angry, because he did nothing wrong. He was, as always, a perfect gentleman. I was not ready to move on but I understand why he was. The irony is in the fact that I could not share the loss of my friend with anyone around me. Despite believing in non-monogamy and accepting that this feeling of loss was completely valid and natural. Despite knowing that as far as my marriage and ‘primary’ relationship was concerned this relationship was consensual in every aspect. I could not share with the vanilla world my feeling of sadness.

I could not explain why I was feeling so bummed. Nor could I really explain to my students why my face was not happy. Of course, like teenagers, they assumed my mood was somehow related to them; but that is a separate issue. I could not share my feelings with my colleagues. If it had been a neighbour or other friend, the kind I shared a million mundane conversations with, I could have told everyone I met that day and they all would have sympathised. But because he was out of the box I couldn’t. Even with a protracted explanation the vanilla world is so entrenched in monogamy that they would miss the point. I would be judged. For wanting to be non-monogamous, for enjoying it, and worse, for admitting that I actually like sex.

We like things to fit into neat boxes. We like rules and boundaries. Except when we don’t. Mostly we like rules to apply to other people so we can be sure how to react to them. When someone doesn’t follow the rules you have set for them, and for yourself (when you choose to follow them) it is unsettling. Non-monogamy is like that. Unsettling. It doesn’t follow the rules. It is not predictable and you can never know exactly what it means for a given person.

Of course I will not feel like this forever. As I type I feel the loss becoming fainter. In time I will be pragmatic about it and those evenings will become just a part of my history. Memories of being amazing and daring to be different.

My Ironically Monogamous Brain

I wrote a post a while back about my biological theory relating to the behaviour and fascination with Alpha males. In it I espoused my theory about the reasons why women are so strongly attracted to Alpha Males even though many of them are quite toxic to be around for any length of time.

I believe that the idea of monogamy was something invented by weaker men who wanted to ensure that they could capture a female and keep her at his beck and call for as long as he liked. Mr Jones and I are currently watching the Netflix series The Tudors.

In this drama based on the events during the reign of King Henry VII n overwhelming amount of thought is given by the characters to which women will marry which men. In this society marriage is many things, a political tool, a strategic maneuver and a way to beget offspring that will inherit. Women’s value is placed on their attractiveness and their ability to bear children, particularly male children. Their purity is also of key importance. They must appear to only have sex with one man or their value is completely lost and they will never be able to secure a good marriage.

It is out of this mess of religious influence over political thought that our modern ideas of monogamy emerged. Today marriage does not have the same strategic value it once did and male heirs are definitely a thing of the past, Gina Reinhart is an amazing Australian example of this. But we cling to our ideal of monogamy. Even in a relationship that shuns the idea of formal marriage and religious ideas of purity until marriage we still cling desperately to monogamy.

I never really understood completely how deeply and firmly monogamy is entrenched into our psyche until I had a lightbulb moment while reading a message from a follower. In it he describes his experience with a woman he is seeing outside his marriage. It is his first experience of non-monogamy, so to speak. What grabbed my attention was his mention of how he felt uncomfortable with his new lover’s openness about other men she was seeing.

His words struck a chord in my brain. I too feel this way sometimes. It is a little confronting when a lover shares some details of other lovers during conversation. When a man I am seeing is not available to me because he has other commitments I get a little jealous.

Which is weird really. I mean I am going home to my husband after I finish with them aren’t I? They would be foolish to think that they are the only extramarital dalliance I have entertained. They just have to go on a scroll through these pages. So who am I to think I am the only person who takes up their attention? It is ironic, stupid and evidence of the deep rooted ideas that are planted in everyone’s brain by Disney and the likes.

Every woman wants to be a princess and the complete apple of some man’s eye. Every man wants to be the knight in shining armour who captures the heart and undying devotion of the woman he chooses. I mean even Fifty Shades of Grey follows this formula. And so even when I am with someone outside of my marriage. When I am fucking Lancelot with the full knowledge of King Arthur, so to speak, I feel jealous because Lancelot also spends time with Jenny the chambermaid.

The non-monogamist in me is strongly cynical of this kind of ideal. It grates against my conscious mind. My mind knows it is dumb. My heart is still wanting to be the complete focus of the man in front of me. My ego cannot completely cope with not being the complete focus of the man in front of me. It seems it will take some time to catch the heart and the ego up with my enlightened mind.

Blurred Lines

The thing about swinging is that it opens doors. Doors to fantasies that you didn’t know you had, doors to understandings about people and relationships that vanillas never have, doors to a world where a lot of things are OK even though the vanilla world thinks it is not.

This world can be very liberating. When you step through that door you are taking yourself to a place where a lot of the regular rules don’t apply. Expression of your sexuality is allowed. Even if it isn’t exactly everyone else’s cup of tea. The general attitude expressed by most people in this world is that as long as everyone is consenting then everything is good.

In the regular world there are rules about this. A person in a relationship is clearly out of bounds to everyone else. Outsiders think that the swinging world abolishes this rule completely. That everyone is available to everyone if there is attraction. The truth is not quite that simple.

Yes people in relationships can be free to explore other people they are not in a relationship with. Yes people can have multiple sexual relationships, even multiple romantic relationships. Is everybody happy with the situation all the time? In a word, no. The key word is, as it is in the vanilla dating world, consent.

In the vanilla world consent is pretty clear. It is about one person saying yes to another. Once you get into non-monogamy consent becomes complex. The two people getting naked together might be all good and ready to say an enthusiastic yes but there are other people in the picture, others who have a stake in what is going to happen. Consent must be given by them as well.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the intending couple get naked and then sit down and phone all of their current partners to ensure that there is informed consent. In these situations consent may have been discussed beforehand, eg as they dress to go to the party or even as they make the decision to embark on opening their bed to others. Consent in these situations can be like a long term permission, not a case by case basis.

But life is not black and white. There is ALWAYS an exception, situations NEVER play out exactly as you expect and you frequently find yourself dealing with the result of the unexpected or the unplanned.

For example a situation I found myself in recently. Mr Jones and I attended a swinger’s weekend where we made some lovely new friends. In fact you can read about it here. The weekend was organised by an experienced couple through a group of swingers. It wasn’t publicly advertised. To be in the group you had to be “in the scene” so to speak and be referred by someone. One of the couples we met had an interesting dynamic. Mr introduced Mrs as very new but himself as experienced in the past. On the first evening alcohol was consumed, Mrs seemed happy to participate and get her toes wet. Everything was going swimmingly.

The next day she was more reserved. The real statement was when eight people got into the spa and she was the only one wearing a swimsuit. On the second night as cocktails were consumed and the party heated up Mr and Mrs retired to bed, stating they had partied too hard the night before.

A few weeks later Mr contacted me. The reality of the situation became a little clearer. They were not, as we thought, a married couple. In fact they are not even living together. Not that much of an issue except he admitted to me that Mrs really only expresses herself that way when she has been drinking.

This admission only came out after some flirting and a clear statement on his part that he found me attractive and definitely wanted to take things further. Here is the blurred line. I have the required consent to go and fuck most of the men I encounter. I think this man does not. But he has not stated this. He is clear that he wants Mrs to enjoy the delights of our world but she isn’t confident. How much encouragement should Mr Jones and I give? How much of this situation is him trying to “encourage” her to a place where he can be out and about? I got into a situation like this once before. Pet did not have consent from Mrs Pet to be with me. The contortions he went through to make that situation happen were interesting to say the least.

In the end he and Mrs Pet did not make it. I guess his single minded pursuit of women out of his reach contributed to that but really the danger signs were there in the beginning. The point is that it is hard to tell where the line is when it comes to consent of other partners when finding your way around the swinging world. Most of the time you are relying on people to tell the truth. Most of the time they do, but sometimes they don’t.

Pet never really lied about the way things were between him and Mrs Pet. He just manipulated the situation slightly. I don’t think my new friend is really lying to me about his girlfriend. He hasn’t suggested a meeting between the two of us and maybe his isn’t thinking about that. I honestly don’t know. Which links back to the issue of having to rely on people telling the truth.

Mr Jones and I are honest. About everything. It is the secret to our success. If you want to call what we have as success. But I can’t expect everyone to have that standard. Experience has taught me that many people struggle to be honest. In the end it is safe to say that freely given, informed and enthusiastic consent is difficult to obtain from everyone in this world.

Trying to be Safe

No one in my house is awake. I get myself up because;

  1. I want to work on a story for the blog
  2. I have a bunch of stuff I need to work through before I go back to school next week after summer holidays. (Yes I am still on holidays and that means I shouldn’t work but … it is too hard to explain)

So what do I do, I scroll through Twitter of course because procrastination is my middle name. BUT then I came across this article describing a woman’s experience of explaining a non-linear monogamous sex life to her gynecologist. In short, for all of her sex life she has tried to do the right thing to ensure that she doesn’t get infected with an STI. It is not a black and white process, nothing to do with biology ever is. (Something I can never seem to get my students to understand but I digress). She finds herself pigeonholed and belittled by many medical practitioners who don’t always ask the right questions or even prescribe the right tests.

Of course everyone’s experiences are different. But what happened to her, how she felt about what she was doing and how medical professionals interacted with her is similar to my own experience.

For many years I would land in a doctor’s surgery and ask for an STI screen, not entirely regularly but when I remembered. I didn’t always have a regular GP but I tried. The conversation would go a little like this;

“So what can I do for you today?”

“I need an STI screen,”

“OK. Has something happened that you are concerned about?”

“No,”

At this point a puzzled look crosses the doctor’s face. I can see them thinking “WTF???” I hurry to explain,

“My husband and I are swingers, we have multiple partners,”

“Right…” This revelation always made doctors uncomfortable. Strangely they can look at people’s lumps and bumps, examine all parts of their anatomy with that doctor face that hides emotion. But when they are faced with something that challenges a fundamental cornerstone of our culture, their professional facade falls apart. It took me many years before I found a GP who didn’t fall apart at this revelation. Not surprisingly this man had a history of working with women in prison and also in a clinic that had many sex workers as clients. His feelings about my lifestyle choice were for the most part positive. He did of course give me the obligatory safe sex rant that made me feel like all my sexual encounters should look like this

Errrm I’ll pass. As much as I hate condoms I do use them in the standard accepted manner, ie on a penis to contain bodily fluid. I use them during all of my sexual encounters with people who are not my husband.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a consultation with a doctor who specializes in hypertension. I was, and still am, suffering from this inherited condition, thanks Mother. This doctor was trying to eliminate known triggers and potentially remove the need for me to take medication. The topic of me taking the contraceptive pill came up. She questioned the need for a long term, married, 40+ woman to be on a medication that clearly had links to the condition that I was trying to eliminate.

She was much more professional about my reasons for insisting on this medication than many of her colleagues had been. Yes, a baby fathered by a man other than my husband is a much less desirable outcome than a possible slight reduction in my blood pressure. Interestingly since menopause has come into my life I have not taken the pill for almost a year and my blood pressure? Still high, I am still taking medication.

The general tone of the article I read was frustration that medical practitioners and educators lack empathy and probably knowledge about sexual and relationship choices that vary from the standard, boy – girl one partner only type. Our culture is so strongly rooted in the heterosexual marriage with a view to producing children that most people can’s see past it. Even when this model clearly fails the majority of people.

The world is overpopulated, no-one is really arguing against that idea. But still we expect that every human of child bearing age will want to produce offspring. So many children are scarred by being the product of toxic, malfunctioning marriages but still we push the fantasy of monogamous, happily ever after. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome. If this is so then the world has clearly gone insane.

 

Well Duh

In an insomniac Twitter scrolling session I came across an article published in Psychology Today about the strength of open relationships. The study outlined in the article described some research relating to communication, mutual consent and comfort in different types of relationships ranging from monogamous to open with a couple of categories in between.

The article went on to explain that monogamous and open relationships were high functioning if communication between partners was good. It defined a relationship as partially open or one-sided monogamy if one partner is engaging or wants to engage in extra curricular sex but the other doesn’t. Not surprisingly these relationships did not rate as high functioning. I can’t imagine why. The kicker that made myself and Mr Jones laugh out loud was the concluding paragraphs;

The bottom line of these findings, published in The Journal of Sex Research,

 appears to be that mutual consent, comfort, and communication are crucial ingredients—regardless of the type of open relationship. Lacking those, sex outside the relationship can be felt like a betrayal and can put an enormous strain on the couple. As lead author Rogge pointed out, “Secrecy surrounding sexual activity with others can all too easily become toxic and lead to feelings of neglect, insecurity, rejection, jealousy, and betrayal, even in nonmonogamous relationships.”

The research emphasizes that these are important considerations, not only for people engaging in open relationships but in any relationship that the couple hopes to be sustainable and rewarding, long-term.

Really? Someone needed a study to come to that conclusion? Really? Are people that bad at relationships that they need a psychologist to explain how toxic secrecy is to a relationship?

To be fair the regular Joe has a very limited understanding of how open relationships work. In fact anyone not in MY relationship doesn’t understand how MY open relationship works because they are not part of if. Every relationship is different with different norms, rules, boundaries etc. Being open doesn’t change that. There is an assumption amongst monogamists who make up the overwhelming, self-righteous majority of our culture, that open relationships = open slather. Meaning that if I give consent to non-monogamy then my partner and myself are out there fucking every thing that moves without any consideration for the other person’s safety or feelings.

The writer of this article seemed to plan their study from this perspective. The way the final paragraph is written seems to assume that they were thinking that consenting to sex outside the primary relationship means that these activities are not discussed and that there are no boundaries. Certainly there are non-monogamous relationships that do work this way but as the study pointed out they are not robust and lack of communication is going to ultimately bring everything undone.

Mr Jones and myself can’t understand why these findings are such a revelation to the researchers. If communication is the cornerstone of a conventional relationship why wouldn’t it be the cornerstone of an unconventional one? In my experience communication in non-monogamy is even more critical. There are more feelings being juggled, more than two sets of expectations, more than two sets of emotional needs. It is just more complicated so of course there needs to be more communication.

The mystery and urban myths that surround swinging and non-monogamy are sometimes so laughable. Indeed I think sometimes the members of the vanilla world deserves the somewhat derogatory label of “muggle” that I have heard used to refer to them. I hope that studies like this, however obvious the outcomes seem to be to Mr Jones and myself help to debunk some of these myths.

In this world of accepting the alphabet of sexual orientation we still have a long way to go before we start to accept the idea that monogamy is the vanilla of the relationship spectrum and there are so many other valid flavours to try.