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  • Our Path to a Plethora of Porn

    April 23, 2013
    Our Path to a Plethora of Porn
    Porn has been with us a long time. Not as long as sex and masturbation, of course, because humans discovered that long before they got the hang of cave art. But once they started finding cozy homes in caves and stuff to draw with, we got our first collections of pornos and/or sex education manuals.
    So, porn’s nothing new, folks. I hate to break it to the Moral Majority types and abstinence-only advocates and all the rest, but humans have been looking at dirty pictures and telling erotic tales for a very long time. Long before the Old Testament prophets. Long before Sodom and Gomorrah were on Yahweh’s hit list. Long before even the decadence of Rome. And certainly well, well before the reign of Ron Jeremy in the heyday of porn movies and the glory days of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines.

    One thing that changed a lot between those early cave-art-porn days and recent history, though, was that porn got a bit harder to get your hands on—or your eyes, I suppose, to be more accurate. With the early humans and maybe even proto-humans drawing smut on the walls of caves, kids and adults alike no doubt got a generous helping of carnal eye candy and non-stop sex-ed.

    After that, once civilization reared its head—and an often judgmental head it is at times—the access to porn went down noticeably at many points.

    Not that it died out completely.

    After all, the ancient Greeks and Romans had sculptures and frescoes in public areas showing things like oral sex and sometimes threesomes, foursomes and moresomes. Plus, they weren't necessarily shy about showing homosexual sex as well as heterosexual sex. The Japanese had erotic woodblock prints, drawings, paintings and other media with sexual imagery going back to at least the 11th century and even having a lot of popularity from the 16th to 18th centuries, when the art was often referred to as “Shunga,” despite a ban on such materials that was laid down in the mid-1600s. India is famous form having made the Kama Sutra available in the second century, and that’s a book that’s as much erotica as it is a sex-ed and relationship manual.

    But certainly, unlike the cave-folk, it wasn’t there in the home or just down the cavern tunnel a bit.

    And by the time we got to more prudish times and cultures, like the Victorian times, people had to act like sex was all icky and find ways to discourage young men and women from masturbating and all that. Uptight though they could be, though, especially in many parts of Europe at various times—what with chastity belts and the like—there were erotic novels in print in the 17th century in France. Primitive forms of photography in the 1800s quickly led to porno images and motion photography quickly led to dirty movies. Tame photoset and films by the standards of many other eras and areas—our own modern times among them—but erotica nonetheless.

    There is a history of men and women even in prudish times getting their visual imagery in private through postcard-sized drawings of sexual situations, through novels, from photos, via paintings, from sculptures and more. The early- and mid-1900s saw the rise of “stag films” that men would gather to watch. In the 1960s and 1970s, we started to see the ability of people to see such movies in theaters instead of cramming into someone’s smoke-filled and booze-scented living room or basement.

    In my own coming-of-age in the 1980s, there were strip clubs, porno theaters, adult films on VHS tapes, novels and skin magazines. Porn that was readily accessible if you were old enough, could fake being old enough, or were savvy enough to find other ways of getting it.

    You know, I think that’s when we really turned a corner on the accessibility of porn again—sometime shortly after the middle of the 20th century but most notable in the ‘80s when we had not only magazines aplenty but also videos we could play at home. Even if you weren't old enough to buy it or rent it yourself, chances were that you found your parents’ or siblings’ stashes at some point and raided those collections when you were home alone.

    Certainly, that was my own experience. My mom almost always had copies of Playboy and Penthouse in a cabinet in her bedroom, as well as a small bookshelf full of books like Emmanuelle and The Story of O—all of which I perused, got excited to and often jacked off to. When I hit 16 or 17, I would buy my own copies of nudie magazines at times, though after a few successful early attempts to do that at bookstores, I finally got asked for ID once and I panicked. I stammered something about having left it at home, fled the store and didn't try that again until I was 18 and really was legally able to purchase it. That was also a point at which I could go to the adult section of the local video rental stores and stock up on stuff to watch when I had the house to myself.

    Then came the 1990s and the early Internet. A time when one could spend hours on a dial-up connection just to download a couple small erotic photosets. When you could find video online to download, the clips were tiny, had poor resolution and were very short—and they took ages to download. It was painful.

    Now, of course, porn is everywhere. When it comes to magazines, books and videos, the access is still limited by age or whether or not someone else has some in your home when you’re under-aged, but the Internet makes porn easily and widely accessible. Sure, parents can put on filters and blocks, but between cable television and the Internet, it’s pretty hard to keep a youth with sex on the mind from finding both the softcore and hardcore porn. Plenty of it is free, too, whether the original creators of it want it to be or not.

    Many folks say this is the beginning of the end for civilization as we know it and a sign that our morals are completely in the toilet. I say history says differently, since erotic imagery (sometimes very graphic) has existed in public and to the eyes of people of all ages in the past, and we’re still around to complain that our morals are shot. If its existence in the past hasn't stopped us from continuing forward and being about as good or evil as we’ve always been on average, porn in any amount online isn't likely to make any bigger or different-shaped dent now.

    If anything, I might argue that it’s better this way, with the Internet making it almost impossible to hide the smut.

    I know that there are some who would argue—though probably not many who regularly read SexIs here at EdenFantasys—that porn is bad. Particularly for women because porn turns men into horrid ravaging beasts. Which is, when you think about it, kind of hard to say with a straight face. Access to porn has steadily gone up since the 1960s, and it really went up when the Internet hit the scene in the 1990s. But sexual assault rates actually went down between 1995 and 2010. Also, a recent porn study had to be shut down because the researchers couldn’t find any men in their 20s who hadn't viewed porn, so they had no control group. If almost all men see porn to some degree, many of them regularly, and sexual assault rates go down, it’s kind of hard to argue it’s poisoning their minds.

    Like I said, I think it’s better now that it’s easy to find. That doesn't mean I want my 7-year-old child viewing it, but when her time comes to begin maturing, I’m glad she won’t have to sneak around and go through huge hoops to see what she wants or needs to.

    For me, porn was a great educator. Not just a primal release valve but a true educator. I was not a successful guy with the gals in high school. I was a virgin still into my mid-20s. But I learned a lot from porn. I learned what the parts were. I learned the many ways they could be stimulated. I realized that sex was more than just sticking a dick in a pussy.

    My mom wasn't a prude. I mean, obviously…she owned erotica herself. But she wasn't shy about telling me what sex was. She didn't leave me ignorant. In fact, she gave me a great book written for teens to explain sexual maturation and sexual issues, as well as giving me “The Talk” a couple times to make sure I understood both the pleasures and risks of sex.

    But to learn what sex was really about and what it could be potentially—well, I got that from hardcore porn and tamer erotica. Yes, porn movies were often outlandish (and still are) but I still got a good idea for the basics. Pictorials in the magazines and erotic stories in them gave me a sense of what sex would feel like and what I could do with a sexual partner.

    It is thanks to porn, in fact, that despite being a virgin so long, I wasn't a terrible lover my first few times out. I wasn't fantastic, either, but I was competent, and I knew to use more than my cock.

    If anything, having fairly ready access to porn as a youth and being able as a young man to go to strip clubs gave me more respect for women. As people in general and as sexual beings. As objects not just of satisfaction but also objects to encourage me to give pleasure. As beings with power over me that could be wielded benevolently or otherwise.

    There can be a dark side to porn; no doubt of that. And with so much available now, some of it very, very kinky, I can understand why people might worry. But young folks are mostly going to gravitate toward what they are naturally inclined to like anyway. Generally speaking, no amount of watching furry porn is going to make someone want to dress up like a cartoon character and fuck unless they’re already wired that way.

    If anything, I like to think that coming back around to an environment in which we can see the erotic images whenever we want will turn sex from some troubling and dangerous mystery into what it should have been all along and what many people through the millennia already knew what it was: A process to be enjoyed and a skill to nurture.

    Now let’s see if we can resist the urge to force porn underground again. It’s a mistake repeated too often in history, and we’re supposed to learn from history, not repeat its errors.

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  • Busting Yourself Out of the Restraints

    March 26, 2013
    Busting Yourself Out of the Restraints ©
    One of the earliest pieces of advice we get in life—whether from our parents, teachers, books or even a sappy sitcom or crappily animated cartoon show—is that “you should be yourself.” It’s an excellent piece of self-affirmation. It’s true. It’s powerful…it’s also often bullcrap.

    Be Yourself

    Not the advice itself, mind you, but the notion that it’s necessarily in your best interest to be yourself, or at least to be yourself in front of too many other people (at least until you’ve developed a thick skin and hearty self-image). Society and the people in it have the tendency to ridicule people for being themselves. Or shut them out. Or make assumptions about them. And that’s even if your “self” isn’t the kind of person who rapes, murders and steals, in which case I agree with everyone that you should consider a new mindset.

    I’m on the cusp of my 45th birthday, and I can clearly remember a time when, if you were gay, being yourself in most parts of the United States would be a good way to end up unemployed, ostracized, beaten up or even killed. Hell, that’s still the case in too many parts of the United States, though it’s far easier to be gay and open about it now than it was during my years as a child and a young man.

    But it’s not just bucking what is considered the norm that gets you into trouble, and the world of sexual relations is a good example of that. Sometimes, trying to carve out just the right niche within a group of supposedly open-minded people is enough to make you seem suspect, or lead you to be seen as weird or just “too complicated.” And isn’t that ironic? As we try to define ourselves in ways that make sense and allow us to more easily frame ourselves to others, we sometimes get told we’re too much work or too hard to figure out.

    To take the sexual theme I’m already on into the metaphorical realms, for many of us our sexual identity doesn’t get to be our own—or our desire to be ourselves isn’t taken well. In essence, our sexual selves get dragged into a BDSM dungeon against our will. Bound to other people’s expectations and rules, and we don’t even have the privilege of a safe word to escape when things get too uncomfortable for us as we try to be ourselves.

    We strive to own our own identities and be proud of them, but that doesn’t always mean our struggle to achieve our own sexual independence is going to be well-received by everyone. In some cases, maybe not anyone who we’re likely to ever meet in person. (And thank God for the Internet, right? Because without the web, a lot of us would have precious few connections to people who understand us and embrace the same labels.)

    I’ve used independence and label in the same paragraph as part of the same sentiment, and that might seem odd to some of you. Labels aren’t the problem with sexual independence, and I’ve said that before here at SexIs. Labels are good, just like name tags at some parties, because it allows you to let people know who you are, and for you to know who they are. It cuts down on confusion. The problem is that often people want to put the labels on us themselves, or re-define the labels we assign to ourselves. Or simply misunderstand or reject our labels altogether and exclude us because they “don’t get it.”

    Not really being an active part of the LGBTQ crowd or having the chance to make many friends within it in recent years, I don’t know what the situation is with the L’s and G’s and their impression of B’s, but I do know it wasn’t that long ago that the prevailing opinion among gays and lesbians was that bisexual people were not to be trusted. They were non-committal or flighty. They didn’t know what they wanted. If you got into a relationship with a bisexual and you were gay or lesbian, prepare for heartbreak because they’ll leave you for the first piece of hot, opposite-gender flesh they see.

    I hope it’s not that bad anymore, but it sure seemed like it was for much of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of this new millennium. And I still run across people online who encounter that problem. Hell, my own wife has gotten thinly veiled attitudes from bisexual people who don’t think she’s “bi” enough to play with or from women who only want to have sex with women who are only into women.

    Yet we both know people online who are clearly into both sexes. People who enjoy each gender equally and have plenty of fun with either if they’re playing the field; also, people who are fiercely monogamous in each serious relationship they enter, regardless of which gender they are involved with at that time.

    It’s unfair to assume that bisexual people are less committed given how often most of us, regardless of sexuality, move from one casual relationship to another or have a series of what seem like serious relationships that don’t work out.

    But others are often so quick to tell us what’s real, and it often conflicts with our reality.

    Although I’m not in the BDSM scene, it’s an area I find very alluring and fascinating, and I frequently see people questioning whether someone is a “real” BDSM person. People who say someone can’t be dominant if they ever show compassion to their sub or defer to them on anything. People who say that you’re not really a sub if you ever question or disobey your dominant. People who think you’re not “pure” enough to be at BDSM parties because you actually like the idea of sexual release at some point and not just bondage or pain simply for the sake of bondage or pain.

    Then there are the polyamory folks who disparage swingers, saying that swingers just want to have wanton, mindless fun while poly folks are into soul-fulfilling commitment—forgetting that most of us have fun with a person before we get committed. And then there are swingers who assume that being poly means shoving a metaphorical stick up one’s ass and never looking at another person sexually again unless they’re an immediate candidate to add to your triad (or whatever size relationship you have).

    All this judgment and resistance to letting us define ourselves makes me wonder how I will be received in various circles. You see, my wife wants to have me in a three-way with another guy. I’m happy to do that—for her. I wouldn’t seek out a guy on my own, but at the same time, the thought of a MMW three-way doesn’t disgust me; I think I could have fun with a guy. I just don’t think I’d want one on a frequent basis, even with my wife present.

    Also, given my smoking fetish, I could be attracted to the right person of trans persuasion. I have a video of a sexy smoking T-girl. Elfin face, thin body, small but distinct tits, long legs, sexy lips. And at the point in the video when that person is smoking and vamping and finally pulling out a penis from the panties, all I can think about is how much I’d like to suck that cock while smoke is blown down over my head. In real life, that T-girl could get me to do just about anything.

    But would I react the same way to a handsome “manly man” who’s a gay or bisexual smoker? Nah.

    So, I consider myself heteroflexible.

    Seems like a good label. I’m not really bisexual, but I’m willing to be with someone who has the same parts as me in the right situation.

    But would people who identify as heteroflexible even find me falling short of their view of heteroflexibility? Would they think I lacked sufficient commitment? After all, my interest in penis is under some very tightly defined circumstances.

    I mean, if a guy liked putting on a latex horse-head mask and fucking a woman from behind while she wears a similar mask and wears a pair of fuzzy Ugg boots, would he be considered a “furry” by people with the furry fetish? Probably not, even though he might identify as such and want to hang out with more traditional furries.

    Personally, I maintain that we should be ourselves, and apply the labels that make us feel right. If you have a penis but truly feel that you’re a woman, it isn’t my place to tell you otherwise or treat you otherwise, no matter what I think. If I consider myself heteroflexible despite the specificity of my interests, and I consider myself a kinkster even though I haven’t been able to get all that kinky in my own sex life very often, then that’s my right.

    I think it’s hard for us to be healthy sexually—or be good sex partners—unless we own our sexuality. Unless we define what is right for us and define what it is we want and like. Sexual independence doesn’t mean we won’t bend at times for another and do something outside our interests. Sexual independence doesn’t mean that we should ignore the fact our labels might not work for others; we can’t force our worldview onto everyone else. Sexual independence doesn’t even mean that we won’t, at times, allow others to define us in their own way, because it’s simply easier for us or makes things better for them.

    No, to me, sexual independence means defining the labels we feel fit us, and being willing to embrace that definition of self, privately at least, and publicly when possible. To be comfortable knowing who we are and doing our best to get others comfortable with it, too. We won’t always succeed, but the important thing is to be true.

    Being true to oneself is the best place to start, because once you’re comfortable in your own sexual skin, it’s going to be a lot easier to open up—and even to be open to something new. If I may play the bondage metaphor again, be willing to break those social bonds at times even if you’re not “supposed to,” and stand up for you who think you are, even if others think you’re off-base.

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  • Let’s Not Make a Big Deal About This, OK?

    February 21, 2013
    Let’s Not Make a Big Deal About This, OK?
    Nothing ventured, nothing gained. For big rewards, you have to be willing to take big risks. No one got ahead by playing it safe…
    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    But sometimes, especially sexually, you don’t really want to take big risks. You know, like having sex without protection in an age of killer STDs and old-school non-killer ones that are becoming harder and harder to cure. Or getting in too-personal a setting with someone you don’t know nearly well enough to trust when you’re drunk off your ass. Letting yourself be tied up in a basement by a dominant you only recently met without telling anyone where you are.

    Or, in the case of my wife and I, trying to navigate the swinger, polyamory and kinkster worlds and indulge our desires without getting noticed. We haven’t been all that terribly active simply because of the fear of exposure. I know, I know, some of you will tell me, “If someone at a kinky event see you and knows you, they have as much to lose as you do.”

    Not exactly true, though. They might have far less to lose or might just have a mean streak. Or no common sense. Some of the younger folks we’ve seen at munches have their faces plastered all over the Internet at places like FetLife, acting like no employer, relative or anyone else could ever find their photos, showing a startling lack of discretion. I would hate to get to know (or get sexually involved) with a person like that who might openly share my business or my wife’s without hesitation.

    But my real point here is that it’s a small world, and if you’re into “non-standard” sexual stuff, be it BDSM, swinging or whatever, and it’s often in a group setting, you may very well run into these people at some point. And the question is, how are you going to react when you do?

    Case in point: My wife and I have only gone to a few swinger events and less than 10 munches in the nearly two years since we decided to open up our marriage and get kinkier, and we’ve already had random encounters with several people outside those events. Part of that is that we live in a state with less than two million people in it. On the other hand, we live in the most populous part of the state, so what are the chances?

    Pretty good, apparently.

    The first swinger event we went to, located more than a 40-minute drive from our home, we joked to each other, “Hope we don’t run into anyone we know,” certain in the knowledge it couldn’t possibly happen. Before an hour had passed, we ran into a couple we knew that lived right in our damn neighborhood. It all turned out good in the end, but still, it was unnerving.

    At another swinger event, a woman who had a mutual friend in common with my wife came to the event solo and was openly surprised and a little nervous to find herself face-to-face with someone who only had one degree of separation from her life.

    Also, my wife lately has taken to going out on Friday night with one or two friends or getting a group together while I stay home. Nothing sexual or kinky about it…just social time with friends unattached to our sexual scenes. At the restaurant where my wife typically starts these nights to enjoy nachos and margaritas, once of the members of the wait staff is a regular at the swingers events we’ve been to a few times. We’ve chatted with him and his lady extensively while at the events, I’ve danced sexy with his lady, and she and my wife did the stripper pole on the dance floor together one night.

    Although my wife has never mentioned the swinging lifestyle when she’s right in his workplace, not even in a sly whisper to him, he (or so my wife says) tends to have this deer-in-the-headlights look like he’s certain my wife will point at him and shout, “Hey, are you and your girlfriend ready to have a foursome with me and my man?!” My wife treats him with total neutrality and discretion in that place he works, and yet he’s still clearly scared shitless seeing someone from the swinging scene there.

    Finally, my wife recently got interviewed on a radio show, and a member of the staff there who she saw from afar (and he saw her, though they didn’t have any reason or chance to talk) is an organizer of one of the munches in the area, which as many munches do tends to focus a lot on BDSM. They shared some laughs via the Internet afterward about that unexpected encounter, but still…that marked the fourth time in less than two years—in a fairly urbanized area with plenty of people—that we’ve run into people we know in these unnerving ways.

    This is the kind of thing that has led my wife to have far less interest in going to events, because she has a growing visibility and prominence in her professional role, and it could quite literally mean the loss of her job if she were to be outed as being a swinger or kinkster.

    Now, this brings two thoughts to mind.

    First, I think we need to remember not to be blasé about our sexual activities with others when those activities could come back to haunt us. If we aren’t careful about the choices of places we publicly show our kinky sides, and if we aren’t careful about who has knowledge of us, we could find that coming back to haunt us in worse ways than an ill-advised tattoo (like one that covers half your face or prominently bears the name of someone you’re currently fucking but chances are you’ll break up with and hate in less than three years time).

    Second, I think we need to do a better job (all of us) of simply not making a big deal out of seeing each other outside of sexual venues. While my wife and I were surprised to see folks who live near us and know us at an event, ultimately we laughed it off with them and we don’t talk about it when we see each other at the grocery store. As for the waiter and the radio guy, my wife reacted to them just like normal people in a normal situation…because…well…that’s exactly what they were.

    I think there’s a strong tendency at times, particularly in the kinky world, to define ourselves and others by their interests and actions. That guy is really into rope-work. That woman is a total pain slut. That couple is into hard swaps with anyone, any time. Sure, friendships are formed at events and in groups; no doubt about it. Some of these folks hang out in totally vanilla ways with regularity. But overall, it’s easy to fall into the trap of defining each other by our sexual proclivities when we meet in such venues, rather than as people first.

    It’s not that odd, I suppose. If you’re a person who is in a line of business, and you meet people at conferences and such, you probably define them by their job. And if you run into them at non-business events, there’s probably a good chance you’ll talk to them about their work rather than about their family, because that line of work is the context in which you know them.

    But I think when it comes to sex, it’s better just not to make a big deal of it when we see each other outside of sexual events. Safer for everyone and more comfortable, too. Don’t make a big deal of reminding the other person that you saw them in a four-way in one of the suites at the swinger event. Also, when you’re surprised by a person you know only in a sexual context in a place like the store or a restaurant, don’t freak out when you see them. Just wave and say, “How are you” like you would with anyone else.

    There will be plenty of opportunities for talking about the sex at the next event. Chances are that the other person probably doesn’t want to discuss it with you at the gym it turns out you both belong to, and you probably don’t, either.

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  • Your Cheatin’ Heart … Or Is It?

    January 17, 2013
    Your Cheatin’ Heart … Or Is It? © Galina Barskaya/Shutterstock
    Life is lived almost exclusively in the gray zone. Things are rarely completely black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Yet despite the very obvious fact that almost nothing is absolute and “morality” is often very much in the eye of the beholder, there is a very strong tradition of looking askance at “extracurricular” sex by married folks or other heavily committed couples.

    Monogamy is considered the rule. The gold standard. The “right” way to go.
    What is so interesting, of course, is that the act of extramarital sex (and I’ll keep using that term, but I’m really talking about committed relationships between a pair of people in general, with or without the wedding rings) is so common. Exact figures are hard to come by, because people don’t want to admit to it. A 2004 survey in the United States ended up concluding that 16 percent of married partners have had extramarital sex, while Alfred Kinsey found in his mid-20th century studies that 50 percent of American men and 26 percent of American women had engaged in extramarital sex. Other studies have tended to hover somewhere in between.

    I mean, this isn’t like other hot-button topics. We can pretty much agree—in overwhelming numbers—that having sex with children is wrong, for example. That it’s a horrid form of rape and a cruel form of abuse. It’s also rare—with estimates that 4 or 5 percent of men would fit the criteria of being a pedophile. Extramarital sex is anything but rare.

    Getting worked up about pedophilia makes sense. Almost never is there any true consent on the part of the minor, and most people don’t engage in the act of doing that to kids. So, it’s deviant. It strays from the norm.

    But to get all in a tizzy about how reprehensible extramarital sex is when it seems like at least one out of every five married adults—and probably way higher rates among unmarried couples who stray—are doing it.

    That’s something that speaks of a fairly normal behavior.

    I’m not about to argue that monogamy is a myth. I’m not saying it’s unachievable. I’m not saying that it’s the natural evolutionary mode for humans to stray when it comes to sex even when they are in long-term committed relationships.

    Any or all of those things might be true. But they also might not. Honestly, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I think monogamy works for a lot of people. Whether it should be the default mode or whether that’s a societal thing foisted on us that holds us back—hell, I don’t know. But monogamy is real and it’s valuable.

    However, so too is non-monogamy.

    And that’s what I really want to talk about: infidelity vs. non-monogamy. Because they aren’t the same. They are related. But they aren’t twins. Siblings maybe. Or cousins. But they aren’t synonymous. And sometimes, I think, what we see as infidelity may not be so cut-and-dried as such. Just as assault can be justified in self-defense, so too can the choice to stray sexually, even without the permission of your partner.

    Non-monogamy is something I’ve discussed before and others here at EdenFantasys and SexIs have talked about, in its many forms. But I’m not here today to promote non-monogamy as a lifestyle nor to explain its pros and cons all that much. Sure, I have an open marriage now (mostly in theory rather than practice) and that only happened in the past couple years, but my experience with non-monogamy goes back more than 15 years with my wife, so I know a thing or two about what is infidelity and what isn’t.

    I wasn’t the only object of desire when I proposed to my wife and when we got married. There was another man in whom she had great interest. She choose me over him when I knelt with ring in hand, but she never really pushed him away. He remained an object of desire for her and a sore spot for me. There were discussions and arguments about it. I accused her once of “loving me but being IN love with him”—I’m not sure what that means, but it sounded good at the time and still does in an absurd way. Eventually I told her that if she needed to fuck him at times to “get it out of her system,” just go ahead and do it, but come back home to me and don’t dare fuck him in our bed unless you want him beaten and dumped on the front porch by me.

    Not exactly what one would call an open marriage or even a healthy and resolved situation.

    Still, had she decided to have sex with him, I don’t see that it would qualify as infidelity. As dysfunctional a form of non-monogamy as it might have been—however unreasonable or silly my “rules” may have been in this context—it was still something I agreed to. I acknowledged that shit might happen and that I would deal with any extramarital sex even if I wasn’t going to like it.

    You see, you can’t be unfaithful if you have permission. It’s not cheating, really, if the other person knows you’re doing it and doesn’t demand you stop. If a teacher sees me copying answers and doesn’t fail me, punish me or demand I stop, then it isn’t cheating. There is tacit acceptance of what I am doing. Not approval, necessarily, but acceptance.

    This doesn’t make an awkward, one-way, grudging form of non-monogamy healthy or good, of course. Non-monogamy, like any other relationship structure, can be awful for one or both parties (even committed monogamy can be terrible, as many faithful and abused spouses can attest).

    What it comes down to is the fact that failing to remain monogamous is a pretty normal thing. Whether it’s infidelity/cheating or a non-monogamous arrangement depends on whether your partner knows about it and tries to put a stop to it or not.

    I know this might seem like semantics, but it isn’t in my opinion. We are too quick to demonize people who step out simply because they had sex with someone else, without considering the larger picture.

    When we tell our friend, Pat, “I can’t believe Chris cheated on you! How horrible!”…well, the fact is we might not know the whole story. Pat (yes, I’m trying to be gender neutral on the names on purpose) may not have been a victim of a callous Chris, no matter how much Pat might want to paint it as such.

    What if Pat hadn’t had sex with Chris in months? Perhaps years? Doesn’t Chris have some right to say, “Enough is enough. We have something worthwhile in this relationship, but if you won’t give me what I need on the sexual front, I’m going to find someone who will” at some point? Even if Pat has some physical condition that makes traditional sexual intercourse impractical, painful or otherwise too much to do, aren’t there other creative ways to coax an orgasm from Chris? Isn’t there an implied contract in a committed relationship that you will see to each other’s pleasure and satisfaction?

    Also, as I’ve mentioned in other recent columns, kinks and fetishes can be a cause of stress in relationships when they aren’t shared. If one partner cannot get into the kink of the other or satisfy it in some way, but neither wants to leave the other, is it infidelity on your part when the one person knows you have an itch they can’t scratch and that you really feel you can’t avoid scratching?

    These are just two examples, but once again, we get into that gray zone. The place where probably 99 percent or more of us live. I don’t know many absolute angels or total devils in life.

    Now, if I simply choose to go find another sexual partner, without any kind of serious provocation on your part…without talking to you first about sexual needs that I have…without at least telling you I’m going to do it…then it’s infidelity generally speaking. If I’m sneaking or I’m doing it for no good reason other than I can—or I don’t care about your feelings—that’s usually cheating. That’s breaking the relationship contract in most cases. That’s generally wrong.

    But often, stepping out isn’t quite that simple and callous. There is more to it.

    So, how do we cut down on infidelity by either finding a good way to remain monogamous or by embracing non-monogamy?

    Communication and commitment.

    I know, the first one is obvious. The second one may confuse some of you because you can reconcile commitment with monogamy but not with non-monogamy. But my wife and are I committed to each other, and we have an open marriage now, with almost nothing in terms of jealousy or hurt feelings. There is no one way that commitment looks—it just means you are highly motivated to stick together.

    We have to talk to each other about what we need. When we aren’t getting it, we have to speak up. And when we speak up, the other person in the relationship needs to listen and take that need seriously in most cases. Because most sexual needs aren’t illegal or dangerous, even if they’re kinky. And many unmet sexual needs aren’t kinky at all but fail to get met for a number of reasons.

    The simple fact is that when we come together in a (theoretically) healthy relationship, we take on obligations. And some of those are sexual ones.

    Sometimes, one person will not be able or willing to meet that obligation. The difference between infidelity and non-monogamy for people in such situations is awareness and consent. The simple fact is that often, lack of awareness of an affair has more to do with denial or conceit than with expert sneakiness on the other person’s part. And consent isn’t always something that you give happily. Sometimes, it’s something you don’t even give explicitly.

    In my mind, if a person needs to find sexual solace in the arms of another, the goal needs to be to avoid infidelity. Whether or not the end result is monogamy, non-monogamy or splitting up depends on the people involved. And people can be wonderful, awful and complex creatures.

    But let’s deal with the issues and call things what they are. Pointing fingers at all people who can’t commit to monogamy and deeming them all “cheaters” or making them out to be oddballs doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, every day and everywhere you go, there are dozens or hundreds of people like that literally all around you. And the fact is, you stand a good chance of being one of them someday, if you aren’t already.

    Continue Reading "Your Cheatin’ Heart … Or Is It?"

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