The Law of Large Numbers

As the sun began to set on our first day back on the road we were feeling beat down. We had hit terrain that slowed us to a snail’s pace and it looked like our goal of getting to the state park to camp was going to be impossible to reach. Then, while taking a short break to eat an energy bar and turn on our lights, a man approached and offered us help. He was a local cyclist and volunteered to drive behind us as we rode to protect us from traffic. Was this divine intervention from Jesus, like many of my family members would say? Was this the universe guiding us along our destiny?

No. This was simply math.

While many of our interactions on the road may seem designed, they are really just a consequence of us being out in the world a lot. We’ve been at breweries at the same time as someone who saw us two days earlier. We’ve left REI right as a cyclist is leaving and offers us a place to stay. We’ve pulled into a park right as a storm starts to rain down on us. It seems that fate/god/whatever is pulling for our success and safety.

But, we’ve also left a town right as a windstorm stops us in our tracks. We’ve arrived at a city just in time for the 4th of July festivities that fill the campgrounds and leave us nowhere to sleep. We’ve had three tubes blow in a three block radius. We’ve biked on the hottest day of the year and arrived at our scheduled water point to find the water is contaminated and had a boil order… meaning it was undrinkable and we were out of fluid. It seems that fate/god/whatever wants our ride to fail or us to die.

Nope. It is just math.

When you spend 10-12 hours a day biking in new places you interact, however passively, with thousands of people each week. It is incredibly likely that some of these people will be friendly, share your interests, and be able to help you. It is also likely that you will get rained on sometimes or reach shelter just in time to prevent getting wet. Sometimes the rest area has functioning water and sometimes it doesn’t. The more new interactions you face the greater the likelihood that rare events will happen.But, you don’t need to be on a four-year bike tour to experience this. Just look at how my partner and I met.

We met for the first time at my going away party in Washington DC. She was there visiting her college roommate who was also my coworker. Any number of things, big and small, throughout the Universe’s existence could have prevented her from being there. If she had a different roommate, went to a different college, the sperm that created her wasn’t the first to the egg, our mutual friend didn’t take the job with SFL, etc. And, on the other side, are a near infinite number of things that could have prevented that party from happening or me being there. And, even more things that could have made our personalities incompatible. So yes, it is true, the chances of my partner and I getting together is incredibly close to 0%, but the chances of each of us finding someone who we are compatible with is incredibly close to 100%. The thousands of people we meet connect us to thousands that they know and they connect to thousands of other people.

Fate doesn’t bring people together into close relationships, math does. We naturally disconnect from people we aren’t compatible with and draw close to those we are compatible with. We filter out hundreds of thousands of people until we find someone that is good enough.

So yes, we have some crazy things happen to us but that is simply because we left our town. Crazy things are bound to happen when you go to new places, meet new people, and try new things. Get out there and do enough stuff and you are virtually guaranteed to experience something that is unlikely and unexpected but, if you stay in the same place, see all the same people, work at the same job, vacation at the same places, watch the same shows, etc then you will never experience anything new, much less experience anything unique.

Advertisements

I Wasn’t Alone

By all accounts I am a late bloomer when it comes to relationships. My first kiss was at 18, my first time having sex was at 23, and I didn’t meet my wife until I was over 30. I spent all of my 20’s watching my friends get married, have kids, and even get divorced. During this time I felt like there was something wrong with me, something about me that either made me unlovable to others or unable to love others. At times I felt very alone and I thought I was destined to spend my life alone. I would die a bitter old man in a one bedroom apartment with my dogs and boxes of porn.

At some point I realized I wasn’t alone. In fact, it was the best mixture of circumstance and effort that lead me to where I am today. I am thankful and happy that I didn’t marry or meet my wife until later in life because those years turned out to be incredible years of growth and maturity. That time is when I explored the world, dated to find out what I am really looking for in a partner. I broke hearts and had my heart broken, I cried myself to sleep at night out of loneliness and went on adventures and saw sights whose beauty took my breath away (gonging to Burning Man single is a different experience than going with a partner, I highly recommend it). Looking back, I think it would have been incredibly foolish for me to commit 50+ years to one person when I had only been a legal adult for less than 5. I am a pretty risk tolerant person but I just wasn’t ready for that yet, I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was.

I guess it all kind of started when my early engagement broke up when I was 23. I was fresh out of the army and had just started college. The woman I thought I would spend my life with cheated on me and tore my heart up. I was broken. My heart became dark, cold, incapable of love. As unhappy as I was during that time I realize that I needed that coldness to heal. After the breakup (and one rebound relationship that should have never happened) I made a conscious decision not to look for a life partner until after college.

By taking the pressure to marry off the table I was able to have more fun and explore other types of relationships. My friendships grew as I focused on seeing my friends and doing things with them. I also found women who weren’t looking for long-term stuff and started “dating” (read: banging and ordering pizza) several of them at the same time. I was open that I was seeing other people and they were open that they were seeing others. We knew our relationships had an expiration date when college ended, and that just added to the intimacy and pleasure. To this day some of those women are close friends of mine. Our relationships weren’t failures because we didn’t end up together until one of us died, they were incredibly successful because we grew with each other and had incredible experiences together. Success in relationships should not be solely judged by longevity.

After college I moved to DC and found the atmosphere similar to the one in college. There were many women who were focused on their careers, and I wasn’t really ready to look for “the one”. Besides, I quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in staying in DC long term, and most people in DC are career politicos who need to be in Mordor for their professional success. So, instead of worrying about partnership I kept building my friendships (both sexual and otherwise).

One friendship in particular stands out. My friend Megan started out as a volunteer for the  organization I worked for but we became close friends. Eventually she started working as an employee for the organization and our friendship grew even tighter. Despite the rumors her and I never slept together (though I was always down for it), but we hung out, vented to each other about our lives, and shared secrets. When I decided to leave DC she came to my going away party with her friend, Anna, who would eventually become my life partner.

I didn’t know at the party that Anna would be someone I spent my life with. It wasn’t a “love at first sight” or anything. I wasn’t looking for that. I was about to start a solo cross-country bike ride to move to LA and the only thing I wanted out of Anna at that time was a friend for the weekend. We had a great weekend and, it turned out, Anna was moving to LA as well for a job. We promised to keep in touch but I didn’t have any expectations.

Well, I peddled the 3,500 miles and arrived in LA two months later, and Anna met me Santa Monica. She even let me kiss her despite my incredible stink and terrible homeless look. Over the next few months we became bang-buddies, eventually started dating, and then became “exclusive”. It is a classic love story of an drunken party hook-up turning into so much more.

My 20’s were a time of exploration and self reflection. It had my darkest days in it, but they forged me into the person I am now. I was never really alone, even though I wasn’t married. I don’t think there is some sort of deity or fate that brought me to where I am now. No, it was a mixture of chance and intention, but things did work out well. I have a wonderful partner who is excited to spend three years with me cycling the US, wants to travel the world with me, doesn’t want kids, not jealous, wants to have a minimalist life, and has similar political and religious views. By refusing to settle for someone who wasn’t lined up with me on important things like lifestyle and kids I was able to find the perfect partner for me now.

As great as our relationship is, neither one of us want it to last longer than it should. If either of us gets to the point where our views change drastically or we no longer are thriving in the relationship then we go our separate ways. Even this relationship, which we desire to last until death or immortality, will be a success if it is filled with love and support, even if it ends. We are both different than we were a decade ago, and it is likely that we will be different a decade from now. We hope to grow and change together, but if we don’t we can still look back on this relationship with happiness because we know it was successful.

My Emotionally Abusive Relationship

A couple of days ago I shared an article on Facebook about abusive relationships (see: here) and I received a lot of comments and support. The article really spoke to me and I shared a bit about my own experience in this area, which caused several people to share their stories with me as well. Because of the response I’ve decided to elaborate on my experience a bit in hopes it might help someone else. Abusive relationships are a part of us until the day we die, but healing does come slowly and it is something we can thrive after. Breaking up with her was the second most difficult break-up I’ve ever had. The most difficult break up with a very different situation, the two of us were okay together but not long-term compatible. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on the long-term future but neither of us had a catalyst to break up, we just kind of drifted along for longer than we should have because everything was fine. We knew we shouldn’t be together but there was no good reason NOT to be together… but that is a story for another time I think.

Anyway, on to the story.

My first real, adult relationship was with Lyla*. We met when I was in the Army and we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a southern girl, very athletic, and a lot of fun to be around. In the beginning things were great, we lived a couple of hours apart but we made it work pretty well. She was my first sexual partner, and because of this I figured we would be together forever. In fact, I felt that God required it. My upbringing taught me that sex was only between married couples. Because Lyla and I had sex we had to get married, and if we got married God would bless our relationship and everything would work out perfectly. It turns out the fairy-tale I was taught was wrong.

The real problems didn’t start to develop until Lyla and I moved in with each other. When we lived apart she was cheating on me, but I didn’t know it. Ignorance was bliss. But when we started to live together it became harder and harder for her to cover her tracks. I could tell early on that something wasn’t right, but I buried my head in the sand for a long time. I made excuses for her and held her up on a pedestal. “She would never do that to me, she loves me!” I would tell myself.

As time went on she began to accuse me of cheating and began to control my life more and more. It started with small things, like telling me that a female classmate made her a little uncomfortable. She would ask me not to hang out with that person one-on-one… which seemed fine, she was only a classmate, afterall. She never had a real reason for her feelings, and she didn’t expressly forbid me from doing it, but I thought it was the right thing to do to make her more comfortable. Soon, those little requests evolved into more and more controlling behavior.

Her request that I not hang out with a specific woman turned into not talking to any female classmates via email or online at all. She would look over my shoulder while I was at the computer or snoop through my messages. “It isn’t that I don’t trust you, it is that I don’t trust them!” she would say. That wasn’t the truth though, she didn’t trust me. She knew she had no reason not to trust me, but she didn’t. I think she was projecting her own cheating on to me.

Eventually, she had me cut off from all my female friends. It happened so slowly and her reasoning seemed so valid that I didn’t see it for the controlling behavior that it was. After all, we were a couple and couples should really only do things together or with other couples, right? It even got to the point where strangers became arguments. I specifically remember one incident where I was driving our car while she was in the passenger seat. I looked left to check for traffic and there happened to be a woman in the car to our left, Lyla started yelling at me for “checking out” the woman next to us. I hadn’t checked her out, but just looking in the direction of another woman was enough to set her off and create a fight. It became easier to just keep my eyes down when with Lyla. I took the blame for anything other’s did as well… a classmate emails me class she missed and it was my fault, a stranger asks me for directions (happens all the time in a tourist town) and it is my fault, Lyla sees a girl looking at me and it is my fault.

She made excuses why the same rules didn’t apply to her. She was free to hang out with her ex-boyfriends because they were old friends. If I questioned this or expressed discomfort she would ridicule me, call me crazy, or paranoid. And I believed her. I thought I was being paranoid. Everything she said and did made sense to me, and my discomfort with it was my own fault.

During this time I was finishing up my Associate’s Degree and looking at four-year universities to transfer to. My top choices were Duke and Pepperdine, I knew they were tough to get into but I wanted to try. Lyla didn’t want me to try, so I didn’t. She didn’t want to leave the area we lived in and told me that I wasn’t allowed to either. She wanted to be close to her friends and family, the places she was comfortable with, even if that meant I worked as a security guard for the rest of my life. The only reason I was able to go to a four-year college at all was because I got my application in to College of Charleston during one of our break ups.

At this time I was really interested in politics and was doing a lot of reading and research on current events. She would become insanely jealous or angry if I would watch the news or read books that weren’t necessary for class. Everything was a challenge to her primacy in my life and she expected me to neglect my interests for her.

Our sex life continued to get more and more unhealthy. She would shame me for my sexual interests and my sex drive. I was working a lot, in school, and stressed out so my sex drive plummeted. She didn’t want much sex either from me, but my lowered libido was proof something was wrong with me. She often said that she thought I was “a faggot”. My reaction to that type of comment would be different today, but as a young Christian from a conservative background (but knowing my sexuality was more fluid than straight) that was a devastating comment and blow to my psyche. It didn’t help that I enjoyed (and still enjoy) sex doggie-style, which she also saw as “faggy”.

The few times when I openly expressed some of my sexual fantasies or interests she told me I was perverted and a freak. And I felt like I was, I felt alone and sure that she was the only person that would love me or put up with me. I now know that my fantasies and interests were fine and pretty vanilla, but I had no sexual role-models and I had no idea where to get real information. All I had was Christian books like “I Kissed Dating Good Bye” which made me feel like a dirty, failing sinner who deserved hell (and would get hell if I didn’t hurry up and get married).

We weren’t making much money at this time. We both had part-time jobs and I had GI Bill money coming in, but our finances were a mess. She kept all of her paycheck for spending money (because  she earned it) but all my income went to rent, bills, food, and other expenses. I rarely had any money for little things like a quick meal or a beer, much less money for books and tuition. I took out loans for school (despite the GI Bill) because the one time I asked her if we could divide the finances more evenly she freaked out and told me to sleep on the couch. She locked me out of our bedroom. This was a common tactic anytime I would bring up a concern of mine… any fight was my fault and I had to sleep on the couch. None of my concerns were ever addressed, I was simply the bad guy for bringing them up.

Over several months we would break up and get back together. I would find proof she was cheating and end things. Then, she would call me crying and I would take her back. We would have some really amazing sex and I would think “this time we will get things right”. This went on for months. I wish I could say I was eventually strong enough to keep things separated, but I wasn’t. I was weak and gave in to her body or emotions every time.

Eventually, she started dating someone else and had no reason to come back to me anymore. Time went on and I turned my heart off for a while. I got cold inside, I did all I could to stop emotions. I embraced logic above all else, read a bunch of Ayn Rand, and studied economics. I don’t regret studying economics, I love economics, but I wonder if I would have gone into that field if I wasn’t introduced to it during this dark time. I spent about five years in this darkness, I contemplated suicide many times, and my “relationships” were almost entirely sexual. But, eventually it passed. Sun began to enter my heart again and I started to feel love for others. I saw beauty in the world and others. Things got better.

The scars are still there, but they are small now. Occasionally, the damage done by Lyla sneaks up on me but I can easily see it for what it is and brush it aside. Even to this day it is hard for me to be mad at her, I love my current life so damn much and I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t gone through that experience with Lyla. That isn’t to excuse her behavior, but I do recognize that in the end I am in a good place with a wonderful partner on an amazing adventure and I can’t imagine being happier.

If you are dealing with an abusive relationship of some sort and need help please feel free to reach out to me. I know they take different forms, and experiences get much worse than mine. I don’t know where to draw the line on what counts as abusive, but if your partner snoops on your phone or computer, isolates you from friends based on gender or prevents you from having new friends, blames you for other’s actions, finds excuses for why you can’t pursue the life you want, is unwilling to communicate or makes you feel like your concerns are never valid, shames you for your sexual interests, sexual orientation, or relationship orientation, or ever, ever physically harms you, then that is abuse. Love does not control, belittle, or harm.

* fake name

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.

Relationship Types

I have always found one-word relationship definitions to be very restricting and unrealistic. I know that labels serve some purpose in simplifying things in life but with complex interactions like intimate relationships I find the simplicity to be harmful. As the below chart highlights, there are a shit-ton of ways to be intimate. I’m not sure of the source of this image but it appears to leave out by-the-books monogamy where two people are only intimate, have sex, and are in love with each other with no cheating by either partner. I guess that would be a bubble outside the graph but in reality many cheat and many have monogamish relationships where certain levels of intimacy and sexual exploration exist.

What I really find unfortunate about the quick definitions we put on relationships is it prevents (and even makes taboo) discussions that get deeper into the details of relationships. It is inappropriate for me to talk to one of my couple crushes (of which I have several) and ask them if they are more open sexually, if they swing or are into BDSM. If I ask these things it is assumed I am hitting on them or looking for a play partner when in reality I may just be interested in the relationship dynamics between two (or more) complex people. I find people and sex fascinating, I would love to know how my friends and acquaintances approach these issues and relationships.

Anyway, I found the image interesting even if it isn’t complete (can anything like this be complete without reducing it down to each individual relationship in the world?).

“Marriage Isn’t For You”

On Friday my partner brought my attention to an article that has been floating around the internet titled “Marriage Isn’t For You”… I realize this was a week ago (which is an eternity in today’s world) but because love and relationships are something I have strong opinions on I wanted to share my thoughts. When I first read this article it made me really uncomfortable but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. After reading this response, posting it on my wall (where as of now every “like” is by a female), and talking it over with my partner and roommate I think I found the source of some of my discomfort.

I am not against love, monogamy, or marriage. I have performed two weddings, been best man in four weddings, groomsman in another half dozen, and an usher in two. I support my friends in love and I am always honored to be a part of the celebration of that love and their desire to love eternally. I recognize that all relationships require compromise, understanding, and often some form of sacrifice. I think Smith has moved beyond what is reasonable though, he is not suggesting reasonable sacrifice but is instead recommending people give up core parts of their beliefs to fall in line with social norms. If one part of a relationship isn’t comfortable with marriage there is something wrong with them in Smith’s mind and they need to just suck it up and do it because it will make another person happy.

We live in a modern era where love is free to express itself in many forms. Research continues to show that humans are not as naturally monogamous as earlier preached, and lifelong pair-bonding may not be for everybody. I am firm believer that there are a few certain things that partners need to have in common in order for their relationship to be fair, balanced, and healthy… marriage, kids, and lifestyle are those few certain things. For one partner to just get married to make the other person happy or to have kids or to change their lifestyle seems like it can only result in future resentment and probably a broken relationship.

Marriage is not necessary for financial security or even stability for children. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t for everyone and to pressure people to commit their lives to something they don’t want to make a spouse happy cannot lead to happiness for either person. If one person wants to get married and the other doesn’t the one pushing for marriage is being more selfish, more stubborn, and will eventually cause more harm to the relationship. There is no honor in sacrificing your future in an attempt to make another person happy and there is no honor in accepting someone’s entire future as a sacrifice in hopes it will make you happy. Happiness can only be determined by the individual and a healthy relationship requires two people who can be healthy alone.

I love my married friends, I love those who have decided that they are on the same page with regards to their future and want to be partners for life, but there is nothing to love if the build-up to marriage causes “my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.” That is a sign that one party is not ready for marriage (and may never be) and to just cave in, put a ring on it, and hope for the best is a recipe for disaster.

For generations we have been fed fairytales where the end of the movie is a wedding between a hopeless romantic and a reluctant partner, but we never see what happens after the wedding. The most important part of married couples relationship is after the churchbells have faded and they are with their partner for life, if they don’t go into that on equal ground I can’t imagine it can end well. True lifetime love deserves the honesty and respect that comes from two equals who get married for both of their happiness, not to please another person or society.

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.