Opening Pandora’s Box

Originally posted over at Sex And The State… because Cathy likes to give us amateurs an opportunity once in a while. If you haven’t checked her blog out you probably should, it is fucking awesome. 

When I first heard about Daniel Bergner’s book “What Do Women Want?” I wasn’t really impressed. I knew the premise from hearing an interview between Bergner and Dan Savage, and to be honest it sounded like several books I’ve read about the changing view of sexuality, love, and romantic relationships. While I was skeptical in the beginning that I would encounter anything new I am really glad I read it. In fact, I highly recommend it to everyone interested in the subject of a woman’s sexuality, particularly if they are unsatisfied with the Victorian-era narrative that women are made for monogamy and must act as gate-keepers to keep men’s uncontrollable lust in check.

Bergner (a journalist by profession) skillfully weaves the most cutting edge scientific research with personal tales of love, lust, and loss. Each chapter introduces new information and characters to convince the reader that the modern view that a women’s sexuality has evolved to be the more monogamous sex is little more than a societal enforced fairy tale. Women, in fact, may have evolved to actually crave more variety and more sex than men and it is centuries worth of social control by churches and governments (which historically have been male-dominated) that have created a puritanical ideal. An ideal that pressures women to fear, hate, and neglect their own passions and feel shame when they desire pleasure.

The research Bergner showcases in his book takes several approaches to remove nature and nurture, at to find out what women really want. Experiment’s include everything from Meredith Chivers’ measuring women’s arousal while watching a sexual and non-sexual movies (and comparing it to the women’s subjective rating of their arousal) to studies of the sexual practices of other animals like rats and rhesus monkeys.

The scientists Bergner interviews sees evidence for women’s sexual drives in biology. Multiple orgasms, quicker orgasms for men, and sexual arousal from observing many situations point to a drive for many sexual partners. Add that to the common decrease in arousal for their partner after a few years and the standard narrative for female sexuality starts to crumble. For generations we have been told that real love means a lifelong sexual attraction to your partner and if that attraction stops there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, usually through a psychologist or medication. To treat lifelong lust and sexual monogamy as the norm is to invite disappointment, causing harm to individuals and relationships.

With scientific research confronting (and often defeating) established social norms we all become more free. Increased knowledge allows for more opportunities, greater happiness, and more healthy relationships than in the past. What we do with this information is a choice each individual must make, but at least it is a more educated choice. As a person who is primarily attracted to  women I hope this information will help me be an understanding, supportive, and responsible partner when the woman I love eventually feels more lust for another. I hope women will read this and realize desire and fantasies are natural and they should not feel shame. These sexual desires and fantasies should not be translated as lacking love. Love and sex have become unnecessarily intertwined in modern cultures, and many of the interviews highlight how much the women love their partners even if they do not lust for them anymore.

Bergner has helped open a door for people to gain knowledge about their bodies and minds. This can revolutionize society. To free women from socially (and often politically) enforced mythological views of sexuality is to encourage self-actualization that is inevitably unique to each individual, and we all benefit when individuals are free to pursue their passions, desires, and dreams. Science is helping us approach a new revolution of individuality but it is all still in it’s infancy, as Bergner states in his closing chapter:

The science and thinking I have brought together in this book are a beginning, only that. None of the researchers I have learned from… would claim to have definitive, fully formed answers about female desire… Eros lies at the heart of who we are as human beings, yet we shun the study of our essential core, shun it perhaps most of all where it is least understood, in women.

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Poly/Mono Relationships

Yesterday I had planned on writing a post about the role patience has played in my poly life but that has changed. In preparation for that post I did my normal half-ass Google search of relevant topics and came upon an article called “I’m monogamous, and I’ve fallen for someone who’s polyamorous!”… and man, it is fantastic. If you have even the remotest interest in poly relationships I highly recommend you check it out. I wish I would have read it months ago. My partner wishes she had access to it months ago. Many of my dear friends loved it as well. Seriously… read it now.

 

 

Well, now that you may or may not have read that article I want to tell you about the early stages of my current relationship. I identify as polyamorous but my partner does not. She is much more monogamous than me and that caused a lot of tension in the early part of our relationship and that is mostly my fault.

When I first “discovered” polyamory I was thrilled. For years I had been operating under three rules of what I called “responsible non-monogamy”. I’d tried monogamy and it felt wrong. I felt like something was seriously wrong with me so instead of dating anyone I just built friendships and had sex with those who knew my three rules. It wasn’t completely satisfying but it felt closer to natural than closed monogamy did. So, when I stumbled across the word and concept of polyamory I was like a kid in a candy shop… and in many ways I made myself sick by diving in too quickly.

I had found a rational justification for how I felt and instead of recognizing that some people are actually geared towards monogamy I tried to lay out arguments convincing my two partners that they shouldn’t ever feel jealousy, anger, or frustration and that their concerns about limited time and resources were unfounded. I thought I could have it all and I saw everyone else as being wrong for not seeing things my way (as a libertarian I’ve made similar mistakes when trying to share that philosophy). I was wrong though… and quite frankly, I was a jackass and I almost lost my amazing partner.

After several rough months filled with arguments, disagreement, frustrations, and a break up I learned my lesson and came to many of the same conclusions as the author of the article. Communication is absolutely necessary for any relationship, especially polyamory, but so is patience and compromise. As Cathy from “Sex and the State” said on my Facebook wall, “If you want absolute freedom be single. If you are willing to do some compromising then be in a relationship.” Voluntarily giving up some of your freedom and allowing another human some control over your life is hard for anyone, particularly libertarian anarchists. That level of vulnerability is necessary though for all relationships to be healthy. I still don’t believe in sacrificing yourself for another or pretending to be something you aren’t, but compromise is necessary and in the end satisfying because as trust and love is built more opportunities present itself. As Pervertically Virtuous put it:

“I have agreed to let him slowly grow into my level of openness because he’s the closest to my ideal partner I’ve ever met, and he’s shown willingness to venture out beyond his comfort zone. So I thought he deserves that chance.

Although my freedom is somewhat curtailed, I have plenty of maneuvering space. Enough so, that the other benefits of being in this relationship outweigh the costs of not having complete, absolute freedom.”

And now, that is what I have in my amazing partner. I’m glad she isn’t 100% in line with me because that forces me to challenge myself and understand others. She is a constant support of challenge, support, friendship, love, and openness…. and she is flexible, open to new things, curious, and trusts me. We have established boundaries, we discuss our desires, and we have found a way to make things work. I’m sure I will make mistakes again and our relationship differences will continue to be the subject of much discussion, debate, and compromise, but we are moving forward with baby-steps and patience on all sides. I truly couldn’t have dreamed of a better outcome.

On Open Relationships

I feel like the first thing I need to state is that open-relationships and polyamory are two different things. The former deals with sexual behavior while the latter is matters of intimacy, love, and partnership. Many (most?) poly families are closed and sex only occurs within the group of loving, consenting, adults.

While being in an open relationship is about freedom of sexual play the emphasis for me is on the freedom, not the sex. It is the freedom to be yourself, act as you wish without harming others, and enjoy the bond you may experience with another person. It is living your life without someone else putting restrictions on your behavior so that you aren’t concerned about identically behaving in a way that would cause the other person to be jealous (or worse, intentionally behaving that way and working to cover it up).

It really is much more about trust and communication than anything. Sex can be a fun and safe experience without emotional attachment. It can be an ego boost, an adrenaline rush, a surge of pleasure without making a big deal about it.On open relationship acknowledges that and also states that you trust the person to be honest about their attachment and communicate with you about what happens.

I’m not a one night stand type of person but it’s nice not to feel restrained if an opportunity and desire presents itself. Maybe I have too much of an emphasis on freedom, that is certainly possible, but the idea of preventing someone from doing something they enjoy because I might feel jealous (an internal emotion that only I can control) seems unfair. I practice open relationships because I want freedom and I want freedom for those I love. I don’t want any of my partners to feel doubt or question whether they should act based on what they think I might think. I want them to enjoy life to the fullest and I want to do the same.

Post Script: I realize that neither polyamory or open-relationships implies group sex as is implied in the picture, I just kind of liked the picture and thought it might catch an eye or two.

The Ethical Slut Part 2

I finished “The Ethical Slut” today. In the end it was incredibly good and it is now the book I would recommend most for anyone interested in reading more about relationships and love. It appeals to all types, including monogamist relationships.

My monogamous friends may get great value from the discussion of jealousy and communication, as well as a greater understanding of polyamory. Reading more about how people with different lifestyles view the world is beneficial, particularly when many see open relationships as some sort of assault on monogamy. Poly people know and love that monogamy will be around for a long time, it is a legitimate and amazing relationship setup. It just isn’t for everyone.

People who are interested in opening up their relationships or may be interested in polyamory will also find the courage and information needed to try new things. You never know what you really like unless you push outside your comfort zone. This book may provide support for that.

Polyamorist’s (such as myself) can gain better discussion points and valuable practical advice. It’s also nice to occasionally feel like we aren’t crazy. All in all it was a great read that is easy to comprehend and quick to get through. If someone was interested in reading it I’d gladly give them my copy to enjoy.