Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies

As is often the case on road trips and long flights I was able to get some good reading and writing done… maybe I need to find a way to do this more. Anyway, I finished reading “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?” by Brett Kahr. This 400-page book is the culmination of a multi-year study conducted primarily in the UK (though there are some US participants) about people’s sexual fantasies. These fantasies are what goes through a person’s head during masturbation and sex with a partner. The research was conducted through online surveys completed by over 23,000 people and 122 intensive face-to-face interviews with volunteers. It appears to be the most comprehensive attempt to catalog and interpret human sexual fantasies that anyone has ever done.

While I found the intentions of the study and premise of the book fascinating my feelings towards the book are bitter-sweet. As a Freudian psychotherapist Kahr spent much of his time focusing, analyzing, and, in my opinion, unjustifiably fishing or hoping for childhood trauma to explain sexual fantasies that people had. He mentions alternative approaches like evolutionary psychology only twice and only in passing. I understand that he is a Freudian but if his attempt was to objectively or comprehensively attempt to look into sexual fantasies and their foundation (if one exists) he should have brought in some alternative view points. To him humans seem to be born as a blank slate with no genetic predispositions or tendencies in place from evolution.

Kahr often at times come off as a bit judgemental and sex-negative, and even a bit LGBTphobic. He focuses several times on homosexuality possibly being linked to childhood trauma and child rearing but little acknowledgement of a biological aspect. He also seems to see all cross-dressers as “transvestites”. It also seemed like a negative judgement when he penned the term “intra-marital affair” to describe thinking about someone other than your spouse, as if thinking of another is a form of cheating. Some may agree that fantasies are cheating (but if they really are based in trauma or evolution it is cheating we have little to no control over) not everyone does and I think it weakens the betrayal of true affairs if we attach that phrase to a passing thought during masturbation.

Clearly, I have some problems with Kahr’s approach, but I want to give him some benefit of the doubt, it is possible that there is a generational gap and cultural one between he and I. He is British and a bit older than I, while Americans and our friends across the pond are similar in many ways I can’t help but wonder if the stereotypes about prudish non-sexual Brits might have some truth to it. It has also been almost a decade since this project started and a lot has changed in sexual research and views on fantasies in the last 10 years, particularly with the exponential growth of internet access and the pornography that comes with it.

There were also some wonderful things within the book though, and I actually very highly recommend it. Kahr’s analysis later in the book provides a lot of great information and provides some support to his hypothesis in some of the cases. There clearly can be a trauma at the foundation of sexual fantasies, and many of these trauma fantasies are causing great distress and harm to the individuals. In cases where people can’t live the lives they want or have the relationships they desire it is a problem, such as the case of “Julius” who has only been able to masturbate to mental images of a girl who tormented him in his adolescence and he has not had a long-term relationship in nearly 50 years.

I would have loved to see more research and questions about the ramifications of opening up about your fantasies to your significant others. Kahr mentions a few in one chapter but for the most part glosses over any potential benefits and instead focuses on trauma and harm. In my experience being open and honest with your partner about desires and what goes on in your head can have a bonding effect and open the door for new real life experiences. If we decide to enter into a partnership something as intimate and important as sex should not be a taboo subject. Much of the negative aspects seem to come from our social stigmas against sexuality as much as childhood events. As a culture if we can admit that sex is a healthy and enjoyable part of the human experience we can reduce the pain, suffering, and shame that seems to accompany so many fantasies.

Kahr does admit that this is just a beginning, and like a good scientist he hopes others will dive into the data, conduct their own studies, and come up with alternative hypothesis. I would love to see a larger sample size of humans from more diverse backgrounds. What is true for Brits (and in this case a few Americans) may not be true for Australians, Italians, Russians, Kenyans, Colombians, Thai, Egyptians, etc. The more information the better and it looks like this is a field ripe for research and exploration.

I definitely recommend this book for many different people. If you just have an interest in sexuality there is a lot to love about this book, as well if you are interested in seeing how a Freudian interprets things, though I would recommend skipping or skimming Section II if you get bored with it. You can only read poorly written erotica for pages and pages for so long before it becomes a blur. It is also a good resource for people who have anxiety about what goes on in their own heads. It will become quickly clear that “normal” fantasies don’t exist, and because of that there is really nothing that is “weird” or “abnormal”. Some people don’t fantasize at all, some think only about their spouse, some focus more on feelings while others have elaborate situations they play in their head, some people think of college professors, siblings, strangers, movie stars, and inanimate objects. Some people like to be raped, piss on people while they are shitting, or change genders. Some like to be whipped while others like to be bought a nice romantic dinner followed by a massage and some cunnilingus. The limits to human sexual fantasies are only restricted by the combined imagination of billions of people.

The Lifestyle: A Review

Yesterday I finally finished “The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rights of Swingers” and I really enjoyed the analysis of what was going on with Swingers in the mid-late 90’s. The book is a bit dated but many of the lessons stand true today and books like this help destroy the unfair discrimination and naive views some people have towards those who don’t fit neatly into the “traditional marriage” paradigm. In fact, I found it surprising how many people were actually involved in The Lifestyle, the odds are someone in every neighborhood across western civilization there are play-couples who don’t see a problem with introducing third party eroticism into their relationships.

There are several different types of swingers discussed throughout the book but each type shared some common themes. It is very woman-centric, the ladies tend to control the action and explicit consent is absolutely mandatory. It mentioned many times throughout the book that come down to men tend to initiate the idea of entering the lifestyle but it is the women that really dominate. Due to the potential for coercion the official lifestyle clubs work very hard to self-regulate. Some clubs require interviews, psychological evaluations, and an application process to make sure both members of the couple are healthy and interested. Swinging cannot save a couple with a bad or weak relationship, but it can strengthen a strong and healthy one. Swingers don’t consider their actions cheating because everyone consents, especially their partner. The relationship comes first at all times, which is more than I can say for the people who cheat on their partners. The lifestyle at this time (and possibly now) does have a male homophobia though, men showing intimacy for other men is more than just frowned upon. That may have changed over the last 15 years as pansexuality and bisexuality become more normalized though.

The majority of swingers I would call “soft swingers” and they make up roughly 3/4 of people in the lifestyle. Soft swingers don’t necessarily have sex with other people, instead the enjoy the carefree and sensual atmosphere of being around adults where everything is out in the open. Because people are so open there are much fewer cases of unwanted touching, grinding, sexual assault, or harassment… everyone knows the boundaries, there are no games, it is all in the open. This is much like the Orgy Dome that my partner and I went to at Burning Man, it is a sexual place where trusting couples can be surrounded by sensuality without a worry of anyone being hurt. When some sort of sex outside of the primary relationship happens it is usually with another couple they know, trust, and it is a beautifully intimate affair.

Within the lifestyle there are also “hard swingers” who are more orgiastic. These are the vast minority though. Not that there is anything wrong with indulging in group sex with strangers, but it is relatively uncommon. Of course this is the type of swingers that comes to mind thanks to the media, you say swinger and people imagine “key parties” or groups of writhing oiled up bodies, when the reality is most swingers don’t engage in group sex behavior at all.

One chapter of the book was also dedicated to polyamorous people, though whether they are part of the lifestyle is up for debate. Where “swingers” brings up the idea first of sex (and many swingers would agree with that), the polys discussed in the book view things very differently. In their view they are very explicitly trying to remake society along the boundaries of love. Their relationships tend to be sexually closed and intimacy is shared within multi-person families and marriages. They wanted to bring Robert Heinlein’s views from “Stranger in a Strange Land” to life and even adopted the terminology of “grok” and “sharing water” in common conversations. To be honest, this chapter of the book kind of surprised me because that has not been my experience with polyamorous people. My experience, which I admit is minimal, seems to be closer to a middle ground between these polys and swingers. This may be due to the 15+ years separating now and this book or it may be that my experience is not the norm.

One of the most common criticisms of any lifestyle that is not monogamous is that it isn’t “natural”. The standard model of human sexuality pushed for monogamy, but that is being challenged pretty heavily by sperm competition. Under sperm competition a male will have more powerful and pleasurable orgasms if they think (or know) that their partner has had sex with another person. It is a pretty common fantasy for a man to want to see his partner be with another and sperm competition leads some credibility to that. This theory also shows why women can have multiple orgasms, take longer to orgasm, and become very vocal during sex… because they were built for many partners to help guarantee they get the strongest genes. More info on this can be found in “What Do Women Want?” and “Sex At Dawn

The media in the past has seen people in the lifestyle as perverse and open to all sorts of unfair criticism. They reinforced a form of classism where when rich and beautiful people embrace their sexuality it is to be celebrated but the common folk must do no such thing. Articles were written focused on how unattractive swingers were compared to their hollywood counterparts and how disgusting it was that they would wear scantily clothes, show intimacy in public, or openly flirt. I can’t help but be disgusted with the idea that sexual fulfillment and relationship experimentation is only a good thing if people fit into a certain physical mold. If all humans are equal we should all be free to pursue happiness with other consenting adults.

As disgusting as the media’s actions were for a time their tune eventually changed when the government decided to enforce morality. The major turning point was when the California ABC (which is responsible for giving out liquor licenses) started targetting venues who allowed swinging conventions and using nude art as their justification. Once there was a clear attack on free speech the media got in line and started at least supporting the swingers rights to practice what they wish. The ABC, as a bureaucracy, has virtually no check on their power. They are charged with defending public morality in any place where alcohol is served and used this power with virtually no oversight. They couldn’t be sued and any complaints went internally to ABC. They even claimed the authority to revoke the liquor license of any hotel that allowed nudity or sexual activity behind the closed doors of a hotel room. They used their power to primarily go after those who couldn’t fight back but the swingers had resources, they are primarily middle and upper-middle class suburbanites who weren’t going to go down without a fight. After the attempted censorship of nude art a judge finally reigned in ABC by putting a restraining order on them. To this day the ABC is charged with protecting the safety, welfare, health, peace, and morals (emphasis mine) of the people of California. As the author says, “When a government – any government – feels itself standing as a righteous bulwark against sexual immorality, the public becomes the enemy”

All in all this was a fascinating book that I really enjoyed. It did a great job of showing how “normal” most swingers are. They are mostly married, have good jobs, raise kids, and are many times religious. They just reject the current view of sexual morality, as the author said “Morals are without exception dictated by the dominant figures in a group, who ruthlessly attempt to constrain the sexual expression of others.” Swingers are telling the establishment to fuck off, they are living life their way. I would love to attend the national convention in 2014 but it is unlikely I will be able to due to my bike ride. Hopefully my partner and I can at least check out one of the local clubs or something though. There is a wide world of sexual and relationship acceptance out there for those that will open their minds and think for themselves.

A Wedding Recap

This last weekend I had the huge honor of being the Best Man at my best friend’s wedding. I know in the past I’ve been fairly vocal about my own disinterest in traditional marriage, but I am an economist and recognize subjective value… meaning that I may not want a wedding for myself but am thrilled to participate in something important  to another. And man, this wedding was the fucking tits. There are a lot of stories and a lot of fun was had but here are some of the things that will stick with me the most.

  • Weddings can be really, really damn beautiful. The site (Convict Lake near Mammoth, California), weather, atmosphere, everything was perfect. A true fairytale location for a perfect fairytale wedding.
  • I will get naked and streak a household of mostly strangers for at least $20
  • My partner can’t handle Fireball whiskey
  • I am pretty decent at giving impromptu speeches… and that apparently surprises people
  • Real friendships stand the test of time… for the first time in 12 years my closest friends since fifth grade were together and we still had a grand time. Some of us have lost hair (not me), some of us have gained weight (me), and all of us have gorgeous partners but all-in-all the banter and friendship was the same.
  • Online presences are strange things. Several of the people I met at the wedding primarily knew me through Facebook and blog posts where I may come off one-dimensionally focuses on polyamory, sex, drugs, anarchy, and Burning Man. Hopefully I have the opportunity to spend more time with these people and we can get to know each other.
  • Some people get uncomfortable when you invite them to a foursome
  • It can be difficult to tell if people seriously want you in a foursome or not… I still have hope that the joking was only “haha, that’s funny… but seriously” and not really “haha, this is all just joke drunk flirting”
  • Some people will offer to have sex with you if you give them your jacket in the cold
  • Flirting is still a lot of fun, especially when your partner doesn’t care/encourages it.
  • Other people agree that my partner has a fantastic ass
  • When the dj plays Ke$ha most people leave the dance floor (not me)
  • A wedding that includes several Star Trek: The Next Generation references is awesome
  • Drunk parents rock
  • Love is an amazing thing… I don’t think Love is all you need for a successful romantic relationship but it is certainly an important part of the human experience.

I’m sure there are many more lessons to be learned from this amazing, unforgettable weekend but it is time to leave my office for the day so here is a picture of what I woke up to each morning I was up at the wedding.

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You Should Give As Good As You Get

This is going to be one of those “if you believe TMI exists and/or are related to me and uncomfortable with sexual information it may be time to close the tab” blog posts.

I follow a fair number of sex and relationship advice-givers on my Facebook feed and have noticed something interesting. About once or twice a week a “How to give a great blowjob!” post appears on my feed, but I have yet to see a “How to give good cunnilingus” ever appear. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I admit that with the exception of Dan Savage (who is gay and has a high book knowledge of vagina’s but has not had much personal experience with them) most sex and relationship columnists tend to be targeting women. I had a friend point out one Vice column about cunnilingus but personally I found it fairly unhelpful and seemed to be more for shock value than actual advice. So, after a pretty decent Facebook discussion and encouragement from a number of female friends (and my partner) I decided to write this post.

Big Huge Fucking Disclaimer: I won’t even begin to claim I have the answers for creating pleasure. I am one guy who has had a fair number of partners and I am comfortable with my oral skills. These tips and thoughts are based on my personal experiences and the contributions of my partners (past and present) and some friends that shared their thoughts with me privately. Every person is different and desires vary widely, what I talk about here may not actually be effective for others, these are just my personal experiences. I don’t know if any of my followers will find value in this, but I hope they do… if nothing else I hope it sparks conversation because talking and discussing things with your partner is the only way to guarantee everyone is satisfied, inside and outside the bedroom.

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In retrospect, I owe most of my base knowledge to a guy I met in Basic Training that we called “Romeo”. When word got around that I was a 19-year old virgin Romeo took me aside and felt the need to tutor me. He could have done all of this in front of the group to humiliate me but I think he genuinely wanted me to have some working knowledge of the vagina before my first real sexual experience. So, he told me things that I would have ideally learned from either sex ed or my father, how to bring sexual pleasure to my partner.

Some Basic Information: If your partner has a vagina and desires oral sex you really should give it. Approximately 75% of women cannot reach orgasm through penetration alone… that means there needs to be some clitoral stimulation at least. In my experience I have only had one partner that could orgasm off of penetration alone and she could also orgasm off of only nipple stimulation, so she was a rarity. So, if you look at your previous partners and most of them orgasmed just off of penetration either that is a statistical anomaly or you have been lied to. (Side note: Ladies, please don’t lie about having an orgasm. This does not do anyone any favors. If your partner cares about you they will want to make you happy and that requires honesty. It is better to temporarily bruise an ego than fill your time with less than satisfactory encounters.)

In my experience some partners can be nervous, uncomfortable, or apprehensive about receiving oral sex. From the discussions I’ve had this stems from false stereotypes about the vagina (men don’t like giving oral, it smells bad, etc) or past partners have been really bad and it has not been enjoyable. It is important to remember that for most guys bad sex is better than no sex, while the opposite is true for women where bad sex can be painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. As with all new sexual things with your partner (or experiences with a new partner) it is good to move slowly in the beginning and communicate. All sexual acts should be consensual, and ideally that consent is enthusiastic. Communication really is key and the more comfortable everyone is beforehand the better. It should, and will, come naturally in the end. Oral sex is fucking awesome but remember, good relationships are GGG, and that second G means “giving equal time and equal pleasure”. There is no need to keep a scorecard of sexual acts but we all know when our partner has woken us up to oral sex or been the major pleasure recipient in a quickie, the last thing you want is for your partner to feel like they are being taken sexually for granted.

Alright, now for some basic anatomy… to be honest I wasn’t sure how basic I was going to get but I figured better be safe than sorry. One of my life motto’s is “The only thing I want more than my own orgasms is for other people to have orgasms” and it would be sad if a basic anatomy lesson prevented that. So, oral sex is mostly focused on the clitoris either directly or indirectly. As you can see in the picture below the actual clitoris is way, way, way more than the small glans above the vaginal, it is a web of nerves that extends all over the pelvic region. The “glans clitoris” is important and a major pleasure producing spot for most women but it is the tip of the pleasure iceberg for your partner, the nerves underneath the skin can (and should) be stimulated as well. Remember though, everyone is build differently and some woman are tip sensitive, some g-spot sensitive, some prefer light thrusting, some fast, some hard, some need to concentrate hard to orgasm, and for some it comes with little focus. All sex takes practice to get great and hopefully the following info will help you along the way.

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Warm Up: It is pretty unlikely that sex is going to begin with oral. In general, women need more warming up to be ready to receive oral. There is rarely a rush, so take your time. Start with kissing, touching, fondling. I find some over the clothes genital rubbing can really get things going, and trust me, it pays off in the end. To be blunt, oral sex can often take a lot of time and energy, the more you put into foreplay the easier giving your partner pleasure will be in the future. So, instead of rushing to the mouth banging take some time and treat each article of clothing as a new experience, every inch of new flesh can be a new place to explore with all your sense while you keep rubbing and playing with her body below the clothes. As a guy I know it feels good when I am still wearing boxers or shorts and I am being rubbed, in my experience that pleasure is similar for women.

Oral Sex: When it is time to begin your partner will likely be pretty moist. The actual level of fluid can vary significantly depending on your partner but hopefully if it is on either extreme (generally really dry or generally really wet) your partner will communicate this ahead of time. Often the vaginal folds will keep moisture in so it may take some play with your fingers to get to the vaginal opening. Use the natural fluid to make rubbing and touch less abrasive… just as it feels better to get a handjob with lube it feels better for the woman to have some moisture when playing with the clit. Once you begin playing you should use your hands/fingers and your mouth to provide a multiple stimulation.

Mouth/Tongue: For me the mouth is used primarily for clitoral stimulation but it starts as the primary tool. Kissing and licking along the inner thigh before you actually start with the vagina and clit can help build up pleasure through a bit of teasing. Again, there is no rush. Long, slow kisses from the bottom of the vaginal opening to the clit can be great stimulation. Once things are going the tongue focuses more on the clit itself by hardening and rubbing against it horizontally and vertically. A decent trick is to use your mouth to “draw” each letter of the alphabet, this provides seemingly random stimulation but keeps things going. If you find your tongue gets tired fairly quickly you can exercise that muscle by daily moving your tongue horizontally 100 times and vertically 100 times. Some partners may also enjoy it if you press your lips down around the clit and hum, causing vibrations to ripple throughout the area.

Primary Hand: To add stimulation your primary hand can put fingers inside the vagina. The amount of fingers varies depending on the woman but having it palm up and making a “come here” motion with your fingers can often stimulate the g-spot. Playing around with the locations, speed, and pressure can help you figure out what your partner likes. This stimulates the internal nerves of the clit and it would be a shame to ignore all those pleasure spots.

Secondary Hand: Don’t let your non-primary hand go to waste. You can use your secondary hand to massage your partners legs, caress along her skin, grab her butt, or relieve your primary hand when your fingers get tired (be sure to make sure they are wet though through quickly sucking on them yourself or using your partner’s fluid). A great use I’ve found for your secondary  hand is to massage or place pressure on the pubic mound or near the hip/leg joint. This can sandwich the clitoral nerves between your fingers inside the vagina and the skin on the outside. Play with her body, feel things out, and see what she likes.

Communication: In the end, communication is what it comes down to. Pay attention to her body and make adjustments as needed. Also, recognize that communication can sometimes be difficult and body signals can vary significantly. I’ve had partners that get incredibly quiet and still when they are close to having an orgasm and I’ve had partners that start to get loud and buck their hips or grind into my face. Once you know the signs it gets much easier. Not everyone (including me) is comfortable with a lot of verbal instructions, particularly during intercourse. It can be helpful to develop non-verbal signs with your partner (for example: one hand lightly pulling of my hair means speed up the tongue, two hands lightly pulling my hair means slow down, etc). Non-verbal instructions can start to become very natural and oftentimes become unnecessary, but they do offer a way to enjoy the pleasure that comes with knowing and being in control of the act (like with masturbation) and the spontaneity and freedom that comes from a partner doing the “work”.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. I hope this helped somebody, if nothing else it was fun for me to write. Happy orgasms everybody!

 

On Marriage And Longterm Commitment

For the last 8 years or so I have been pretty vocally against marriage for myself. I didn’t see the point and I found it to be an archaic ceremony with disgusting historical roots in the idea that one person can (and should) own another person. Many times when I vocalize my opposition to marriage people assume that I am also against commitment, particularly lifelong commitment. While that may have been true throughout most of my adult life my views on both are evolving a bit, as I think they shoud with new experiences.

Maybe it is some fault of my own that I didn’t just accept social norms when it came to relationships, I am starting to think I have a problem when it comes to falling in line. There is a pattern in my life where I see what society offers, experiment on the extreme other end, and then find myself more in a middle ground. I rejected monogamy for hardcore polyamory and now find myself in a monogamish relationship (but still available for Ke$ha 100%). I rejected religion for absolute atheism and now find myself interested and open to spiritual ideas. I rejected neo-con big government policies for complete anarchy and find myself… well, I still find myself being a complete anarchist…. maybe not everything becomes more moderate with time.

Anyway, my evolution on marriage comes from social and political realities. The political reality is that there are financial incentives in place to encourage signing a stupid piece of paper and giving it to some bureaucratic leech. I need to decide if my desire to remove all government controls outweigh the benefits of marriage through reduced coercive taxation. It is a conundrum, less taxes is better for me and helps starve Leviathan (and save the lives of people the government often murders in jails and with bombs). There is also the social pressure, which I am admittedly embarrassed that I feel strongly from time-to-time. Unfortunately, people treat married couples with a greater legitimacy. Two people can be in a 40-year relationship but if they haven’t had a wedding and all that other bullshit they are seen by society as less legitimate than two people who met on craigslist, drove to Vegas, and got hitched all in a 24 hour period. Part of me very much wants people to recognize my love as legitimate and some people require a title to do that. To be honest, I also like the little bit of the fanfare that comes from an engagement and a wedding… not a lot of fanfare, I’m still a minimalist, but I can see the joy and celebration that would occur if I proposed at Burning Man or something.

I have also reevaluated my views on long-term (even lifelong) commitments. This change comes from my increasingly healthy personal romantic life and the examples I’ve seen in others. When I was growing up I interpreted the relationships around me as filled with sacrifice. Sacrificing new experiences, sacrificing individuality, sacrificing life for others. While that may seem noble on paper, in reality that sacrifice came off as controlling and frightening. It certainly didn’t help to have a very unhealthy engagement in my early 20’s. I am now in a very healthy (hopefully long-term) relationship with a partner who doesn’t ask for sacrifice. Instead we grow, learn, have adventures, and plan our future together. That is why I call her my partner, because that is how I see her… as my life-partner. Phrases like girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. come off as possessive to me. In the past those phrases have also represented myself defining my own existence and personality by my relationship status, something I don’t want to do again. In addition, I also have several examples of healthy relationships in my life where adventures and creativity happen, and ideas like “you shouldn’t lust, love, care about, or be attracted to other people” are seen as unrealistic and instead new intimacy is shared together.

Of course, this is just how I feel at this time. My life is an everchanging perception of reality depending on time, place, and experience. Regardless, I am very happy now and happy with the way my views are evolving. I know there may be some people out there who are tempted to say “I told you so”. These are people who said “you just have to meet the right girl”, “give it time”, “you’ll change your mind”, or “It’s just a phase”. If you are one of those people please don’t throw this in my face… seriously, there are only three or so people whose friendship I would keep if they did that. Doing so would tell me you discourage personal journeys, exploration, and investigation. If someone is heading down a path that is different than yours, especially when your path is “normal”, you are an asshole if you tell them that they will eventually come around. It comes off pretentious and degrading. If you want people to live life the way you do then live your life the best you can and show them why and how you are happy. I am happy now, but I don’t think I  would be if I blindly embraced any of my views without winding my way down a relatively unpaved road to get there.

The Rise of “Festivals”

My recent return to Burning Man last week, this article about Taco Bell attempting to reach out to “burners”, and a few conversations about the apparent increase in festival attendance really has me thinking. If there is an increase in participation at “festivals” why is that? As is the case with all my blog posts I basically have no facts, just my own experiences and hypotheses that I think out when I should be working. It should be noted that for simplicity sake I use the word “festival” very broadly and include Burning Man (definitely not a festival in most ways), Lucidity style events that involve multiple days off site and includes a spiritual aspect, and EDC-style events that are more musically focused.

I think the biggest factor is the seemingly unique environment that people in their 20’s and 30’s operate in today. It is no secret that marriage is often being postponed, kids are birthed later in life, and college graduates are enjoying social freedom that is usually reserved for retirees. Many of them, including me, cohabitate with a partner or friends which allows for a lot of disposable income. Festivals can be expensive but if you have two people with college degrees and professional jobs sharing an apartment with no kids it is financially possible to participate often in multiday parties.

These celebrations can often involve intimacy and sex (the Orgy Dome at Burning Man is pretty awesome) but the focus is rarely on hook-ups or “one night stands”. In fact, festivals are very often attended by people in long-term committed relationships. I went with my partner, my best friend has gone with his fiance, our camp at Burning Man has had at least one married couple each year, and two of my dearest friends often go to EDC and similar events together. I also went to two weddings at Burning Man this year, one of which was a couple who got engaged at Lucidity.

Another important factor in festival attendance is technology, particularly the internet. Even relatively small events can spread the word quickly via Facebook to like-minded people across the globe. This is true for big events as well like Burning Man, which has been around for over 25 years, saw themselves face ticket scarcity for the first time thanks to burners sharing their pictures and videos over social media in the last couple years. Musicians who don’t have major labels can also use the internet to attract a fan base and advertise their presence at musical festivals. There is also greater specialization that is possible when people can communicate freely, it is now possible to attract participants to very unique and focused events where in the past smaller cliques would need to participate in big festivals and hope their classes would be attractive enough to get attention.

Lastly, I feel like there is a feeling of lost direction among many people due to the fracturing of society around us. Politicians continue to prove that party doesn’t matter and that they are basically all the same. Traditional religions are fracturing and failing at providing even the bare minimum support for individuals as their beliefs are unwilling to change to accept new scientific evidence. Modern media works tirelessly to tell us all how doomed the world is, despite evidence to the contrary. The social institutions that provide support, love, and comfort in the past have been found lacking so people are looking elsewhere to connect and find family. Festivals, particularly Burning Man and similar events, help fill that gap. At least that is why I go, because I reject violence, consumerism, religious zealotry, and the idea that I need to work in an office for most my life before I can have fun and celebrate life. Festivals give me community, love, support, and acceptance, and I think it does that for many others as well.

Cargo Cult – Burning Man 2013

As we wind our way through California’s mountainous passes it is impossible for me to not reflect on the last week I spent at Burning Man. The embers of the Temple still burn in my heart and I feel the love of that place erupting from the 70,000 spirits that have scattered across the globe, taking The Playa with them. In the end Burning Man is not a place, event, or time, it is us. Our stories, our lives, our desires and dreams, that is where the real value is, and in the end we impact each other on many levels known and unknown.

This year I did not camp with an established theme camp but our little collective of LA friends (and one last minute adopted Washingtonian) started calling ourselves Camp Sonder. The word “sonder” comes from the dictionary of obscure sorrows and is defined as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
That is beautiful to me, and in many ways defines much of my experience out in the dust.

It is an oft repeated cliche but Burning Man really is whatever you make it, and often you don’t know what you will create until you get there. This year was like no other for me. In 2011 my mind was broken and the Playa provided healing. In 2012 my body and life was in constant movement and Black Rock City provided stability. And this year, my life is on a great path and I was given a celebration.

It has always been difficult for me to acknowledge my own successes. I feel guilty when things are going well and it feels braggy to admit life is good, but since my last Burn my life has been fucking awesome and that was reflected in my week on the Playa. I was able to spend a week with a woman that I’m crazy in love with, two of my best friends, an amazing couple from LA who I originally meet prepping for Burning Man in 2011 that I hope to know better in the coming months, and a new friend who is likely stuck with us crazy kids for a long time. I danced, I sang, I relaxed, I smiled, I loved, and I simply celebrated my life… and for once I realized that’s okay. Sometimes you just need to party. Of course, I want the only one celebrating. I was able to witness two beautiful weddings out on the Playa celebrating the love of four burner friends.

This last year has been a dynamic time where I pursued adventures, love, and happiness. I moved across the country in search of liberty instead of security and it paid off. I opened my heart to what the universe had to offer and I fell in love. I chose to be me instead of what society says I should be and things worked out better than I imagined. With the falling of the Temple my new year begins. This Burn may not have been a deep spiritual experience but it was exactly what I needed, an acknowledgement that my life is on an amazing course and when you pursue your dreams good things happen… and when good things happen you should celebrate and enjoy it.