Getting better, getting laid and getting paid. Sometimes things just all come together.
I recently watched an old Dan Savage video where he answers the question “do threesomes ruin relationships?”. He answered that if there is a problem or some kind of lack in a relationship then adding another person into it for a charged sexual liason might very well ruin a relationship, but successful threesomes happen as well. It’s just that you don’t hear about the successful ones. The people having successful threesomes are not running around telling their friends and family about their hot three-way over dinner; they are not “out” about it.
Over the course of the last year, certain features of my life have enabled me to have regular fulfilling sex – including group sex – in the context of varied yet stable and emotionally fulfilling relationships. These features include being bi, being poly, having good communication skills to establish consent, having bi poly friends and places to hang out together. Safe sex is a top priority, as is consent, as is communicating openly about needs and preferences. If someone finds a new partner, this news is greeted with joy and maintaining other relationships and activities outside of this friendship group is also a priority.
The nature of this sexual contact is such that we find ourselves talking about being happy, being fulfilled, finding positive effects on our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Personally, I have been on a deliberate journey to make sex as positive an experience as possible due to starting from very negative beginnings. The success of this journey is a source of happiness and pride for me.
In the context of the wider world it seems clear that the more sex is talked about with children and young people in an open and honest manner the better their subsequent choices are and the more healthy they can be. Sex can and should be a topic of conversation that is as normal and natural as one’s other activities and hobbies.
As an activist, I would like to be ‘out’, especially about the benefits of group sex, which I have spoken about before. But when I imagined going in to work and someone asking me about my weekend and my reply being that I had a birthday party that involved a select guest list of comfortable friends and we all had amazing sex, I couldn’t see that being taken as an acceptable detail of conversation, even though I’m out to my colleagues in every way I can think of.
I have someone in my life who takes great pains and great pleasure in pointing out that I don’t know what the boundaries are of “normal” conversation and regularly go too far with what I’m willing to say. I find it emotionally draining to trigger someone else’s sense of discomfort (much more so than dealing with my own), even though in most cases of people being ‘out’, it is very much to the greater good that people are exposed to things so that they start to perceive them as normal, or everyday.
It is to everyone’s benefit if we can talk openly about sex (including lack of it), but the social pressure in the UK that bears down upon anyone who wants to start the conversation is weighty indeed.
One of the first comments one hears when one is discussing polyamory is something along the lines of “so, it’s just a way to have more sex” which of course, it isn’t. Polyamory is about maintaining the personal skills of emotional honesty and non-judgemental, effective and timely communication in order to be able to build multiple relationships with other human beings. The idea of “more sex” is a relative concept that is entirely useless and was surely only invented for marketing purposes.
Implicit in the “more sex” (or “lots of sex”) comment is the judgement that wanting to have more sex is in some way an undesirable or negative goal to have. Which is isn’t.
Sex feels nice and pleasure is good for you – The Ethical Slut
However, since we’re on the topic, polyamory is in some ways all about sex, because it is an alternative to monogamy and monogamy is all about sex.
There are differences between a romantic relationship and other kinds of relationship, such as with friends and family members. Monogamy comes with an elaborate set of rules and of course, you can only have one person in a romantic monogamous relationship. But the ultimate way to tell if someone is in a romantic relationship with you, is married to you, or is faithful to you is if they have sex only with you. Despite acknowledging that other kinds of fidelity are desirable, for example emotional fidelity, it is only the sex thing that has instant power to change a relationship within monogamy.
Since polyamory typically involves the removal of sexual activity as the ultimate marker of fidelity, instead using more personal and fluid ideas of how to maintain security and happy feelings between people who are emotionally involved with each other, polyamory is all about the sex.
This is a testament to My So Amazing Life and is not even a #firstworldproblem or a #middleclassproblem rather a #mylifeistooawesome problem or #poorlittlepolygirlhastoomanysexpartners kind of problem but STILL it has become a fact of my life that group sex is easier, happier, simpler and freer than traditional one-on-one sex.
My friends in the bi-poly world tend to agree. We’ve all been in situation whereby we know the people around us are all 1)bi 2)non-monogamous 3)actively practicing safe sex and due to feeling safe, happy & fuzzy, some chatting has turned into cuddling has turned into kissing has turned into fondling has turned into sex with more than one other person. I call situations like this (parties, conferences) ‘euphoric’ spaces, because something about the safety and large numbers of people feeling friendly towards each other can build a sense of giddy abandon. In ‘euphoric’ spaces it seems easier to have sexual interactions with people, to do sexual activities you might not otherwise do and do these things with people you might not otherwise do it with. Within group sex situations, things are easier to do because there is less pressure to perform, individual acts have less overall meaning, experimentation is the only option and there is a sense that anything is worth trying and anything that feels good is a bonus. There are also simply ‘more’ body parts to play with and more minds creatively attacking the problem, if you’ll excuse my phrasing.
It’s really rather lovely.
Now we come to my (not really a) problem. I have lately been thinking of the etiquette of seeing the people you have been ‘euphoric’ with outside of those spaces. The first instance is fine, you all had sex when high on hormones at a party and now you’re not so interested in each other. But what happens when another ‘euphoric’ space comes around? Is it ok to have sex with someone again in a euphoric space when you wouldn’t normally? Does it sort of imply, “I only fancy you in a heightened state, but when we’re on our own together you turn me off” ? In poly circles it’s traditional to just have a chat about it, and if everyone is ok with it, then it’s fine.
But sometimes getting to know the person actually turns you off them as a person and so you wouldn’t want to be in a sexual relationship with them, you also can’t really find common ground to ‘have a chat’ but when you’re in a euphoric space, all you can think of is the lust and it’s tempting to chuck away the knowledge that you don’t like them that much and dive on in. Is such a course of action duplicitous? Callous? To be avoided? Is this monogamy ethics, within which one is supposed to both fancy, love and be a friend to your only partner, but which does not necessarily apply in poly?
It still feels wrong, but am I overthinking this?
It seems I’m one of the only people in my friendship group to be wondering about these things. They believe you should follow your positive feelings in the moment and it is unlikely to create problems. If problems do arise, we’re all poly, we can talk about it. Nonetheless, for me it seems a bit too laissez-faire considering we’re normally so good at looking after people’s feelings, particularly when tied in with other thoughts I’ve had about dominant type people and submissive type people (and I’m not talking about kink, here).
Myself and my friend term these people ‘carers’ and ‘chargers’. ‘Carers’ are people who naturally incline towards accommodating other people’s needs before looking after their own. ‘Chargers’ are people who go forth into the world, doing their own thing and even though they ask if everyone else is ok with their actions, they don’t know they have carers in their life who don’t speak up for their own needs. Chargers can trample other people with no idea they’re doing it. I am certainly a charger who was once with a carer. In a broader sense, there are people who are less able to communicate their needs or desires and the more loud, confident people need to take care to create a space (which could take time and lots of shutting up) so that the less loud people can express themselves. I feel that charging into euphoric spaces might lead to quieter folks developing crushes or stronger feelings for people who do not return the affection. Those quieter folks with the crushes might wait until the next euphoric space to be with their crush, and rationalise that they enjoy what they can get, but surely an unspoken desire where the object of affection has no idea of the feelings involved is bad for everybody.
All of that was just an aside to another non-problem I’m having right now. I’ve noticed that I have ups and downs with individuals in my life, both in terms of relationships and in terms of sexual problems, which is to be expected, however I sometimes find myself in potential group sex situations with these same people and I find (I think) that I’m perfectly happy to be in these situations with the individuals. I’m happy to see them having sex, I think I’m even happy to have sex with them. Even if the problem between me and them is about sex. Again, it’s something about the dilution of individual elements into a greater whole. Personal problems seem small and far away when in a group of people who just want to touch each other in pleasant ways. (It kinda goes without saying that, as a poly with a few year’s experience, I don’t really have many feelings of jealousy and I do have big feelings of pleasure when I see my partners having fun with other people.) This is not to say that I haven’t also felt uncomfortable in group sexual spaces, but I’m very happy to leave such situations to look after my own feelings, and it’s normally my own vague discomfort rather than raging jealousy or sadness. In general, group sex is an extremely positive experience.
I really don’t know how to navigate this at all. This was not in the handbook of life. Shall I, more or less, avoid these euphoric spaces when I have problems with individuals so that I don’t put the problems constantly on the back burner? Shall I make sure all problems are sorted before something like this happens, and withdraw from these spaces if there are unsettled issues? Or shall I go with my feelings, engage in a happy way with these spaces, and perhaps, in the best possible of instances, use these euphoric spaces as a way to heal problems, with myself and with individuals? If the problem is about sex, then having positive sexual experiences in a less high stakes context might be an excellent way to move forward.
(Indeed, just to get hippie for a moment, I think the absence of group sex in mono/Christian cultures might go some way to explain the pathology our society seems to exhibit at the moment. I wonder how easy it would be to decide to cut people’s benefits if the deciding person was regularly in a room of 100 bodies all having sex together.)
I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know for now is that group sex can be easier and happier than couple sex, and that fact is complicating my decision-making process considerably!
I want to invest this act with romance, with feeling, with emotion, with story, with magic. I want to screw everything up as tight as possible. I want to curl my toes, to cross my arms, to squint my eyes, to clench my pelvic floor and to go inside of myself, to that dark, deep universe. To go to that nameless endless cosmic space that is inside me and profoundly outside of me, because it is outside of space and time. I want to be taken to that place, to be held and rocked, my body in comfort so that I can disconnect and journey there, to that expanse of dark power, glorious beauty, endless triumph. I want to forget I am observed, I must be able to feel wild, unrestrained, to use the intense pleasure of my body to escape my body, to abstain from this reality, just for a minute, just for a moment.
This is the seat of my power. This is ecstasy.
And for it I need complicity.
The denial of the story, the dismissal of the she-magic, has broken my heart.
In the circles I move in (20 somethings, quite a few queer folks) it is considered correct, necessary and even polite to realise that sex is not simply the act of penis-in-vagina-until-male-ejaculation-and-sleep. This is all to the good. However I was in conversation with someone at BiCon about how, in one male and one female sexual encounters, it now feels like it has gone too much in the other direction. In the loose narrative framework of how one can expect sex to go down these days, there seems to be too much emphasis on the female orgasm. Suddenly sex is all about foreplay and massage and dextrous fingers for as long as it takes (hours… days?) until the female orgasm is achieved. Maybe more than once.
[At this point I can feel some kind of disembodied rational voice over my shoulder shouting sarcastically “first world problems!” but since we have started, let us, with due knowledge of our privilege, continue]
This expectation that sex is largely about taking the time to stimulate a female orgasm leads, somewhat ironically, to a strong feeling of pressure to perform. Performance anxiety is not something I would have expected to feel in 21st century sex.
I understand that the intentions are positive, but I find it disempowering that someone might think that, with enough foreplay and given a long enough amount of time, an orgasm will occur. The assumption that orgasms are achievable or even desirable, is also somehow offensive to me.
I find it somewhat rude to be rubbed, rolled and “stimuated” and if I do manage to come have my partner declare “I gave her an orgasm”. You did nothing of the sort. I did my orgasm. My orgasm is inside me, in my mind, my brain, my spine, my nipples, my guts and most especially in my secret imagination. It is a process like dreaming, felt through a shifting combination of emotion, imagery and mental synaesthesia, all supported by a narrative mesh. Physical stimulation is useful but potentially (and actually) optional. For the most part I am attempting to ignore the outside world as much as possible when trying to orgasm and having someone fucking around with me (even if it is in awed, reverent, interested or even joyful enthusiasm) is at best distracting and at worst infuriating. The process of my orgasm is hard work that takes effort and concentration. It has taken me many years of practice to switch into a mind/body state whereby I can orgasm at all, let alone to run through my ‘process’ with any speed or finesse. My orgasms are mine, they are private and part of their charm is that they are in some way unknowable.
This post made me think a lot about how I “do” my orgasms, (at the moment I have one technique with myself and another technique for orgasm with penis inside me – I have very rarely had an orgasm from non=penis-but-someone-is-there scenarios). I’ve decided I would like to develop non-penis-but-someone -is-there scenarios, not least because I now have fairly regular sex with women (and all people have hands, figners, tongues etc.) Perhaps I shall get back to you.
* I’m assuming a binarised gender because I’m describing interactions between cis males and cis females. Other types of gender, sex and sexuality exist, but this orgasm-prejudice is for me situated within the aforementioned framework. Throughout this post I refer to female orgasm to mean not-male or not-penis orgasm. I would have used ‘vaginal’ orgasm but this implies a type of orgasm, ie not-clitoral rather than vagina-haver orgasm.