I want you to know these things:
I woke up this morning and made breakfast for my wife and daughter. I picked out an outfit for my daughter, just a toddler, and wrestled her into it. Then I checked the weather, picked out a different outfit, wrestled her out of the first and into the second and got her, late as always, out the door.
This weekend, I met a group of friends at a beach. We grilled too much and drank too much. We got rained on and talked about books and movies with a large tarp stretched over our heads, waited for an hour’s worth of “just five more minutes.”
I once spent a whole night dreaming a debate over who was the best NBA center of all time, Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain.
My favorite things in the world, biking and writing, are things I like doing alone.
I want you to know these things too:
I am in what I call a committed, non-monogamous relationship; what Dan Savage would call a “monogamish” one.
I went to a party last weekend. There were probably 20 people there, and by the time I left almost none of them were wearing clothes.
My wife has a boyfriend who has a few other girlfriends. I have a best-friend that used to be a girlfriend and a few good friends who I can have sex with just about anytime our schedules allow.
I spend good portions of my time writing dirty stories that try to be art. I wrote a book about what it felt like to start seeing other people after being monogamous with the same person since high school. I even put out an audiobook of my favorite pieces of filth I’ve ever written.
Also, you should know this:
There’s a decent chance you have more (and more interesting) sex than I do.
There’s a decent chance that you even think about sex more than I do.
So far as I can remember, no one has ever introduced me as their non-monogamous friend John. I’ve gotten writer friend, and very drunk friend a few times, but never been solely defined by how my relationship was structured.
Because here’s the thing:
I’m a sexually adventurous person in an open relationship with an even more sexually adventurous person. Our friends, by and large, are sexually adventurous people, but none of us is only that. Our group of sexual adventurers includes writers (real ones, not me), engineers, doctors, artists and artists and artists (three different kinds), and quite a few people who wear khakis to work but whose jobs I cannot name without being awkwardly specific.
An alternative lifestyle doesn’t need to be your whole life.
There’s a reason I want you to know this:
Some people are afraid of dipping their toes in the water, afraid of trying group sex or anal play or casual sex or of trying new people or positions or even to ask for the things they like best. Some are afraid that dipping a toe in the water of sexual adventure is to fall full-tilt down the rabbit hole.
Certainly, there can be some truth to that. When one starts to strip sex of the shame often applied to it, one starts to try more and more things one thought one would not do. At that party last weekend, for instance, I was standing without my shirt in line for the bathroom, and someone walking past said, “bathroom line is a makeout line!” So I made out with the person in front of me until it was her turn to go.
Much more involved things happened that night, but not to me. I went home before midnight from the sex party because, you know, I told the babysitter I would. And because keeping a good babysitter happy is more important than an orgy. Also, I’m not entirely sure yet how I feel about the whole party atmosphere sex thing.
Point being, each person, or each couple, or each group of consenting participants, gets to decide their own level of involvement. There is less black and white between monogamous and non, and more like fifty shades of… wait, no, bad metaphor. Lots of different flavors of sex ice cream?
Let me put this another way, since I’m getting distracted:
We should be more scared of bad sex than we are of feeling weird about the sex we want to have.
Everyone can allow themselves some adventure, everyone can chase their fantasies to fulfillment, without sacrificing their whole lives to the sex gods.
Of course, for some, there is no sacrifice so much as there is a willful surrender. Some find that devoting their lives to sex and sexual fulfillment is far preferable to, say, an obsession about whether one center who scored 100 points in a game is better than one who won more championship rings than he has fingers. They aren’t wrong.
For every member of the community with profiles on five websites, postings on ten different message boards, and spreadsheets for their dating plans, there are ten people occasionally swapping partners, occasionally meeting someone new and getting that rush of a new connection, people who add love and lust and good, clean, dirty fun to their lives but don’t make a big deal about it.
I’m not that person. I wrote a book about my sex life. I’m quiet about almost nothing that I do. Still, that doesn’t mean most people aren’t quiet.
The water is fine.
The people I have met through community events, parties, and hosted happy hours for monogamish people are among the most genuine, thoughtful, fun friends I have in my life. They lead rich lives, lives full of so much more than who and when and how they date.
For at least 95% of our daily experience, our lives are indistinguishable from those of our single-partner neighbors. Our relationships, though we may have more of them, are no more a part of us than any one else’s relationships. They are an important part of who we are, they are an important part of how we experience the world, how we gather comfort, closeness, and pleasure.
But who we fuck is far from what defines us wholly.
John Stark writes sex fiction and essays on WeSleepTogether.Blogspot.com. His non-monogamy memoir, Small Things, is available on iTunes. Dirty Bits, an audio book of dirty stories, is also available on iTunes.