Sex Sex Sex Masturbation Sex

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

I was originally going to title this week’s column “In Defense of Straight Men” and write about the ways in which misogyny, homophobia, and sex negativity damage the straight men who ostensibly benefit from these systems of oppression by consistently portraying them as – and encouraging them to act like – violent, irrational animals who can’t do anything except throw their dicks around. Let’s be clear: Those in Wendy “all rapists are men” Shalit’s camp want to protect the rest of us from these pigs who lose the capacity for thought at the mere glimmer of a female nipple; I want everyone to protect themselves (and each other) from the insidious effects of our rape culture and work collectively to dismantle it altogether.

I was all set to lay out a brilliant argument by the end of which my straight male readers would realize (if they haven’t already) why it’s in their best interest to work to end gender and sexual oppression. Then I remembered that this is not meant to be a column about feminism and its discontents – it’s a column about sex. Hence this week’s title, so that no one gets confused (least of all myself) and so no one clicks on it by accident expecting something different.

I had that first part about what I’m not going to write about this week open on my desktop for weeks, past when I was supposed to submit this column, past papers and presentations, past excuses to the people who actually noticed that I usually post every other week, because I didn’t know what to write about and because – confession – I’ve had sex, like, three times in the past two weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints about those three times. Sometimes, though, I have this nagging fear that I’m a failure of a kinkyqueersexpozcrusader when I don’t have enough sex, when I have mediocre sex, when I don’t pursue sex with other people even though my partner doesn’t mind, when we try something new and exciting and then finish by jacking each other off to orgasm.

I know – rationally, fundamentally, with conviction – that all those things are just fine, but the fear is still there, and I don’t think that’s unusual; deprogramming all the bullshit built up around sex in every direction (so that you feel bad no matter what you do or don’t do) is hard work. One of the things I have the hardest time with myself is fighting to let go of everything I’ve ever been taught about monogamy and how it’s the best thing ever and how one day someone will drop into my life and be the best person ever and we’ll get along emotionally and intellectually and sexually without even trying and then I’ll be complete. Here’s the thing: I’m already complete. Not perfect, certainly, but I’m a whole person and I prefer to date other whole people, people who don’t try to fill in my gaps and don’t demand that I fill theirs.

My partner and I are in an open relationship, in spite of the fact that we are unsure and apprehensive of what sleeping with someone else might feel like or mean for our relationship. We talk and talk and talk (and then talk some more) about all of this, about how we’re comfortable with making out with other people at parties but going home even just for more making out is scary, about how we want to have a threesome/foursome/moresome but don’t really know how to go about it, about how the conception we share of what would make an open relationship awesome might not exist for us at Swarthmore.

It’s hard because the programming is so thorough that beyond the fact that you’re supposed to feel like shit when the person you love is with someone else, you do feel like shit. I feel like shit. But I’ve cheated in the past and that felt shittier, because it wasn’t honest and it wasn’t respectful and it was pretty selfish.

For me, being in an open relationship is not about getting lots of ass (I don’t) and it’s not about jerking people around (I try not to), it’s about recognizing that relationships are personal things that work very differently for different people at different times. Whether I actually hook up with anyone else at any given point, or even whether I want to, is mostly irrelevant because the point of the endeavor is to step out of the monogamy-is-the-Way mind set so that my partner and I can shape our relationship in ways that work for us – by hand rather than out of the cracked mold that every book, movie, TV show, advertisement I’ve ever seen keeps trying to push on us. That also means that there are as many ways to do nonmonogamy as there are ways to have an orgasm (that is, more than you think).

I’m not advocating nonmonogamy, because it’s not right for everyone and I haven’t even decided if it’s right for me. I am advocating critical thought and putting some effort into figuring out what works for you. Characterizing any one particular way of doing things as the best and only way that works is a weak cover-up for the fact that there is never only one way to do anything nor is there a way that works for every person in every situation.

For further reading on the topic by people far more qualified than I, people will tell you to read The Ethical Slut. Apparently it’s foundational. However, it’s incredibly poorly written and, to my mind, has an awful way of talking about non-primary partners as if they are walking sex toys rather than real human beings. Also, it has an unmistakable whiff of California about it. If you, like me, prefer your sex reporting with more of a New York feel, Tristan Taormino (who some of you may remember from the anal sex workshop she gave at Sager two years ago) is coming out with a new book about open relationships. If her other work is any indication, it should be worth checking out.