‘It was lukewarm sex,’ he said about a recent swinging encounter. ‘But lukewarm sex is better than no sex.’
‘Why?’ I said honestly bemused. ‘I’m polyamorous, so it’s not like I don’t understand the desire to have sex with several. But lukewarm sex doesn’t sound worth it?’
‘Why not?’ he said honestly bemused. ‘I liked her. It’s like last week I wanted to play tennis, but my regular tennis partner was out of town, so I played with someone else. It was different, not as good, but it was still fun. ‘
‘Lukewarm tennis?’ I said laughing.
Let’s say that on Thursday nights you and your husband go and play tennis with your friends. It’s something you both enjoy and you also enjoy playing doubles. Sometimes you might take a break whilst your partner plays with someone else. But essentially it’s an activity you do together. You go there together, and you leave together. Some games are better than others and there’s no guarantee. You don’t have to tell anyone else that you play tennis, in fact it’s your guilty pleasure and a whole lotta fun. It’s an activity which doesn’t espouse a philosophy or change the way that you live. It’s not part of your identity. In non-monogamy terms, that’s swinging.
Then there’s veganism. It’s a belief system which impacts the way you live and how you relate to the world. It’s not something you do on a Thursday night. It’s not something that you can take or leave easily. It’s something that those who have prolonged contact with you will know. It’s not something you hide, on the contrary. You don’t ‘do’ it together with your partner necessarily and although its outward sign is that you simply eat a little differently to the majority, it is normally something you’ve thought through pretty thoroughly from cruelty to animals, ecological impacts to man’s assumed superiority over beast and the composition of our food groups. It’s impactful and meaningful to you. In non-monogamy terms, that’s polyamory.
There’s a huge outcry among polyamorists when those who don’t understand the difference, conflate swinging with polyamory. One is about sex, the other is about loving many which does of course, generally involves having sex with several. There’s a big crossover. Both are sex-positive, non-monogamous and enjoy a varying degree of connection with their partners. Both are vilified by mainstream folk, because in our sex negative society’s eyes sex with more than one is a bad thing. And yet a recent study in Psychology today demonstrates that polyamorists are seen in a more positive light than swingers [What do people really think of Alternative Relationships]. Why?
You’d think that we’d stand side by side. But often, even in non-monogamous circles, polyamorous folk distance themselves from swingers. Sex negativity perpetuates even amongst those who like me, believe in non-monogamy.
As I’ve known for some time, I have been one of those who is part of this vicious cycle. I like to have a mental connection to have sex. Its a preference of course, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but without the connection I feel dirty ~ and that is pure sex-negative conditioning shit thrown on me from a young age. Guess what, it’s a bugger to get off. It’s possible that I have a preference for casual sex that has been overidden by my conditioning. But there’s no way of knowing.
My friend has had a sex positive upbringing. He doesn’t need connection to enjoy sex (preference) and doesn’t feel dirty about it (conditioning). There’s no cascade of shit to mar his vasopressin rush.
‘All the same.’ I said, getting ready to trump him with my feminism 101 card ‘I wouldn’t want to have sex with you. It would make me feel like you valued me for nothing more than my vagina. I don’t want to be reduced to a single body part.’
‘Vagina schmagina’ he scoffed. ‘If I didn’t have conversations with you, you wouldn’t be my friend. You reduce me to a single body part ~ my mouth. What if I just shut it now and didn’t talk to you. Would you love me as much?’
His clarity was startling. But was it really so simple? I was happy to be ‘reduced’ to my conversation, but not my sexuality. People should respect me for my mind but not my vagina. Because ~ what ~ my vagina and sexuality wasn’t worthy of respect without my mind? Because my vagina was shameful?
I wouldn’t mind swinging. It sounds like fun. But for a multitude of reasons I can’t actually do it. I have been taught that I must relate to the men I have sex with, for more than their penis. Not only that but, I have also been taught half my life to fear the penis. A giant mollusc slumbering in the deep, lurking around the corner. You never knew when it could strike. Men at the end of them were driven by desire and it was our responsibility to curb it. To face the penis the guy either had to be special (and the sex therefore justified) or I had to be drunk enough to ignore my conscience… and my fear.
‘But I do have special sex.’ he said. ‘My girlfriend and I have the special sex you’re talking about. The fact that I have non-special fun sex elsewhere doesn’t make that special sex any less beautiful. Your problem is that you want to feel special by making sex with others into a scarce resource. You fear comparison and that’s your insecurity talking.’
He had of course hit the nail on the head. I am growing in power, but am not quite rid of my insecurity. Yet. Sex can of course be mundane at the most basic level. It’s friction of organs creating a release of hormones. The meaning it has, is the meaning we ascribe to it. Which means it can be fun for some and soul seeking for others. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The meaning I currently give it makes it mysterious and inexpressible. I like to consider it as symbolizing the expression of the self. That’s some heavy duty meaning, because it has some heavy duty shit and fear to combat. I might be able to give it less meaning if only I could get rid of the shit, but you know what? I kinda like meaningful and connected sex. So why can’t I leave it at that?
Because I have a greater responsibility. A responsibility to the world in general and a commitment to freedom of choice, not only for me but for others who engage in any form of consensual relationship. And as long as this shit I’m covered in prevents me from embracing others’ choices wholeheartedly instead of just paying lip service to it, I still have a problem.