It’s kind of strange, my life. I am often told I’m a role model (and frequently told by people I should behave like a role model, whatever that means). However, the truth of the matter is that I’m still pretty much a kid trying to figure things out (while trying to be responsible at the same time). I try new things and I make mistakes, and I have no problem telling people about it because I hope that nudges others to be more shameless about who they are.
It also makes me wonder how a role model is supposed to behave. I don’t concern myself with being one, just with living the way I think is best. I believe a good person is honest, fair, investigative, unafraid to take chances (which includes violating social norms), and should be able to admit when he makes mistakes (and also to take pride when he takes a chance and it turns out awesome). If that’s not role model behavior then I have no desire to be one. There are some people who think a role model should give an impression of a particular set of behaviors, many of which seem arbitrary or the product of culture, and should project themselves as too responsible to take chances. I’ve never looked up to someone like that.
So, today I’m going to try and demonstrate what I find to be admirable behavior by being honest, sharing a story that changed my mind about something, and saying to hell with the consequences. I’m going to tell you about having sex with a married woman.
At Skepticon last year I met a woman from St. Louis, Christina, who would go on to become one of my closest friends thanks to the magic of the internet. Christina and I had quite a great deal in common and a lot of the same curiosities about life. I felt very fortunate to have made her acquaintance.
I knew she was married and soon found out her marriage was polyamorous – i.e., both Christina and her husband had sex with other people. I thought nothing of this as our friendship continued to grow. Sex was not a taboo subject for Christina. She spoke about sex as casually as discussing what to have for dinner, which at first made me slightly uncomfortable. Not in an “oh my gosh that’s wrong” way, but in a way where I thought “ok, if that’s what fills your sails, but it’s not for me.”
Sex is a magical topic. It’s so interesting that with the proper approach its introduction can save almost any boring conversation. And, as two fairly open-minded people, our conversations eventually turned to what we liked in bed. We both were meticulous in our avoidance of diseases, but there were some stark differences between us. I liked giving back rubs. Christina liked having meat hooks pierced through her back and being suspended by wires. I wanted to be in a threesome one day. Christina had lost count of how many she’d been in. She began to call me naive, a charge to which I almost immediately plead guilty (by comparison to Christina, what choice did I have?). She then told me we should have sex.
I laughed. Christina didn’t.
Now, I’m not a prude. I enjoy responsible, casual physicality as much as the next guy. If there are two friends who are bored and their options are playing checkers or going down on each other, I see nothing improper about opting for the latter choice (then again, I hate checkers). But Christina was married. Although Christina had told me about being physical with other men, this still struck me as something I should not be doing. What if her husband were to find this conversation?
“What about your husband?” I asked.
“We’re polyamorous. You know that.” she responded.
“Yeah but…where would we do this?” Perhaps if I could come up with an insurmountable obstacle I would have an excuse to give power to my reticent emotions.
“Um…my house.” Well shit, that didn’t work.
“Is your husband really ok with this?”
“Do you want to ask him?” she asked.
“No!” I quickly exclaimed.
The whole thing just felt odd. I tried to put my finger on it, but I couldn’t. Eventually I concluded that my feelings of weirdness grew purely from the fact that she was married and what that word meant to me. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to expect someone else to conform to my notion of what a marriage was, so my reticence was not from any concern that could be considered rational. And as someone who has made a career out of telling people that emotional responses should not take precedence over rational ones (and as someone who likes sex with attractive, super nerdy women), it did not take Christina long twisting my rubber arm until I agreed.
On the way to her house I asked her where her husband was that night.
“At home” came the thoughtless reply. Oh fuck.
And like that we were walking into her house. Within seconds Chris, her husband, came over to give me a hug. He seemed genuinely excited to see me. He didn’t seem awkward at all! I thought that he must not know! And here I had just made out with his wife. My stomach sank. I sat down in the kitchen and Christina and Chris went about making dinner. As nonchalant as a man ordering a cheeseburger he asked me how I was. I’m a fan of honesty almost all the time, so I decided to come out with it.
“I’m good. I admit though, I’m a little uneasy about this. I’ve never…um…y’know…been physical with a married person before.”
And he smiled! He actually smiled! I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely this was a facade and the guy was going to punch me at any second for this whole scenario. I think Christina was aware of what was going through my head because she pointed directly at me, looked at Chris, smiled, and said, “I’m going to have sex with this man.”
Again, Chris smiled, almost laughing. “Cool” he said, and went right back to making chicken fried rice. We proceeded to talk over dinner about polyamory, about Chris’s girlfriend, and about physical fitness. It was actually very pleasant. Chris and Christina hugged and kissed – they were a perfectly adorable couple. Finally, it came time for Christina and I to excuse ourselves (she did the excusing, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Well, it’s about time for me to go stick it to your spouse”). Christina gave me the option of going to their bedroom or staying downstairs in the cuddle pit (a huge room full of soft – it’s awesome). I chose the cuddle pit. Having sex with a woman in her marital bed, though clearly an unreasonable apprehension by this point, was still further than I was willing to go.
And so we did it. And we cuddled all night afterward.
In the morning we got up and made breakfast. Christina kissed Chris, and this whole fucked up situation finally resonated with me as closer to normalcy.
Over the course of the day Christina told both Chris and me that she loved us. I later asked her how that was possible and she told me that love is not like a bathtub; somebody doesn’t need to get out to make room for someone else. I had honestly never thought about it that way. There is a standing presumption in our society that if somebody is physical with someone who is not their spouse that they’re automatically ‘cheating’. It’s a silly assumption, but one so prevalent that it had infected me. There are really people who can love freely – and I don’t just mean sex. I mean honest, genuine love. And I think that’s beautiful.
We’re a funny lot, Americans. We use sex to sell everything in sight, but we want to act like prudes when it comes to the actual subject and treat sex like it’s something to be ashamed of or cannot be used as a means to entertainment. Some people act like we’re stuck with checkers. We’re not. Sex is fun. And neither love nor sex needs to be relegated to a lone individual. If you want to make love and sex about one other person, fill your boots. But the expectation that that should be the case needs to be done away with.
I should also point out that this is not the only way polyamory can be done, and that for some couples it’s not as easy as Chris and Christina have made it. Some couples must work at it daily. I am thoroughly fascinated with the easy approach though.
The response to this will be, “But I just don’t know if I can have sex without falling in love.” I will write a whole blog post about that later this week. For the time being, I just want to leave it here. Love is not a bathtub. I’ve learned a lot from Christina and Chris, but chief among them is that I am polyamorous and would have been much sooner if not for a bunch of wonky societal myths. And so I write blog posts like this, because that’s why we come out. We come out to normalize something we think are awesome in order to dispel those myths.
Polyamory is pretty rad, and for me it was worth the initial confrontation with uneasiness. It’s comfortable to live without jealousy and to be free to express to others how you really feel without thoughts of hurting anybody for being yourself, without trying to own the actions of another human being and without having your own actions bound by someone else’s sense of ownership over them.