This morning, Ben and I actually had two hours to ourselves. My mother-in-law was taking my youngest son to a music class, and my oldest was in preschool. We could do anything we wanted! Did we laze around in bed, have crazy sex followed by pastries and great coffee? No, we went for a run. I know, GROSS. But it does give us a chance to have interesting conversations.
He told me about an article he had recently read about the state of feminism. I preface this writing by saying, I have not read the article he spoke about, have not researched the material he passed on to me- I’m just talking about it in context to a larger conversation.
The article described a paradox in modern feminism. The majority of college students are now female. There are more women than men in the work force and more female managers than male. These statistics seem to be pointing to a shift in the balance of power. Go ladies!
The article then went on to talk about how these busy female go-getters were so busy doing it for themselves, that in place of relationships, they were opting for random hook ups. Now, one night stands have been a staple of early adulthood for probably as long as there have been adults. But the men mentioned in the article seemed to almost be bragging about how easy it was to get a lady to give up the goods these days. A real date wasn’t even required- a purchase of a $3 cup at the local fro-yo shop, and panties be dropping. Seriously? I would at least require a hot fudge sundae- but I’m classy like that.
I guess this struck a chord with me, because in some ways, it feels like feminism let us down in this arena. In urging us to go after our sexual desires and ask for what we want in the bedroom, we somehow got the notion that being sexually aggressive meant hopping in bed with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. There is this misguided idea that being adventurous means having experiences with men, animals, vegetables, and minerals (ok, just the men and perhaps a lady of two on a really drunk night), but it is difficult to describe your specific turn-ons before you’re even willing to admit your favorite guilty-pleasure movie (Showgirls anyone?).
I may not be Dr. Ruth, but I do know a thing or two about hookups. I didn’t just have a few foolish encounters in my twenties. I spent five years in an open relationship.
I cannot speak for all polyamorous relationships. I’m sure there are swingers out there with happy, healthy sex lives who cannot attest to anything I write below. But I’m also sure there are a few like myself who found a lifestyle surrounded by sexual partners and no real life partners to be a lonely state to live in.
There are a few problems within the swinging scene that seem to relate directly to the hookup lifestyle. For many women, their twenties are a time of figuring out who they are, including what pleases them sexually. I thought by having many partners, I was opening myself up to new experiences. But, as cliché as it sounds, the best sex is happens when you trust your partner enough to be able to voice what you like and don’t like. I’m not saying that a committed relationship is required to have good sex, but if you wouldn’t fart in front of the person you are in bed with, what chance do you have of asking them to suck your toes or talk dirty in your ear? I once had a partner sing Primus “Here Come the Bastards” as a bit of foreplay. Strange? Perhaps, but I had known that person for years, and understood that he would find it to be a pretty standard request from me.
Beyond feeling comfortable asking for what I liked, my twenties were a time of just figuring out what pleased me. I thought I was an expert in all things pertaining to my particular sexuality because I was an expert at masturbation. But I learned there was a big difference between what I did to pleasure myself and what I found pleasurable with others. As a solo, my acts were very much a means to an end. With a partner, my mind and body had to be connected. I tried to make sex no big deal, just something I did for fun. But the truth is, the physicality of the act makes it personal in a way that cannot be underestimated. I was taking another person into my body. It does not get more intimate than that. When you take that person inside, he is forever connected to your memory, your history and your heart. Why belittle the importance of that experience?
I recently read a quote by Kurt Vonnegut, something to the effect of “We are who we pretend to be, so be careful what you pretend.” When I was engaged in this lifestyle, I surrounded myself with a certain type of man. The men wanted women who were confident sexually, who craved sex, who were open to exploration and vocal about their needs. I liked the idea that if I acted the part they wanted me to play, I had control over them. To them, I was a fantasy, a sex pot. The problem was the real me was not so confident, was not so driven sexually. I didn’t have a insatiable appetite for sex- my insatiability is generally reserved for cupcakes. Very seldom did I have real orgasms, but I had faked it so many times that faking was a necessary part of the act. It would have been wonderful to slowly explore my sexuality with a trusting partner, surprised to learn what excited me, like finding clues on a scavenger hunt. Instead I gave up that possibility to become a caricature of the “perfect” woman.
Finally, as most of us know, the buildup is usually far better than the reality. Think of the one night stands you have endured- I say endured because that’s probably how most of them felt. Oh sure, there are one or two that thrive passionately in our memories, but most were far steamier before the clothes actually came off. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a group of friends, most of them in long term relationships. They didn’t miss one night stands or getting to know you sex. They missed making out. The first kiss, full of longing and promise that ends as soon as the buttons start coming undone. Don’t rush those moments. They are over far too quickly as it is. Allow yourself to be courted.
I probably sound like a reformed prude. No, I didn’t have crazy sex this morning. I went for a run. But when I got home, I jumped into the pool to cool off. My husband joined me for a dip. We floated lazily at first, but then our arms found their way around each other, and he kissed me. Long and slow, without hurried intentions, but instead with a comforting familiarity. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that the words “hot monogamy” are not an oxymoron.