Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’d heard about people who tied each other up during sex and dressed in costumes and played games, and it sounded reasonable to me. I liked talking in graphic detail about sex, but I’d often share a little too much too fast for some people’s tastes. If I wasn’t giving an earful, I was getting an earful from someone with more personal experience than I—which both enticed and frightened me. My guiding principle, however, was let consenting adults do as they please, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone.
Couldn’t call me a prude.
And then, I suddenly had the opportunity to try things I’d only read or fantasized about; things that “all the cool kids” seemed to be doing—hot wax, whipping, knife play, bondage, ménage à trois…even orgies! And that’s when I realized that I found this new territory a bit…daunting. Could it be (No, it couldn’t be!) that deep down, I was a prude?
I was as shocked as anyone. It’s one thing to say “thumbs up!” to an orgy, when you’re not directly involved. It’s another thing entirely when you’re a participant.
Here’s how it happened…
After separating from “Mr. 69”, my friend “E” and her husband invited me to join them on a camping trip. I’ve known “E” since college and have never met anyone as open or as knowledgeable about sex as she is. In fact, it was via the open marriage she shares with her husband that I learned what “alternative” lifestyles were all about; how they worked in practice, not just theory. They were going to a festival in Maryland to celebrate Beltane—a pagan Goddess/fertility celebration that takes place in the beginning of May. The festival was clothing optional and focused on the sacred in sexuality.
Workshop topics included, but were not limited to: female orgasm, a BDSM Exploratorium, group massage and relationship building/maintenance. We read the program cover to cover. There was a lot of interesting and well-thought-out information about safety, how to approach someone (or someones) you were interested in, and festival do’s and don’ts. We read the big print and the fine print, wondering what our first time would be like. Would we feel uncomfortable or liberated? When actually faced with having intimate relations and sex—because they can be two separate things—with people we barely knew, in gender and numerical combinations we had never tried, would we go through with it? As with most sex-related things, the preparation and anticipation alone were exhilarating.
We arrived at sunset. As we set off for our first workshop, we faced our first big dilemma: clothes or no clothes? It was a clothing-optional weekend, but what was the protocol? Do you show up naked or does naked happen gradually? The real question was: Do we do what we want to be naked, or do we play it safe?
E and I decided to be bold. Naked it was. It was chilly, so we wrapped ourselves in blankets, but they came off as soon as we stepped inside the warm cabin. The upshot of our decision (which we made solely because we both love to be naked and we really wanted to stretch ourselves out of our comfort zone) was that people applauded our bravery. Even those who had previously attended this gathering told us how happy they were that we got the nudity ball rolling, so to speak. We were off to a good start.
Over the course of the weekend, we met some very interesting people. We participated in the BDSM Exploratorium. I had hot wax dripped on me. I was flogged. I spanked people. (I decided spanking wasn’t for me.) I watched people engage in sadomasochistic acts and in dominatrix scenes. I learned a lot about topping and bottoming—including what those terms meant, since I’d not heard them before. I learned about transgender issues in relationships. I learned how to get an orgy started (there is an art to it). I engaged in group sensual massage. I had my body painted. I talked with practitioners about what it was like to live a poly lifestyle and the nitty gritty ins and outs of how it really works when you love and have serious relationships with more than one person. I danced naked around a bonfire with lots of naked strangers and loved every minute of it! I got to have unbelievable, mind-altering, life-confirming, most amazing sexy sex with one of the sexiest men I have ever met! We are still good friends to this day. Thanks to him, I now know what really qualifies as good sex! Hint: It wasn’t what I was having with “Mr. 69”.
In hindsight, when I look at the lessons I took away from that weekend, it wasn’t just about the sex. There were larger issues that I was grappling with. For example, I finally got the chance to have a ménage à trois—just me and two very attractive and skillful guys, who played, teased, aroused and made love with me. The most amazing aspect? Just being able to let go and enjoy it. How many of us feel self-conscious during sex? I know for me, sometimes I wonder, “Is the balance right? Am I doing enough? Am I giving enough?” The accomplishment was being able to accept the affection and live in the moment.
For me, that was a HUGE step. I literally stood up to my fears—fears of rejection, making the wrong choices, what others think of me physically, and what would happen if anyone found out what I was up to, and moved past them. I felt physically different after this weekend, like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and a veil removed from my eyes, but I also felt solid and grounded. I was proud of myself for completing the adventure. I trust myself more now, feel more capable of exploring what I really want and going after it—not just in sex but in all aspects of life. Only after my epiphany did I realize that I never had a clue before.
While that weekend was a wonderful, positive experience in my life, I’m not advocating that everyone run out and have an orgy. Not every aspect of my new sexually open lifestyle has been positive or problem free. I’ve had to make some difficult choices regarding safety, comfort, and relationships. If a sexy stranger approached me, but my intuition told me something wasn’t right, I had to listen to that inner voice and remove myself from the situation—even if it meant possibly hurting someone’s feelings. Once you’ve done something, it can’t be undone. You have to make sure that even if the experience (whatever you decide to try) isn’t for you, that you won’t beat yourself up for trying it or feel guilty. You should pat yourself on the back, and then say, “Okay, probably won’t do that again, but maybe skydiving should be next?”
Over the years, I have amassed many different friends whose identities fall outside of “normal”. But I don’t think of them in terms of labels. They’re just my friends, with their own stories and their own paths to follow. I feel freer and more myself around them than anyone else. We can look at each other and accept one another for who we are and how we want to self-identify—as a woman, a man, a musician, an artist, a businessperson, and as human beings seeking love and acceptance.
I continue to have bold, far-reaching discussions about sex, but now, I don’t say things just to be shocking. I make my points with the hope that people will see there is more than one valid lifestyle out there. It’s like talking about a movie with someone who read the book. Now that I’ve “read the book,” my discussions are more whole, more tangible, more nuanced, and more about the humanity of letting everyone be free to pursue their own happiness, as long as it’s not hurting anyone.
We all come to our sexual awakenings in different ways and at different times, and those stories are precious. Living through these changes in consciousness can be unsettling but rewarding in the long run. I now know what I am made of, and that I can trust myself to make the right decisions for me. I took the road less traveled… And I can say with certainty, I am not a prude.