MY HUSBAND AND I ARE HAPPILY MARRIED — BUT WE WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Partner-swapping is more mainstream than ever, and the couple you’re about to meet swears it helped their marriage. Are they crazy? Deluded? Read this — then decide.
e joked that I should answer the door in a long hippie dress,” says Janet Williams*, who’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt as I step into the living room of her suburban Orlando home. “Or nude!” says her husband, Eric, who looks like he’s dressed for a round of golf in a polo shirt and shorts. They’re low-key and welcoming, even though I’m here to grill them about what they do naked: specifically, getting intimate with other couples at swingers parties.
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine Janet, 33, stripping down in a room full of strangers. She’s gorgeous in a clean-cut sort of way, but her olive skin, Brooke Shields brows, and curvy figure make me bet every guy she works with has a crush on her. And it’s not out of the question that Eric inspires water cooler chatter, too: He’s 6 feet tall and, at 40, has flatter abs than guys half his age. He comes off as strong and straightforward — maybe it’s his military background — as he slips his arm around Janet and looks adoringly at her. The tenderness between them makes what I know about their sex life even more baffling. How can two supposedly happily married people watch each other get so close with so many someone-elses?
There’s certainly no shortage of partners: There are some huge swinger websites out there so Janet and Eric have agreed to answer every question I ask on this August afternoon before they head out to a swingers gathering, and even okay my request to ride along with them to the party. I’m also welcome to interview them the day after, when their defenses will be lowest. They’re willing to let me share everything except their real names and address, in order to protect their identities.
How does a committed couple make this lifestyle work? And why would they want to?
On paper, Janet and Eric are more Main Street than Wisteria Lane. They’ve been together 13 years, married for seven. Janet has a master’s degree, and Eric enlisted right after high school. They do all the things most married couples do: go to movies, walk their yellow Lab, work out (which explains the abs; they run every morning at 6 a.m.). They don’t have any children together, though Eric has a son from a previous marriage who lives with them for part of the year; today he’s with his mother. Their living room looks like a Pottery Barn catalog, with throw pillows alternating precisely across the couch: beige, burgundy, beige, burgundy, beige.
They keep their unorthodox sex life under wraps — and with good reason. Janet and Eric both work for the county. If anyone they know professionally discovered what they do in the buff, there would be unfixable damage to their reputations, or worse. “The idea of someone finding out really does scare me,” says Janet. Not even their closest friends are privy to their swinging lifestyle. “They call us prudes,” she says, laughing. “And for the most part, we are. We follow the rules.” Neither one has ever tried drugs, and most nights they’re in bed by 10 p.m. — just the two of them.
I ask them to back up for a moment. Sure, they follow everyday rules, but the concept of swinging is mind-boggling to most people in a serious relationship. “It sounds crazy when we look at it from the perspective of the typical married couple,” agrees Janet. But they’ve inched their way into it, she says; after two-plus years of swingers parties, they’re just now starting to contemplate actual intercourse with other people (so far, they’ve engaged in oral sex and foreplay). For them, swinging is something they do to enhance an already strong bond. They talk about what turns them on and what’s out-of-bounds before every sex party, and when they go to one, they stay together so everything’s in the open. “Janet and I are married, we are best friends, and we do everything as a couple, including this,” says Eric. “I see a lot of my friends’ marriages end because they get stuck in a rut,” Janet explains. “I think that’s why it’s important to try something new together, whatever it is.”
Janet and Eric started swinging to get over a rough patch in their relationship, they tell me. A few years ago, Janet’s libido took a nosedive, something she blames on the Pill but could have been due to stress, age, or just growing complacent in her marriage. Eric was frank: He wasn’t getting what he needed. “I stopped seeing her in a sexual light,” he says. Janet admits sex felt like a chore. “It took me so long to get going,” she says. “I couldn’t control that my sex drive had plummeted, and when you’ve been with the same person a while, sex can start to feel same-old, same-old.” Eric became concerned; his past marriage had ended after he and his wife stopped being intimate and both had affairs. “I remembered how bad cheating had made me and my ex feel, and I’d never do it again,” says Eric. “But I wasn’t ready to say, ‘I’ll pretend to be okay with this’. What’s the point of being married and not enjoying sex together?”
The lightbulb went off while the two were on vacation and Eric, on a whim, suggested hitting a strip club. Surprisingly, Janet was game. “I was relaxed after a few days off, and it seemed exciting,” she says. “Just doing something, anything, new — I needed that.” Once they had a few cocktails, Eric bought Janet a table dance. For him, watching Janet with someone else — even a stripper for hire — was a turn-on. For Janet, being watched by Eric was equally sexy. The rest of the vacation was charged in a way they hadn’t experienced in a while. “We couldn’t keep our hands off each other,” says Eric.
When their trip ended, Eric began looking for other things to keep the sparks flying back home. That’s when he found some adult websites that allows anyone over 18 to post video. It’s filled with homemade movies from real couples, and Eric asked Janet if she’d view it with him. She agreed, and soon they graduated to on-camera foreplay, being sure to hide their faces. “We could see how many people were watching, and they would leave comments raving about Janet’s body,” says Eric. “I never thought I’d be turned on by other men seeing my wife nude, but I really was.” Janet was aroused by the attention as well. “Eric doesn’t always show appreciation for me,” she says. “He says he thinks it, but that doesn’t do me much good.” Eventually, though, they burnt out on the adult websites. Eric was ready to try something in real life.
They decided to try a swingers club. “It was Eric’s idea, but I was on board,” Janet says. She and Eric hammered out ground rules: no kissing other people, no doing anything without checking with the other person first, and always staying together. “To us, sex is a physical act, but kissing is an intimate act,” Eric explains. “That’s why it’s always off the table.” In other words: Pretty Woman rules? “Exactly,” says Janet. They finally picked a club over an hour away. The experience was exhilarating, but not their scene. Things didn’t get started until after midnight — tough for a couple that goes to bed well before Letterman — and they were freaked out by the atmosphere: One room was filled with people in bondage gear.
“To us, sex is a physical act, but kissing is an intimate act,” Eric explains. “That’s why it’s always off the table.”
After a few failed nights at sex clubs, Janet and Eric were relieved to find Club Relate, a private swingers group owned by a husband-and-wife team, Tom and Lynda Gayle. According to Eric and Janet, the Club Relate crowd is older (members are typically in their 40s or 50s) and, perhaps consequentially, more approachable. “Everyone is so nice, and so respectful,” says Eric. “They ask before they do anything with someone else’s partner.” Lynda keeps a box of latex gloves around, at Janet’s request (she doesn’t like the idea of germy hands on her), and there are bottles of water and bowls of condoms laid out. Best of all, things get going at 7:30 p.m., and most parties are in hotel rooms instead of nightclubs lit by disco balls.
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Tonight, Lynda is hosting a sex party in a hotel suite. Eric and Janet are eager to go; it’s been over a month since their last event, and they’re ready to push the envelope even more. They get giddy remembering their first time, when they had sex while strangers watched. “We were up all night afterward,” says Eric. “We felt high from the experience.” Neither Janet nor Eric say they’re addicted to swinging, but it does sound a bit like a drug: “You start to crave it,” Eric says. “This summer, I noticed I was thinking about it at work. That’s when I said, ‘Okay, time to take a break.'”
I ask Janet if she’s really never gotten jealous seeing Eric touch another woman. She swears up and down that it doesn’t bother her when he does, or when another woman massages him (massage is pretty much code for any type of touching in the swingers circle). “It’s just sex,” she says. “Not love. Not intimacy. Sex.”
So where does the couple draw the line? Janet has received oral sex from someone else, but Eric hasn’t, nor has he performed it. Janet explains that this is because she’s terrified of him getting a sexually transmitted disease. (It’s an interesting double standard; Janet didn’t use protection the last time she received oral sex from a stranger.) As for emotional boundaries, “I’d be jealous if he were to do something without me there,” she says. Eric is quick to reassure her: “That would never happen.” Their attitude toward swinging is that they both play or they don’t play — end of story. “It’s all centered around what makes us happy as a couple,” Janet says. “It’s always been about us, for us. That’s why I think it’s helped our marriage.”
The action doesn’t start for another few hours, so I accept Lynda’s invitation to attend the orientation for Club Relate newbies. When I enter the suite — the same one that will be used for the party later on — I see four others already seated, looking nervous. There are two single men, both older, short, and bald. There’s also a somewhat mismatched married couple: She’s young and beautifully exotic; he’s an ersatz Paul McCartney and has a good 15 years on her. She nuzzles him sweetly.
Thirty-nine people have RSVP’d for tonight’s party. It sounds like a lot, and I envision a sort of Hieronymus Bosch painting — this beige hotel suite writhing with bodies. But Lynda explains that it won’t feel overcrowded, because “lots of people will just be watching.” (True, people take up less space when vertical.) Then she outlines the rules: no alcohol, no drugs, and if someone propositions you and you’re not into it, just say, “No, thank you, but thanks for asking.” This particular flavor of swinging is all about manners. Most clubs have the no-thank-you rule, but Lynda has added the cordial nicety of the second part. It makes sense. Rejection is one thing, but rejection in front of a group of people while naked? Ouch.
As we file out of orientation, the suite’s ambience is quickly transforming from convention-center bland to bow-chicka-bow-wow thanks to shades thrown over the lamps and twinkling tea lights surrounding the Jacuzzi tub. I walk to my car, and out of the corner of my eye, I see Eric and Janet heading in to the hotel. We wave to each other as they go to join the rest of the group.
The next day, I meet the couple at a Mexican restaurant. Janet wears heels, a sundress, and a big grin. They’re both in a contagiously good mood. After ordering breakfast, they start to whisper some of the details from last night: Once the party began, they made a beeline for a massage table. Another man joined them, and he and Eric gave Janet an erotic massage. Afterward, Janet urged Eric to touch the beautiful woman I’d met in orientation while she watched; Eric admits he was intimidated because the woman was so pretty. “It’s like an eighth-grade dance,” Janet says. “I had to physically push him to go up to her.”
They get sidetracked trying to recall all the places in the suite where they had sex, and the conversation devolves into laughter. “It’s sensory overload,” explains Eric. They have a sort of blissed-out afterglow usually reserved for honeymooners. “She’s been really lovey today,” he continues. “She keeps saying, ‘I love you so much, you’re my best friend.’ It’s nice to hear.” Despite the fatigue, they woke up this morning and had sex first thing.
Janet and Eric insist that if either of them started to feel any sort of emotional attachment to their new friends, the arrangement would end.
When I ask them what’s next, Janet jumps in. She says they’ve hung out twice now with a couple they met online, and they’re hoping a swap — including intercourse — will happen soon. “I’ll feel safer with one married couple than the group setting,” says Janet. Her rationale: There will be less risk of STDs, because everyone’s married, even though it’s obvious there’s not a lot of monogamy going on. The emotional risk of swinging with one couple doesn’t faze them. Janet and Eric insist that if either of them started to feel any sort of emotional attachment to their new friends, the arrangement would end.
Meanwhile, Eric relishes their swinger status — even if nobody knows about it but them. He starts talking about the guys at work, how they go nuts when a hot girl walks by. “They’re sex-starved,” he says, shaking his head. He looks warmly at Janet. “I don’t act like them, because I have enough. I have more than enough.” And yet, they keep upping the ante, daring themselves to go further and betting their bond won’t snap under pressure. “This has made us brutally honest with each other,” Janet says. “Exploring has made us happier. It’s still just us, together, in my mind.”
Reality Check From a Doctor
Our resident sexual health expert, Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., is pretty open-minded… but this trend has her worried.
“If swinging isn’t something a woman really wants to do, then she shouldn’t,” Hutcherson says. “It can lead to major resentment.” Even when both partners are genuinely curious, it’s crucial to set ground rules and protect each other against sexually transmitted diseases. “Just because someone is married doesn’t mean they’re safe. Even with condoms, you can be exposed to viruses like HPV and herpes,” she says. HPV (human papillomavirus) can lead to cervical cancer, of course, but it’s also linked to throat cancers — making oral sex riskier than most people think. There are emotional risks, too: “One of my patients got divorced after she saw her husband with someone else at a swingers party. She thought she could handle it, but she realized too late that she couldn’t,” Hutcherson says.
Couples therapist Mira Kirshenbaum, author of the upcoming book I Love You but I Don’t Trust You, agrees: “Before a couple does anything like this, they should talk to each other about what their needs are and brainstorm ways to meet those needs that don’t involve swinging.” She also underlines the importance of establishing rules, and stresses that couples should have an exit clause. “It’s essential,” she says. “If swinging isn’t working for one person, it needs to stop, no questions asked.”
Have a Blessed Gay
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Dos and don’ts for happy polyamorous relationships
Pragmatic advice on things likely to help your relationships work
Guidelines to consider when managing polyamorous relationships
Polyamory adds a significant layer of complexity atop the already complex job of managing a romantic relationship. Building good poly relationships doesn’t happen by accident; in addition to the normal challenges anyone in a traditional relationship will face, polyamory offers a few challenges of its own.
This is a simple guide to some of the “dos and don’ts” of polyamorous relationships. Of course, you’ll need the relationship skills that go along with any intimate interpersonal relationship as well!
Don’t coerce your relationships into a predefined shape; let them be what they are
Sometimes, people—particularly people who are already part of an established couple—decide what kind of relationship they want, what form that relationship will take, and then try to fit a person into that space.
People are complex, and every person will have his or her own ideas and desires and needs in a relationship. Trying to force a person in a box—for example, trying to say, “You can only date both of us and you have to develop a relationship with both of us that’s exactly the same and grows in exactly the same way”—rarely works. Instead, treat your relationships in a way that respects what they are. Give each person a voice; you are having a relationship, not looking for spare parts! Listen to what the relationship is telling you, instead of trying to force it to be something specific.
Don’t keep score
Often, we may be tempted to try to turn multiple relationships into a tallying game—“You slept with her two nights in a row, now you need to sleep with me two nights in a row!” “You took him to dinner three times, but only took me to dinner once!”
Fairness and compassion are worthwhile goals in any relationship, but as anyone who’s ever been a child knows, sometimes things don’t work exactly the way we expect them to. “Danny, do the dishes!” “But I did the dishes last night, it’s my sister’s turn tonight!” “Yes, but your sister is sick in bed tonight.” “It’s not FAIR!”
Fairness operates on a global level, not a local level; there may be times when one partner, for whatever reason, is going through a crisis or is facing problems or for whatever reason needs more support and attention. As long as that support is available to all the people in the relationship when they need it, it’s not a question of keeping score.
And while we’re on the subject…
Do understand that your needs have nothing directly to do with your partner’s other partner
It’s usually more helpful to ask “Am I getting what I need?” rather than “Am I getting the same things as my partner’s other partner?” Not everyone has the same needs, and happiness is found more easily in having your needs met than in having the same things as the people around you. In fact, I think the goal of a relationship should be in seeking to have your relationship needs met in a way that’s fulfilling, not in achieving parity with everyone else.
Don’t say “You need to stop giving her X;” say “I need Y” instead. Consider the things you need, rather than what you think your partner’s other partner is getting. Being happy is not a competition! Going back to the idea of keeping score, rather than saying “You took him to dinner three times and only took me to dinner once,” it’s often more productive to say “I would like you to take me to dinner more often.”
And that leads us nicely to:
Do ask for what you need
It may seem obvious, but if you don’t ask for what you need, you can’t expect to get the things you need. If you have a need that you feel is not being met by your partner, say so. Don’t assume that your partner knows; don’t start with the idea that if your partner “really” loved you, your partner would just be able to tell without you saying anything; and don’t assume that if your partner really loved you, your partner would already know what you need. Don’t wait for your partner to infer your needs. When you discover that your needs aren’t being met, talk to your partner about it!
Your needs are important, and even if you believe they are irrational, they are still a legitimate part of who you are. Of course, you can’t automatically assume that you will have all your needs met at all times by everyone around you, but it’s far easier for your partner to meet a need he knows about than a need he doesn’t…
Don’t let problems sit
Addressing problems is never comfortable. Approaching a person who is behaving in a way that causes you pain or who isn’t meeting your needs carries emotional risk. Sometimes, it’s a lot more comfortable just to let small problems slide, at least until they become big problems.
This is true in any relationship, whether polyamorous or not. As tempting as it is to let things slide, though, the fact is that small problems or irritations can become magnified out of proportion when they aren’t addressed, and this is dangerous for any relationship.
Get in the habit of being open about problems—even small ones. Listen to yourself and to your emotions; learn to be aware when something is bothering you, and develop the tools to bring these things out into the open before they have a chance to grow.
Oh, and a few more things about problems…
Don’t assume that polyamory will solve problems in your relationship
“Relationship Broken, Add More People” almost never works.
Polyamory can be a very potent and rewarding way to improve a good relationship—but as sure as night follows day, it will expose the problems in a relationship, as well. It’s definitely not a good way to mend a damaged relationship.
Bringing someone into an existing relationship that has problems is likely to exacerbate those problems. What’s more, it’s unfair to the person coming in. The greater the problems in the existing relationship, the more unstable the position of the person joining that relationship, and the more likely that person will bear the brunt of those problems.
As a corrolary:
Do pay attention to the state of a prospective partner’s existing relationships
If you are considering joining a person who is already in a relationship, take a good look at that relationship. Is it in good shape? Do the people involved have good problem-solving skills? How good is their communication? If the relationship has problems, how will they affect you? Will you be the person who suddenly becomes expendable if the problems in the relationship become too great?
You can’t look into a crystal ball and see the future of any relationship, and any relationship is going to involve emotional risk. But if your partner can’t manage the problems in his or her existing relationship, your partner may not be able to manage any problems in yours—and it very well might be that the problems in the existing relationship will boomerang onto you. Be careful, and be aware of what you’re going in to.
Sometimes, people who have problems in a relationship will seek to fix those problems by adding new partners. As a general rule, this approach rarely works. Be careful of a partner who seems to want to be with you because he is escaping things in his other relationships that he is dissatisfied with.
Of course, no relationship is ever perfect. Any relationship can and will have problems from time to time, so…
Don’t take sides
There may be occasions where your partners have a disagreement. When this happens, you may or may not be able to help; sometimes, people must work out their disagreements on their own, and you can’t always solve problems between people. Regardless of how much you may or may not be able to help, it’s important not to take sides; a situation where one person feels ganged up on is destructive for everybody.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t offer your honest opinion, if it’s asked for. But offering your opinion is not the same as taking sides—and when you do offer your input, you should strive to do so in a way that’s sensitive to everyone.
Do strive to be flexible
This is another tactic that works for any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. However, polyamorous relationships can be more complex than monogamous relationships, if for no other reason that there are more people involved, and polyamorous relationships benefit greatly when the people in them seek to be as flexible as possible, particularly with regard to solving problems.
Many of the problems in polyamorous relationships stem from resource management; a person with two lovers can still be in only one place at a time, and there will be times when that person’s attention seems to be divided. Flexibility and creativity can sometimes go a long way toward solving these problems. For example, if a person has two lovers, each of whom wants to sleep with him five nights a week, it may be that the most flexible solution involves sleeping with both of them for three nights out of the week. A willingness to be flexible in the manner in which a problem is solved is an asset in any relationship.
Don’t assume the problem is polyamory
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Not all the problems in a polyamorous relationship are the result of polyamory! If you’re in a non-traditional relationship of any sort, it’s easy to point to the fact that your relationship doesn’t look like the norm and say, “See? This is why we’re having problems!” But it’s not always true. Even traditional monogamous relationships can have problems with resource allocation, after all (a person who’s spending all his time at work is away from his partner just as surely as a person who’s spending time with his other partner). And even issues that may seem at first glance to be directly related to polyamory—jealousy, for instance—might still exist even in a monogamous relationship.
As tempting as it might be to point to the structure of the relationship whenever there’s a problem and say, “This is why we’re having trouble,” it’s often more helpful to address each problem on its own, and seek to understand where it comes from, before making assumptions that it’s all the fault of polyamory.
Do pay attention to the way you relate to your partner’s partners
Love is a funny thing. Sometimes, your partner may love someone you yourself would not really choose to associate with. In times like that, it’s helpful to recognize that you are in a relationship with that person, even though your relationship may be indirect. That person is part of your lover’s life, and therefore, by extension, part of yours.
Be conscious of that fact. Even if your relationship with your partner’s partner is ambivalent, it’s still a relationship. Like all relationships, it will do better if you pay attention to it, acknowledge it, and are conscious of it.
That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, or lovers, or anything else, with your partner’s partner. It does mean that your partner’s partner is not a nonentity; this is a person who is significant to someone you love, and your life will be easier if that relationship is on as good a footing as may be possible.
And speaking of your partner’s other partners…
Don’t make assumptions about your relationship with your partner’s other partners
Sometimes, people may assume that anyone who is interested in a sexual relationship with their partner is also interested in a sexual relationship with them, or that a prospective partner must be equally interested in everyone involved in an existing relationship.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving yourself open to a mutual relationship, and in fact it’s nice when it works out. But you can’t always count on it. It’s hard enough to find someone who is compatible with you, and it’s harder still to find someone who is compatible with both you and your partner.
When relationships form, they don’t always follow the same course every time. It’s often not realistic to think that a relationship between you and another person and your partner and that person will develop at the same speed, or along the same path, or reach the same intensity.
Relationships work best when you let them grow at their own pace and don’t try to force them along a predetermined path.
Do take responsibility for your actions
If there’s any rule that’s as absolute as the law of gravity, it’s the law of unintended consequence. Your actions do and always will have consequences, even if they were not what you intended; your life is shaped by the decisions you make and the things you do. And these decisions touch your partners, and your partners’ partners, sometimes in ways you didn’t anticipate.
I have met many people who seem to feel disempowered in their lives. This feeling of victimization saves them from having to take responsibility for their actions; but the downside is that it dramatically curtails their ability to take control of their own lives. It can also mean that they use what power they do have carelessly.
Taking responsibility for the consequences—even the unintended consequences—of your actions is sometimes unpleasant. Considering the effects of your decisions on the people around you is sometimes a lot of work. The upside to doing this work, though, is it empowers you, and lets you shape your life the way you want while still being compassionate and responsible to the people around you.
Don’t assume polyamory makes you more enlightened
For that matter, don’t assume monogamy is better, either.
If you believe that you are better, more enlightened, or more wise because of your preferred relationship model, you may end up behaving carelessly. Don’t start from the assumption that you’re better than other people, or that their problems aren’t your own. Your relationship model doesn’t make you better than anyone else, and doesn’t discharge your need to treat the people around you well.
Don’t make assumptions about your partner’s other relationships
When your lover takes another lover, particularly in the first rush of a new relationship, it’s sometimes easy to make assumptions about the direction that relationship will take, or what they’re doing or experiencing together—“he must be better in bed than I am,” “she is going to want to replace me,” “they have more fun without me,” “he’s going to want to do more with her than with me,” and so forth.
None of this is necessarily true. Keeping a realistic assessment of your partner’s other relationships, keeping informed and in the loop about what’s going on in your partner’s life, and seeking to bring any concerns you may have about their relationship up before those concerns become problems can all help to make you feel more comfortable.
And speaking of which…
Don’t vilify, demonize, or build up your partner’s other partners
Your partner’s partner is not (or should not be) your enemy, a demon, or an angel. Your partner’s partner is a human being, just like you, with quirks and flaws and all the things that go along with being human.
Don’t turn your partner’s partner into a monster, or imagine that your partner’s partner is better looking, better in bed, funnier, smarter, or more generally worthwhile than you. The first path leads to hostility and anger; your partner’s partner has feelings, just like you do, and they deserve to be treated with respect. The second path leads to insecurity, resentment, and feelings of inadequacy.
Tearing down your partner’s partner won’t make anyone any happier. Neither will tearing yourself down. If you can see your partner’s partner clearly and objectively, as a human being, and strive to treat that person gently and with respect, everyone—including you—will be happier for it.
Don’t make assumptions on behalf of other people
It can sometimes be tempting to speak for the other people in your relationship, or to make assumptions on their behalf.
Sometimes, this happens out of simple miscalculation. Sometimes, it’s a subconscious desire to avoid taking responsibility for something (it can be easier to say “Well, I’d love to date you, but my other partner feels uncomfortable” rather than “I feel uncomfortable about dating you but I don’t want to talk about why”). Sometimes, it can be wishful thinking (“Oh, sure, my other partner is going to be fine with what we’re doing, no problem!”).
No matter the reason, any time you find yourself speaking for, or making assumptions on behalf of, somebody else…look out.
Don’t look to your relationships to offer you validation
It seems to me as though our society often looks to relationships to define a person’s worth. People who are single are sometimes seen as being less valid as human beings than people who are married, and so on.
If you look to your relationship to tell you who you are, or to define your worth, then your sense of self will always be tied up in the form of your relationship.
You have power over your life. Your worth depends on you, not on your partner and not on your relationship. You have an identity that exists independent of your relationship, and your relationship does not describe your value. These ideas empower you to seek happiness on your terms, but more important than that, they give you resiliency that can help you over the inevitable rough patches that any relationship is likely to face.
Value and worth that come from within you rather than from things outside yourself, such as your partner or your relationship, can never be taken away from you. There is a difference between a person who wants to be in a relationship and a person who needs to be in that relationship. Quite frankly, I’d rather be involved with a person who wants to be with me than a person who needs to be with me; the people who want to be with me are there because of the value I add to their lives, not because they have no other choice!
If your sense of value comes from yourself, it frees you from dependence on the people around you. If your partner’s sense of value comes from within himself, it frees you from the responsibility of telling your partner who he is.
Don’t seek to give your partner happiness at the expense of your own
A relationship should serve the needs of all the people in it—including you. Furthermore, it’s a mistake to think that you can “make” another person happy, particularly by sacrificing your own happiness. That road leads to codependency.
If your lover cares about you, then sacrificing your happiness will have an effect on your lover. Making yourself miserable for the sake of another doesn’t serve anyone’s needs.
Do know your limits, your needs, and the things that bring you happiness
Know thyself. This is perhaps the most important single thing you can do in any relationship. Knowing what you want and need in order to be happy is an excellent first step in being happy.
Just as importantly, it’s an excellent first step in not being unhappy. If you do not know where your absolute limits—the boundaries that, if crossed, will ensure that you cannot be happy—are, then you’re likely to discover them only when those boundaries have been crossed…which means you’ll be unhappy.
Forget the romantic myth that your only concern should be for the happiness of your partner; every person in a relationship deserves to be happy, including you.
If you don’t ask for what you need, you can’t expect to get the things you need; and if you don’t know what you need, you can’t ask for the things you need. You can more easily be happy if you understand what you need and where your limits are, and you can more easily build a healthy relationship if you are happy.
Doing this successfully relies on absolute, unflinching honesty with yourself. Polyamory relies on honesty, and this requires self-honesty. Examine the things you need closely; are you secretly hoping for things you aren’t saying? Are you secretly trying to push your relationship into a direction it doesn’t seem to want to go? What are you expecting to get from your relationships? Are those things realistic?
Don’t be afraid of change
Relationships are living, breathing, dynamic things; like all living things, they change over time. No healthy relationship is going to stay the same forever.
As long as you are willing to commit to the idea of changing in ways that include your partners, and you are willing to work with your partners as your life changes, you’ll be okay.
Do know what place you have to offer someone
When you bring a new partner into an existing relationship, it’s easy to see how that person might be intimidated, especially if your existing relationship has a long history behind it. It’s important that you know what it is you have to offer that new partner, and seek to provide a safe and secure space for that relationship to grow.
Swinging isn’t just a pastime for the local park. It’s a global community of people who engage in sexual relations as a recreational or social activity — and it’s thriving more than you might think.
According to Daniel Stern, author of Swingland and a 10-year swinging veteran himself, there are an estimated 15 million swingers around the globe, and you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which of your family members or neighbors are secretly swinging at first glance. “They are teachers and police officers and lawyers and business people; it’s every walk of life,” Stern says. “I posit that everyone is one degree away from a swinger; they just don’t know it.”
Stern first looked into swinging when he was in his late 20s and perceived himself as terrible at sex. He decided to seek out sexual practice before landing in another relationship, so he perked up when he heard an acquaintance mention “The Lifestyle” at a party. “Upon hearing his description of this carnal fantasy-land, I thought, ‘I want to go to there,’” he explains. “However, locating The Lifestyle and accessing all of its fruits were two wholly different achievements.” For several months, Stern had to ingratiate himself to the swingers he met in order to prove that he wasn’t just another single male looking for a quickie. “Gut-wrenchingly horrendous single male behavior is all too well known among Lifestylers — pushy, rude and selfish among the most common descriptors,” he says. It took him a while, but after six months, he was in.
Once he was inside the swinging subculture, Stern was surprised by what he found. He explains that he had preconceived notions of swingers that weren’t exactly flattering or, apparently, accurate. “The major stereotypes are that swingers are a subculture of overly libidinous miscreants that want to [have sex with] anything with a pulse,” he says. What he found, however, was that swingers are just regular men and women who may be a little more kinky than the average person, and often a lot more tolerant. “I’ve found swingers to be the most accepting and caring lot I’ve come to know in this life,” Stern says. “It’s probably because we’re all outside society’s norm, so we understand.”
He also found that The Lifestyle comes with a social hierarchy that took him some time to figure out. According to Stern, the sexual ecosystem of the swinging subculture is ruled by couples. Single women, similarly, are like unicorns and have carte blanche. In a role reversal that is surprising to outsiders, it is the single men who tend to lack power in the swinging subculture, and are the most likely to only be tolerated.
Even though Stern enjoys The Lifestyle and boasts of its sexual and social benefits, he is quick to say that swinging is not for everyone. Since outing oneself as a member of an outcast subculture can carry serious mainstream social consequences, many swingers find that they have to maintain a double-life. “You’re essentially living two lives, and that can be beyond exhausting,” Stern says.
He also cautions people against trying The Lifestyle as a way to fix an aspect of their lives. For instance, Stern says that some people seem to view swinging as an answer to a paltry sex life, but viewing swinging as a quick way to get sex misses the point entirely. “The Lifestyle is about people looking to have sex with like-minded people,” he explains. “Anyone who forgets the people part of that equation will be blackballed faster than they can disrobe.” It’s also common for couples to try swinging as a last ditch effort to save their relationships. Doing so, however, will only accelerate the relationship’s demise since trust and communication are necessary to make it as a swinging couple.
So tell us — we would love to hear your experiences of what bought you into the lifestyle so comment below …
A Guide For Beginners, Because The Most Important Thing You Do Is Probably Not What You Think
BDSM means different things to different people. Some may be pretty sure they aren’t into it, while many of us can’t help but be really curious. But what do you need to know if you’re new to BDSM? Like open relationship, kink is a term that covers a variety of activities and forms of sexual expression.
“It is a catch-all word for sexual practices and interests that are outside the mainstream — from role play to dominance and submission, a vast array of fetishes, and sadism and masochism,” says Patricia Johnson, co-author of Partners in Passion, Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. We’ll explore some of the terminology of the kink world in more depth a little later, but at the outset, it’s important to take note of this diversity because outsiders often think of kink in limited and perhaps somewhat sensational terms. You may already have certain fantasies that you want to explore. If that’s the case, you can do research online or consult one of the ever-growing number of BDSM/kink-centric books that are available, says Johnson. You can also take classes online at kinkacademy.com.
When starting to explore BDSM, remember that there’s no need to rush to create your own “Red Room of Pain” a la 50 Shades! “To begin, you might simply try being blindfolded and let your partner tickle you with a feather, or lightly stroke your skin with a whipper. If that turns you on, move towards slightly racier bondage play, like binding wrists with a silk tie or handcuffs, a massage candle being dripped on your skin, or exploring the sensation of playful spanking,” says sex expert and Booty Parlor founder Dana Myers.
If you really want to take your new venture into BDSM seriously, come up with safe words for your sexy session. Safe words should be used as a way to say let’s pause, or stop. This will allow you to feel safe and have some control during this new experience. “Just as Anastasia and Christian discussed her Hard and Soft Limits, you want communicate with your partner before you bring any BDSM into the bedroom. Discuss who’s going to play the dominant and submissive roles, and be clear about what you’re willing to try and what’s simply too far outside of your comfort zone. Having this talk will strengthen your communication, build intimacy, and create a strong sense of trust so that you can let go of your inhibitions and explore some kinkier sex play safely and comfortably in your relationship,” says Myers.
Here’s what else you need to know.
1. Avoid shiny object syndrome.
That is to say, go slow and take your time, says erotic coach and sex educator Dawn Serra. BDSM is a wide network of countless activities. “From spanking and bondage to Dominance, needle play, and beyond, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole when you first begin exploring this new world. At first it can feel like you’re a 5-year-old let loose in a candy store. Many people who are brand new to BDSM immediately want to try all the things and end up over-indulging,” says Serra. Take it slow, go in knowing there will be endless temptations, and have fun in a smart way. 2. Consent, consent, and did we mention consent? If you don’t know the basics of consent, you MUST start there, says Serra. “All BDSM is based on this very important concept. Skipping this means you risk doing significant harm to others and to themselves. Oh Joy Sex Toy has a great infographic on consent,” says Serra. Just remember, consent must be enthusiastic, on-going, informed, and voluntary. Which is to say it’s a fully engaged, un-coerced, un-manipulated yes.
2. Have fun.
You are probably going to feel silly or awkward the first few times you try to tie a fancy knot or command someone to their knees. “You’re going to make mistakes. BDSM is all about having fun and exploring new parts of desire and fantasies,” says Serra. Keep it all in the spirit of adventure. Also remember that many BDSM activities are dangerous, so find a trusted educator (this is not necessarily the most popular, vocal, or charismatic person in your local BDSM community, either) and enlist their help, suggests Serra.
3. Determine your role
Remember that if you’re doing power play (Dominance and submission or Master and slave or Sadist and masochist), both of you have equal power when you negotiate the activity ahead of time, says Serra. “Everyone has an equal say as you decide on the framework for how things will unfold, especially in the beginning. As you get better at negotiating a scene, you’ll learn how to make it endlessly sexy and even an important part of your foreplay,” Serra says.
4. Safe words are critical
Some people like simple colors like red (stop immediately, no questions asked), yellow (I’m uncomfortable or reaching my limit or need to slow down), and green (keep going!). Other people like plain language — stop, I’m OK, etc. Just remember that any kind of “I’m unsure” or “I don’t know” in a scene is equivalent to a stop. Some people come up with really usual words for use in their scene, but just remember — if you are in a highly intense scene where it’s difficult to think or form words, simple is usually best, says Serra.
5. Know your boundaries
Just because you are doing BDSM in the bedroom doesn’t mean you need to give up control outside of the bedroom, says Cassie Fuller from Touch Of Flavor. “Some people are not interested in anything more than using BDSM as a way to spice up sex and that’s fine. In fact, most people don’t have a Master/slave style relationship and just like to have a little kinky sex. You and your partner should understand what the other is looking for and respect each other’s boundaries,” says Fuller.
6. Always be honest
Honesty is the most important aspect to BDSM. ”Your partner(s) need to know basic information about you such as past experiences, health concerns, emotional triggers, and turn-offs. Don’t expect your partner to be a mind-reader and to instinctively knows your needs, wants, and limits. If the person that you are thinking about engaging in BDSM activities with doesn’t ask you these things, make sure you speak up and tell them,” says Fuller.
We all have our sexual fantasies. Some of us get more creative with our fantasies then others- whips & chains, masks, role playing, fucking a random girl on the subway, in the park, in a cab, in the movie theater… the list goes on and on.
There is, however, one fantasy that all men, of all shapes and sizes, share. Every man wants to have a threesome- at least one time in his life before he kicks the bucket.
Why a threesome? Why not a foursome, fivesome or group orgy? Simple; you have to start somewhere and a threesome seems to be chronologically, logically the first step. But there is something special about a man banging two women simultaneously that seems to be lost when you add another lady to the mix. Maybe it’s because we realize that there are only so many ways we can multitask.
Maybe it’s because we really don’t know where to sit the third one. Or, what most likely is the case, we realize that the amount of Viagra and Red Bull needed to satisfy three women or more during one session will almost certainly give us a heart attack.
But why is it that men, all men, fantasize about dipping their spoon into two desserts during one meal? Because it’s fucking awesome. And because men are dominant figures who feel empowered when they dominate a woman in the sack- give us two women to dominate and we become gods. Men aren’t the selfish creatures that women make us out to be- at least not in the sense they believe we are.
Yes, in the end we want to make sure that we enjoy ourselves and get our big climactic finale. Who doesn’t? For all that, we realize that getting to
that finale, so that we can take our well-deserved bow, is a whole lot easier if our partner, or in this case partners, are enjoying the show- applauding and showing their gratification throughout the performance.
The woman is the man’s audience. We show her our moves- she smiles, bites her lip, maybe even lets out a whimper of satisfaction. She lets us know that she is enjoying herself and knowing that she is enjoying herself lets us enjoy ourselves that much more.
The one thing that brings a man more satisfaction than anything else is knowing that the girl he is fucking is loving every thrust of it. Now, give us two girls that we can satisfy, two girls who’s heaves, moans and screams fill the room, we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by the most harmonious ego boost known to man. Zeus can keep his lightning bolt- we’ve just worked wonders with our own.
19 Threesome Tips From Women Who Have Been There, Because Communication Is Key In All Kinds Of Sex
So you’ve mastered two-way sex and are ready to up your game by including another partner. Maybe you’re coupled and looking to spice things up or maybe you’re that fabled “unicorn,” the group sex term for the third (usually a woman, but not always) who’s interested in exploring a new way of having sex. There could be a million reasons why you’re ready to have a threesome but the important thing is that you’re into it and ready to jump in feet first! Let’s go!
But wait! Wait, wait, wait! Adding a third person to your sexual encounters is about way more than one more body to have fun with. The added emotions, concerns, and potential problems are increased by much more than a factor of one when you decide to add one more. Two people dealing with each other is hard enough but when there’s a third, things get crazy complicated, fast.
If you want your threesome to be awesome and not an awkward tear fest (and trust me, there are some serious threesome horror stories out there), take the sage advice of these women who have all had threesomes themselves. Make that threesome as hot as possible and school yourself beforehand!
- Be friends with lots of hot, open people and eventually things will happen. Unfortunately too many people (particularly women, I find) still believe in the myth of spontaneity. With the devil’s three way (MMF) it’s fine, dudes don’t mind a little planning.
- Never enter a threesome if you aren’t attracted to BOTH parties. Inversely, if you are a solo joining a couple, be sure it’s clear that all parties are interested/invested.
- All three people should be attracted and/or friendly to/with one another. You need everyone to want to be there and not have a panic about dicks touching or someone getting more attention. Also communicate, communicate, communicate before, during, and after.
- Don’t fall in love!
- Planned or unplanned, it’s important the couple has talked about this beforehand and if one of them doesn’t feel it, than its a no-go. Couples in three ways need to have a lot of trust and stability. That is at least my impression but then, I’m a tiny bit of a cuck-queen. I don’t mind if I get less attention during the ménage a trios.
- Helps if all parties involved have clear communication beforehand and a strong heart connection…. Open hearts can clear the way for amazing sensual adventures.
- I love being in the middle of a couple. I have the “naked on the bed talk” before play starts. I talk about everyone’s boundaries before play. I also remind everyone that we are all human with feelings. Feelings that can mysteriously pop up when least expected. I reinforce that if at anytime it’s not fun or uncomfortable, we stop. I even have this talk with couples I have played with before. Clear consent and respecting boundaries is very important.
- I am like “The Threesome Whisperer.” My best tips are to go in with a GGG attitude, few expectations, and a good sense of humor.
- Guys- if you want a MFF, be willing to have a MMF.
- If there are multiple dudes, expect at least one to not be able to keep it up.
- Don’t be drunk. Don’t be in high school. It’s tricky at the best of time and requires a level of maturity that isn’t really present at that time. Communication is key.
- I have had seven FMF threesomes. The best ones have not been with an existing M/F couple. They’ve been with girlfriends with a random man.
- I have had 10+ threesomes and have also dabbled in polyamory (FMF), Make sure you pay both people involved enough attention (50/50). Also – if you’re touching the guy, touch the other girl involved. Don’t make anyone feel left out unless someone asks to watch.
- Use one hand for each person. If there are two holes involved then use two female condoms. Then you don’t have to keep switching up your condoms and you can just go back and forth.
- Consider negotiating several encounters so that within each version there is a “star” to be the central focus. It can really take the pressure off trying to keep everyone going at the same time all the time (plus being the spoiled focal point is really fun!).
- I agree about the fairness aspect. Especially, if you are in an established relationship, do not give into the temptation to lavish attention on the new partner and ignore the standing partner. This is the huge mistake I have seen too often. If you use your skills and familiarity with your current partner, it can be impressive to the new partner, break the ice in a whole lot of ways (like upping the orgasm count), and increasing your own confidence. Worst case when you glom onto the new partner and ignore the existing partner is both of them knowing you are a dick. Also, communicate about what each of you like and might want — this is not the best time to wing it or have a lot of assumptions. And last, keep it light — makes it so much easier when things are all in good fun!
- I had a threesome with two guys (no sex – just other things) and then a girl and a guy I was involved with. The second really bothered me. Jealousy is not something I am used to. I think if you’re with someone, set the rules first. If you don’t want your bf to penetrate another girl in front of you, but you’re ok with oral and all that, then say so before push comes to shove! With the two guys, it was nice to try it out because there was no sex involved….I recommend working your way up to sex gradually and learn your limits.
- I’ve had maybe 20 threesomes at this point? Some repeats so maybe more. I like group play. Most of the time it’s been with my current partner, but twice with men I was dating and other women, a few times with other couples, and a few times with two people were not romantically involved. Everyone says communication is key and yep, that’s pretty important. If your partner is a party, they get the convo first. Ask questions and listen: are you interested in this third? Do you want to be the star? Would you prefer to watch a lot from the sidelines? Which acts are you looking forward to? What do you want to do with them tonight? Sex? Just cuddling? Not sure? Never go into an encounter expecting sex as a given, expect just a pleasant night of chit chat which may end in a great surprise, but I find folks who push too fast too soon, especially men in an M/F couple when I’ve been the unicorn, to be a turn off. On the other side of that: we’ve had many unicorns be pleasantly surprised that we were interested in spending time with them and getting to know them even when they were too tired or under the weather for getting down.Ask the third: Have you done this before? What do you like about it? Do you have questions about us? Is there anything you particularly like or dislike? What is off limits?Affirm that anyone can stop the action at any point and you can rub each others’ backs and check in. For couples, try to spend equal time making both the newcomer and your partner feel sexy and special.And for goodness’ sake, don’t just radiate out “please leave now” vibes at the third after the sex is over. Offer hospitality: food, water, a place to crash, hugs. Someone just shared themselves in a very intimate way, the very least you can do is treat them with kindness and consideration. I’ve found that showering everyone with smiles and compliments encourages the participants to feel safe and cut loose!
- Only do it if you really want to, not to make someone else happy. Make sure they guy(s) aren’t too drunk so that its not a sloppy let-down.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GET INTO SWINGING
So, you finally realized everything you knew about being a swinger was a complete lie. You’re welcome. And maybe after reading that story, you and your partner were like: “Well, since it’s not all old people with robes, watching you with somebody else might be kind of exciting…”Or maybe not. But either way, if you’re even remotely considering getting into it — with your spouse, a significant other, or just that really cool friend with benefits you met on Tinder — there are a few things you should know before you get started. We asked a group of swingers what those “things” are, and this is what they told us.
Make sure you’re both on the same page
You know how it’s kinda awkward when you both go to a cocktail party and YOU were planning on just “making an appearance,” but your significant other was planning to make a whole night out of it? Multiply that by, like, infinity plus one. Because fights about leaving a party early are one thing, fights about getting oral sex from a stranger when you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to are quite another.
Set the rules, but know they can change
Once you’ve made sure you’re going for the same reason, you need to make rules. Like scary-specific rules that include phrases you haven’t used since the eighth grade — like “kissing is okay, but handjobs aren’t.” And while the stakes are a lot higher now than they were during “7 Minutes in Heaven,” the rules here can also be changed depending on how comfortable you get.
Try a club or high-end party first
If you’re going to meet another couple for some maybe-possibly-we’re-not-really-sure-yet group sex, do you think it’s wiser to meet them in a large social setting complete with paid security, other people, and plenty of condoms? Or via an Internet chat room? If you’ve been in a relationship so long you forgot, the answer is never “in an Internet chat room.”
You need to be social
Many people go to swingers clubs and complain — much as they probably did in high school — that everybody there is “too cliquish.” But there are no Regina Georges in the swingers world, and nobody is going to sneer at you and say, “You can’t swing with us.” Yes, swingers gravitate towards their friends — like everybody else — but go up and say hello, and you’ll be surprised how fast people will welcome you.
Get there early
Showing up to a party sober when everyone else has been drinking is uncomfortable. Showing up to said party after everyone’s started having sex with each other? Mortifying. Show up early, chat with the bartenders or hosts, and get a feel for what the place is like. Many clubs will actually give you a tour if you ask, at which point you can talk with your partner about a plan of action.
Learn the lingo
When you hear the words “hard swap,” that’s not the swinging equivalent of “tic tac no trade backs.” It’s the term for couples who are down for full-on sex with another couple. Nor is a unicorn a mythical white horse; it’s a female who attends swingers events alone. Other useful terms include “soft swap” (couples who’ll play with other couples but won’t “go all the way”) and “the lifestyle,” which is a term swingers use to describe their, well, lifestyle.
Don’t overdo the alcohol
You know what’s a miserable feeling? Spending all week fantasizing about a threesome, getting to the point where it’ll actually happen, and then realizing you drank too much to do anything about it. Sure, you might need a drink or two to get used to the idea of swinging, but past that not only do you risk whiskey dick, you risk BEING a dick. And, much like in real life, nobody wants to have sex with an inebriated mess.
Set realistic expectations
Even if you and your partner agree to be down for “full swap,” don’t go into a swingers club with the unrealistic expectations of a pledge at his first frat party. Nobody’s guaranteeing an orgy, and sometimes you may go and not find any couples you like. Also, the action may not start until much later in the evening, so don’t get bored and leave because nobody’s getting it on by midnight.
Let the woman lead the way
Guys, if you have a woman who is even CONSIDERING participating in an activity that allows you to have sex with other women, you’ve already won. Don’t push the issue. Not only should you not pressure your lady into doing anything she doesn’t want to do, you should pretty much let her decide what YOU get to do as well. Also, let her make any and all introductions. In the swinging world, the women are the ones who give the green light, so be patient and allow her to call the shots.
Watch first, then decide
You can do all the Internet research you want, but you’re not going to really understand what it’s like to be in a swinging environment until you’ve been there. Your first time, it’s typically a good idea to just go and see how things unfold. Then, if it’s something you’re into, figure out how you fit in and go back. Make all your rules, and see where it goes from there.
You need to debrief
Kinda like those quarterly conference calls at the office where your entire team looks at what it’s accomplished, what worked, and what didn’t, do the same with your partner after EVERY time you swing; the conversation will allow you to discuss the experience and figure out if rules need to be changed or added, or if there are different things you’d both like to try next time.
Like everything in a relationship, swinging won’t work if you don’t communicate. And talking about what you did after the fact is the most important part in making the next experience just as mind blowing.