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Bad sex award 2016: the contenders in quotes

Games of tennis, muddy fields, knocking knees – it’s time to get intimate with the challengers for the Literary Review’s 2016 Bad sex in fiction prize

 ‘I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below.’

‘I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below.’

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. She liked to do it more than once, and he was usually able to comply. Bourbon was his gasoline. Between sessions, he poured it at the counter while she lay panting on the sheets. Sweat burnished her body. The lean neck. The surprisingly full breasts. He would down another glass and return.

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

He closed his eyes and heard himself make a gurgling sound. And as his trousers slipped down his legs all the burdens of his life to date seemed to fall away from him; he tipped back his head and faced up into the darkness beneath the ceiling, and for one blessed moment he felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty. How strange they are, he thought, life and all of these things. Then he felt Anezka slide down before him to the floor, felt her hands grab his naked buttocks and draw him to her. “Come, sonny boy!” he heard her whisper, and with a smile he let go.

Men Like Air by Tom Connolly

The walkway to the terminal was all carpet, no oxygen. Dilly bundled Finn into the first restroom on offer, locked the cubicle door and pulled at his leather belt. “You’re beautiful,” she told him, going down on to her haunches and unzipping him. He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo.

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

When his hand goes to my breasts, my feet are envious. I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below. His finger is inside me, his thumb circling, and I spill like grain from a bucket. He is panting, still running his race. I laugh at the incongruous size of him, sticking to his stomach and escaping from the springing hair below.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Once they were in that room, Jason had slammed the door and devoured her with his mouth, his hands, which were everywhere. As if he were ravenous.

And she remembered standing in front of him, her dress a puddle on the floor, and how she’d started to shake, her knees knocking together, like she was a virgin, like this was the first time. Because had she allowed herself to hope, this was what she would’ve hoped for. And now here it was. And that was terrifying.

Jason had taken her hand and placed it over his bare chest, to his heart, which was pounding wildly, in tandem with hers. She’d thought he was just excited, turned on.

It had not occurred to her that he might be terrified, too.

The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca

She pushed on my hips, an order that thrust me in. I entered her. Not only my prick, but the whole of me entered her, into her guts, into her darkness, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. My whole body had gone inside her. I went in with her thrusts and stayed still. While I got used to the quiet and the pulsing of my blood in my ears and nose, she pushed me out a little, then in again. She did it again and again, holding me with force and moving me to the rhythm of the surf. She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.

Complete Article HERE!

Rape Culture and the Concept of Affirmative Consent

March against rape culture

March against rape culture

Throughout most of our history, rape was a property crime.

Today we do not, in the modern United States at least, think of a woman’s sexuality as a financial asset. But that is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, rape was not treated the same way as other violent assaults because it wasn’t just a violent assault, it was also a crime against property.

You can see this view–of a woman’s sexuality belonging to her father and later her husband–in laws concerning rape and sexual assault. It was even possible for a father to sue a man who had consensual sex with his daughter because he had lost the value of his daughter. Based on this view, value is lost in terms of her work if she became pregnant and was no longer able to earn wages, or in terms of a future wife for someone else because of this stain on her character. Men could not be held accountable for raping their wives because a wife was a man’s property and consent to sex–at any time of his choosing–was part of the arrangement.

Lest you think that these laws are ancient examples of a culture that no longer bears relation to our current policies on rape, spousal rape was not made illegal in all fifty states until 1993, where it still may carry a less severe sentence than other rape offenses. The tort of seduction was technically on the books in North Carolina in 2003.

This context is important given our current cultural attitudes toward sexual assault. To understand this culture and how it can be amended, we need to look more deeply at the historical understandings of rape and consent.


Force Means No

The framework for defining rape underpins our understanding of who is required to prove consent or non-consent. The Hebrew Scriptures, which established longstanding cultural norms that helped form a basis for what was morally and legally acceptable in early America, make a distinction between a woman who was raped within a city and one who was raped outside of the city limits. The first woman was stoned to death and the second considered blameless (assuming she was a virgin). This distinction is based on the idea that it was the woman’s responsibility to cry out for help and show that she was non-consenting. A woman who was raped in the city obviously had not screamed because if she had someone would have come to her rescue and stopped the rape. The woman outside the city had no one to rescue her so she could not be blamed for being victimized.

This brutal logic, which is completely inconsistent with how we know some victims of rape react to an attack, was continued in the American legal system when our laws on rape were formulated. Rape was defined as a having a male perpetrator and a female victim and involving sexual penetration and a lack of consent. But it was again the woman’s responsibility to prove that she had not consented and the way that this was demonstrated was through her resistance. She was only actually raped if she had attempted to fight off her attacker. Different jurisdictions required different levels of force to show a true lack of consent. For example, fighting off an assailant to your utmost ability or even up to the point where the choice was either to submit to being raped or to being killed. Indeed, the cultural significance of chastity as a virtue that the female was expected to guard was so profound that many female Christian saints are saints at least in part because they chose to die rather than be raped or be a bride to anyone but Christ.

Potential canonization aside, it was consistently the responsibility of the woman alleging that she was the victim of a rape to prove that she had fought off her attacker in order to show that she had not consented. If she could not show that she had sufficiently resisted, she was deemed to not have been raped. Her chastity was someone else’s property, either her father’s or her husband’s/future husband’s, so it was always understood that someone, other than her, had the right to her sexuality. The assailant had assumed that he had the right to use her sexually and was only a rapist if she acted in such a way that a reasonable man would have known that she did not belong to him. Her failure to communicate that fact, that she was the property of some other man, was a sign that she had in fact consented. Therefore the rape was not his moral failing in stealing another man’s property but her moral failing in not protecting that property from being stolen.


Culture Wars

We can see the effects of this ideology in how we treat rape victims today. Although we don’t necessarily require evidence of forceful resistance, it is considered helpful in prosecuting a rape case. Rape shield laws may have eliminated the most egregious examples of slut-shaming victims, but an innocent or even virginal victim is certainly what the prosecution could hope for if they were trying to design their most favorable case. One of the first questions that will be asked of the victim is “did you say no?” In other words “what did YOU do to prevent this from happening to you?” The burden is still often legally and almost always culturally on the victim to show that they did not consent.

There is an alternative approach that has been gaining traction on college campuses and elsewhere known as the concept of “affirmative consent.” Take a look at the video below, which elucidates the differences between the “no versus no” approach compared to affirmative consent, which is often described as “yes means yes.”

In this video, Susan Patton and Rush Limbaugh both represent examples of rape culture. The contrast between the views of Savannah Badlich, the advocate of affirmative consent, and Patton, who is against the idea, could not be starker. To Badlich, consent is an integral part of what makes sex, sex. If there isn’t consent then whatever happened to you, whether most people would have enjoyed it or indeed whether or not you orgasmed, was rape. It is your consent that is the foundation of a healthy sexual experience, not the types of physical actions involved. In contrast, Patton expressed the view that good sex is good sex and consent seems to not play a role in whether it was good sex, or even whether it should be defined as sex at all. The only thing that could indicate if something is an assault versus a sexual encounter is whatever physical evidence exists, because otherwise, the distinction is based only on the assertions of each individual. Again we are back to evidence of force.


What is “Rape Culture”?

Rape culture refers to a culture in which sexuality and violence are linked together and normalized. It perpetuates the idea that male sexuality is based on the use of violence against women to subdue them to take a sexual experience, as well as the idea that female sexuality is the effort to resist or invite male sexuality under certain circumstances. It overgeneralizes gender roles in sexuality, demeans men by promoting their only healthy sexuality as predatory, and also demeans women by considering them objects without any positive sexuality at all.

According to this school of thought, the “no means no” paradigm fits in perfectly with rape culture because it paints men as being predators who are constantly looking for a weak member of the herd to take advantage of sexually, while also teaching women that they need to be better than the rest of the herd at fending off attacks, by clearly saying no, to survive. If they can’t do that, because they were drinking or not wearing proper clothing, then the attack was their fault.


“Yes Means Yes”

Affirmative consent works differently. Instead of assuming that you can touch someone until they prove otherwise, an affirmative consent culture assumes that you may not touch someone until you are invited to do so. This would be a shocking idea to some who assume that gamesmanship and predation are the cornerstones of male sexuality and the perks of power, but it works out better for the majority of men and women, who would prefer and who should demand equality in sex.

This video gives a brief highlight of some of the issues that are brought up when affirmative consent is discussed and the difficulties that can still arise even with affirmative consent as a model.


Evaluating Criticism of Affirmative Consent

The arguments are important so let’s unpack some of the key ones in more detail. The first objection, expressed in both videos, is how exactly do you show consent? Whenever the affirmative consent approach comes up, one of the first arguments is that it is unenforceable because no one is going to stop sexual activity to get written consent, which is the only way to really prove that a person consented. We still end up in a “he said, she said” situation, which is exactly where we are now, or a world where the government is printing out sex contracts.

The idea that affirmative consent will by necessity lead to written contracts for sex is a logical fallacy that opponents to affirmative consent use to make the proposition seem ridiculous. Currently, we require the victim to prove non-consent. Often the victim is asked if they gave a verbal no or if they said they did not want the contact. The victim is never asked: did you put the fact that you didn’t want to be touched in writing and have your assailant read it? The idea that a written explanation of non-consent would be the only way we would take it seriously is absurd, so it would be equally absurd to assume that requiring proof of consent would necessitate written documentation. Advocates for affirmative consent don’t want sex contracts.

In addition, even under our current framework we accept a variety of pieces of evidence from the prosecution to show that the victim did not consent. A clear “no” is obviously the strongest kind of evidence, just as under an affirmative consent framework an enthusiastic verbal “yes” would be the best evidence, but that is just what the best evidence is. That is certainly not the only kind of evidence available. Courts already look at the entire context surrounding the incident to try to determine consent. The process would be virtually the same under an affirmative consent model. The only difference would be that the burden would be on the defendant to show that they believed they had obtained consent based on the context of the encounter instead of placing the burden on the victim to show that, although they didn’t say “no,” they had expressed non-verbally that they were unwilling to participate.

The shift in the burden of proof is sometimes cited as a reason not to adopt an affirmative consent model. Critics argue that this affects the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Which is, rightly, a cornerstone of our judicial system. If this model did, in fact, change that presumption then it wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to this problem. But it does not.

Take another crime as an example. A woman’s car is stolen. The police issue a BOLO on the car, find it, and bring the suspect in and sit him down. They ask him “did you have permission to take that car?” and he replies “Yes, officer, she gave me the keys!”

He is still presumed innocent and, as far as this brief hypothetical tells us, hasn’t had his rights violated. It looks as though he is going to get a fair trial at this point. That trial may still devolve into another he said, she said situation. She may allege that she didn’t give him the keys but merely left them on the kitchen table. At that point, it will be up to the jury to decide who they believe, but that would have been the case in any event. He is presenting her giving the keys to him as one of the facts to show his innocence.

If a woman’s car is stolen we don’t question her about how many miles are on the odometer. We don’t ask if she wore a seatbelt the last time she drove it. We don’t care if she had been drinking because her alcohol consumption doesn’t negate the fact that she was a victim of a crime. We certainly wouldn’t force her to prove that she didn’t give the thief the keys. That burden would rightly be on him and we would be able to both place that burden on him and at the same time presume him to be innocent until he failed to meet that burden.

Adopting an affirmative consent model changes how consent is perceived. It is primarily a cultural change in understanding who is responsible for consent. Rather than making the non-initiating party responsible for communicating a lack of consent, affirmative consent requires that the initiating party obtains obvious consent.

That is how affirmative consent works. It wouldn’t require a written contract or even necessarily a verbal assertion. Context would always matter and the cases would still often become two competing stories about what the context meant. And it doesn’t mean that we are assuming that person is guilty before they have the chance to show that they did, in fact, get that consent. It just means that we are placing the burden of proving that consent was obtained on the party claiming that consent had been obtained.


Conclusion

There is no other category of crime where we ask the victim to show that they didn’t want to be the victim of that crime. A man who is stabbed in a bar fight, regardless of whether he was drunk or belligerent, isn’t asked to prove that he didn’t want a knife wound.

We need to change our cultural framework of rape and consent. When we are working under an affirmative consent framework what we are doing is changing the first question. Currently, our first question is for the victim: did you say no? Under an affirmative consent model our first question is for the suspect: did you get a yes?

Complete Article HERE!

What I Need My Daughter To Know About Consent, Even Though It’s Difficult To Talk About

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The job of raising children entails a comprehensive, albeit exhausting, list of responsibilities. The duty is a privilege but the pressure to “get it right” weighs heavily on me, particularly when it comes to sex. Considering my own salty experiences, consent isn’t just an important topic, it’s the most important topic — with both my daughter and my son. While I try to remain an open book, there are things I haven’t been teaching when I talk about consent, especially with my daughter and mostly because I’ve been afraid of getting “too deep” into the subject of sex. However, and arguably now more than ever, I need to “dig deep” and have these important conversations.

The first time I had sex I was a junior in high school, and while there was consent I had a few traumatizing experiences years prior that, to this day, I’m not completely “over.” With divorced parents in and out of relationships and my life completely devoid of comprehensive sex education or much, you know, “notice,” it took the whole “live and learn” motto to to an extreme and simply tried to understand sex, sexuality and consent as best I could.

My daughter must, and I mean must, realize how difficult it is, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to her when and/or if she is faced with a decision and the need to protect her voice and her body.

I’d never been taught much about consent or that it’s my right to decide what happens (or doesn’t happen) to my body. I grew up within the bounds of massive chaos that didn’t allow me to decide, even if I had known. Sexualized at a tender age due to a body that matured early, I’d become used to catcalls and looks from strange men. Eventually, I was assaulted by people I trusted; once on a basement floor and a second time in a parking garage. Both events changed me in ways I could never see coming, especially as a parent and partner.

right-to-respect

I didn’t tell anyone about either of the incidents. I felt ashamed and thought no one would believe me. If they had, I surmised I’d hear things like, “You asked for it,” or, “I thought you liked him,” all of which would’ve only added to the discomfort I already felt in my skin. Rape culture is a powerful thread, woven deep into the fibers of society. As women, it erases our beliefs that we are worthy, we can say no, and, more importantly, we can change our mind if we’d said yes.

For this reason, and many others, I started talking to my children early on about consent and why it’s so important. By telling them they don’t have to hug someone goodbye if they don’t want to, and setting personal boundaries within our bodies and others, I laid a foundation (I hope) that will aid them both and especially my daughter if they’re faced with similar circumstances later on. I want my daughter to know, her body, her rules and that her voice matters.

One thing I didn’t know then, was that my silence was not consent.

When I think back to those times I went through after the assaults, I’m saddened. Not only did they morph the way I felt about sex from then on, they changed my views on relationships in general. I don’t mean for it to affect my every move, but it does. Having your body taken advantage of changes a person. I certainly don’t want my daughter (or son) to ever feel this way so I’ll do whatever I can to protect them or, at the very least, empower them through both my experiences and words.

silence-does-not-equal-concent

That means not only teaching my them both about consent, but explaining to my daughter how difficult it can be to withhold consent when you feel uncomfortable. The pressure to make people especially men happy when you’re a woman is unfathomable to those who do not experience it. So many women (and men) stay silent, for fear they will be judged or ridiculed or put in a physically unsafe situation. My daughter must, and I mean must, realize how difficult it is, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to her when and/or if she is faced with a decision and the need to protect her voice and her body.

With the way society sexualizes women, it’s easy to feel powerless in any sexual situation.

One thing I didn’t know then, was that my silence was not consent. I thought by not agreeing or disagreeing, everything was OK, no matter how much I screamed inside of my head. This is so wrong. I’ve taught my daughter this and hope she utilizes the knowledge she’s in control of her body.

With the way society sexualizes women, it’s easy to feel powerless in any sexual situation. Now that these talks are more prevalent (thanks to an uprising in news stories), the one thing we’re not teaching out daughters when we talk about consent is that very right to change her mind whenever she so chooses, no matter how difficult or embarrassing it may be. If I teach her nothing else, I hope this embeds in her subconscious. It could mean the all difference in the world.

my-body-my-terms

Parenting has challenged me every single day since my early days of pregnancy and I’m beyond grateful for those difficulties. In the end, they’ve helped me evolve in ways I otherwise wouldn’t have, and have opened my eyes to all the things I didn’t know when I was a child that I now fight to know for my own children.

When I look into my daughter’s eyes, I’m fully aware of the gravity consent brings. I want her to know all her options before she’s in a situation she can’t get out of. I want her to know how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to exercise any of those options, because peer pressure is powerful and social expectations are palpable. She can say yes, she can say no, and she can damn well change her mind whenever she damn well pleases.

Her body, her terms. The end.

Complete Article HERE!

Girls Gone Wild: Why Straight Girls Engage In Same-Gender Sexual Experiences

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black-lesbian-couple

“Straight girls kissing” has become something of a curious and controversial cultural phenomenon over the last 15 years.

Madonna and Britney Spears famously locked lips in front of millions during the 2003 Video Music Awards, with Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock following suit seven years later at the MTV Movie Awards. In 2008, Katy Perry went platinum singing that she “kissed a girl” and “liked it.” Meanwhile, we’ve seen portrayals of otherwise unlabeled women acting on same-gender desire in a number of popular primetime shows, from “Orphan Black” to “The Good Wife.”

In one sense, this reflects real life. Many young women who identify as straight have had sexual or romantic experiences with other women. Research on sexual fluidity, hooking up and straight girls kissing has mainly focused on women living on college campuses: privileged, affluent, white women.

But studies have found that same-gender sexual experiences between straight women are common across all socioeconomic backgrounds. This means existing studies have been ignoring a lot of women.

As recent surveys have shown, women outside of the privileged spaces of college campuses actually report higher rates of same-gender sex. This happens even though they’re more likely to start families at a younger age. They also have different types of same-gender sexual experiences and views of sexuality, all of which we know less about because they’re often underrepresented in most academic studies of the issue.

As a sociologist who studies gender and sexuality, I wanted to know: How do straight women who don’t match the privileged, affluent and white stereotype we see in the media make sense of their same-gender sexual experiences?

‘Straight girls kissing’ in social science

Some social scientists have followed the media’s fixation on straight girls kissing to further explore theories of female bisexuality.

In her 2008 book, psychologist Lisa Diamond developed the influential model of “sexual fluidity” to explain women’s context-dependent or changing sexual desire. Meanwhile, sociologist Laura Hamilton argued that making out at college parties served as an effective, albeit homophobic, “gender strategy” to simultaneously attract men and shirk lesbians. And historian Leila Rupp, with a group of sociologists, theorized that the college hookup scene operates as an “opportunity structure” for queer women to explore their attractions and affirm their identities.

All of these scholars are quick to recognize that these ideas – and the studies on which they are based – focus mostly on a certain type of person: privileged women living on the progressive campuses of selective universities. In part, it is easier to recruit study participants from classes and student groups, but it leaves us with a picture that reinforces stereotypes.

Around the same time I conducted my study, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) found that women with the lowest levels of educational attainment reported the highest lifetime prevalence of same-gender sex. The New York Times correctly observed that these findings challenged “the popular stereotype of college as a hive of same-sex experimentation.” A 2016 update of the survey did not find a statistically significant pattern that varied by education level, but reiterated the high prevalence among women who didn’t go to college.

Just Below the Surface

In 2008, I started work as a research assistant on the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study, which surveyed young women weekly for two-and-a-half years to learn about the prevalence, causes and consequences of unintended pregnancy. It was my job to handle participants’ questions, comments and complaints. Most of the inquiries from the participants were about how to complete the surveys or receive the incentive payment.

But a few came from women unsure about how to answer questions on sex and relationships. They wondered: Were they supposed to include their girlfriends?

Many demographic surveys focused on health or risk do not explicitly collect data on sexual orientation or same-gender relationships. But valuable information on these topics often exists just below the surface.

In 2010, I decided to write new RDSL survey questions about sexual identity, behavior and attraction. Nearly one-third of participants gave some type of nonheterosexual response (including women who said they “rejected” labels or that gender was not a determining factor in their attractions). In 2013, I recruited 35 of these women to interview. Because RDSL had a racially and socioeconomically diverse population-based sample, I was able to interview women that many sexualities scholars struggle to access.

What Happens After Motherhood?

Many women I interviewed had become mothers in their teens or early 20’s. All of these moms had hooked up with a woman, had a girlfriend in the past or said they were still attracted to women. Nonetheless, most identified as straight.

They explained that it was more important to be a “good mother” than anything else, and claiming a nonheterosexual identity just wasn’t a priority once kids were in the picture.

senior lesbiansFor example, Jayla (a black mom with a four-year degree from a state school) broke ties with her group of LGBTQ friends after her daughter was born. As she explained, “I think what our relationship didn’t survive was me becoming a mom… I kind of shifted away from them, because I know how I want to raise my daughter.”

Women who married men or settled down in their early 20’s also felt that their previous lesbian or bisexual identities were no longer relevant.

Noel, a white married mom with a General Educational Development certificate, dated girls in high school. Back then, being bisexual was a big part of her identity. Today, she doesn’t use that term. Noel said monogamy made identity labels irrelevant: “I’m with my husband, and I don’t intend on being with anybody else for my future.”

Sexual Friendships Emerge

Being a young mom can foreclose some possibilities to fully embrace an LGBTQ identity. But in other ways it created space to act on same-gender desire. I came to call these intimacies “sexual friendships.”

Chantelle, a black mom with a high school diploma, was struggling to co-parent with her ex-boyfriend. In the midst of her frustrating situation, she had found intimacy and satisfaction in a sexual friendship with a woman. As she put it, “relationships have a different degree and different standards. But with a friendship it’s kind of like everything is an open book.”

Amy, a white woman working on her associate’s degree, has had sex a few times with her best friend. They don’t talk about that, but they have daydreamed together about getting married, contrasting their feelings with their experiences dating men: “I feel like a man will never understand me. I don’t think they could. Or I don’t think that most men would care to. That’s just how I feel from the experiences I’ve had.”

Some of the women I interviewed told me they strategically chose hookups with women because they thought it would be safer – safer for their reputation and a safeguard against sexual assault.

Tara, a white woman attending a regional public university, explained: “I’m a very physical person and it’s not all emotional, but that doesn’t go over well with people, and you get ‘the player,’ ‘whore,’ whatever. But when you do it more with girls, there’s no negative side effects to it.”

Tara also said that men often misinterpret interest for more than it was: “Like if I want to make out with you, it doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you. But in a lot of guys in party scenes, that’s their mentality.” I asked her if this happened to anyone she knew, and she uncomfortably said yes – “Not that they ever called it rape or anything like that.”

Less Exciting, More Real

lesbian pronIntersectional studies like the one I conducted can upend the way we frame the world and categorize people. It’s not binary: Women don’t kiss each other only for either the attention of men or on their way to a proud bisexual or lesbian identity. There is a lot of rich meaning in the middle, not to mention structural constraints.

And what about that popular image equating “straight girls kissing” with “girls gone wild”? It’s more provocative cliché than reality. Many are at home with their kids – the father gone – looking for companionship and connection.

By using large-scale surveys as both a source of puzzles and a tool for recruiting a more diverse group of participants, the picture of “straight girls kissing” gets a little less exciting – but a lot more real.

Complete Article HERE!

Dating experts explain polyamory and open relationships

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open-relationships

To start, they are not the same thing as polygamy (that’s when you have more than one spouse). They are also not maintaining secret relationships while dating a person who believes he or she is your one and only (that’s just cheating).

Polyamorous open relationships, or consensual non-monogamy, are an umbrella category. Their expression can take a range of forms focusing on both physical and emotional intimacy with secondary or tertiary partners , though some relationships can veer toward strictly the physical and resemble 1970s-era swinging or group sex.

To better understand open relationships, we talked to several experts: Dan Savage, an author and gay-rights activist who writes a column about sex and relationships called Savage Love; Elisabeth Sheff, who over two decades has interviewed more than 130 people about non-monogamy and written three books on the topic; and Karley Sciortino, sex and relationships columnist for Vogue and Vice and creator of the blog “Slutever.”

We distilled their thoughts into seven key points.

1. Open relationships aren’t for everyone. Neither is monogamy
Among people who study or write about interpersonal relationships, there’s a concept known as sociosexuality, which describes how willing people are to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships. Sociosexuality is considered an orientation, such as being gay, straight, bisexual or somewhere in between.

If you’re on one end of the sociosexual scale, it might be hard to match with a potential partner on the other . “Growing up, you’re told to find people with the same interests and hobbies, but never told to find someone sexually compatible to you,” Ms. Sciortino said. She recommends figuring out early on whether the person you’re dating is a match on the scale.

Mr. Savage explained that people who would prefer an open relationship sometimes avoid asking for it as they drift into an emotional commitment because they’re afraid of rejection. But “if monogamy isn’t something you think you’ll be capable of for five or six decades, you should be anxious to get rejected,” he said. Saying quiet about your needs can lead to problems down the line and result in cheating.

That said, a lot of people aren’t on opposite ends of the scale. Mr. Savage, who is in a non-monogamous marriage, said that when he first brought up being open to his husband, he rejected the idea. But several years later, it was his husband who suggested they try it.

“If I had put that I’m interested in non-monogamy on my personal ad, and my husband had seen that personal ad, he wouldn’t have dated me,” Mr. Savage said.

2. Polyamory is not an exit strategy.
Open relationships aren’t the way to soften a blow or to transition out of a committed situation. “If they cheat first, and say, ‘Honey, I’ve found someone else; we’ve been together six months,’ it’s very hard to successfully navigate that,” Dr. Sheff said.

Doing something with other people before discussing it essentially betrays your partner’s trust. And trust and communication are crucial in any relationship, whether it’s monogamous or not.

3. Nor is it an option to just keep a relationship going.
“If it’s to avoid breaking up, I have never seen that work,” Dr. Sheff said. “I’ve seen it limp along for a few months. If it’s out of fear of losing the polyamorous person, that’s a disaster in the making. It’s like a lesbian trying to be happy in a relationship with a man.”

Pretending to be happy with a situation while suffering inside doesn’t work for anyone.

4. Rules and situations can change.
“Non-monogamy is a basket of possibilities,” Mr. Savage said. He said that sometimes a person’s first reaction to a suggestion of opening the relationship is anxiety. “They’re going to have this panic response and assume you’re going to have 7,000 partners in a year and they’re never going to see you,” he said. But non-monogamy can be expressed in a range of ways: Some couples only have sex with other people, others date them and fall for them, others are open about being open and yet others keep their openness “in the closet” socially.

“It seems boundless,” Ms. Sciortino said. “But actually, there are so many more rules in non-monogamous relationships than in monogamous ones. There’s only one rule in monogamous relationships.”

For her, pushing her boundaries and talking about them forced her to be honest with herself about what she prefers and to learn to communicate well and clearly. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand your comfort zone until you try,” she said.

5. Prioritizing a primary partner is key.
A term familiar to people who practice non-monogamy is “new relationship energy.” It’s that excited feeling when two compatible people are getting to know each other and want to spend every minute together.

The problem with new relationship energy is that it can make a primary partner feel forgotten. “Your long-term partner can feel hurt if you’re taking your relationship for granted,” Dr. Sheff said. “Wear your special lingerie, surprise them, bring them flowers.”

For some people, it’s not a big deal if their partner has sex with someone else, but they can feel slighted if they are being emotionally neglected.

“It’s emotional cheating that people want to protect themselves from,” Mr. Savage said. He brought up an example from when he was dating his now-husband, who bought a Christmas tree with a good friend. The situation made Mr. Savage jealous in a way that his boyfriend’s having sex with someone else wouldn’t have. “Going Christmas tree shopping is what you do with your boyfriend,” he said.

So his pro tip? “Demonstrate that they are your first priority.” It’s called a primary partner for a reason.

6. Those sharing a lover can get along too.
Dr. Sheff said that in her experience, the most successful non-monogamous relationships are the ones in which the lovers’ partners (the ones who aren’t sleeping with each other) get along. As an example, she brought up a married couple in which the woman developed a relationship with another man when she was pregnant with her second child.

“The boyfriend and husband would do all sorts of stuff together,” Dr. Sheff said. After eight years, the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend ended, but her husband maintained his friendship with the other man.

“They had lunch every other Saturday where the husband would bring the kids,” Dr. Sheff said. “It worked because the husband didn’t have a sexual relationship with the boyfriend.”

In this polyamorous situation, and others she has seen succeed, the partners who are not sexually involved are the glue that kept the group together.

7. Jealousy is present, but not unique.
“A woman once asked me, ‘Don’t you get jealous?,’ ” Mr. Savage said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you?’ Monogamous commitments aren’t force fields that protect you from jealousy.”

Jealousy is a universal emotion that transcends sociosexuality states.

“I always say I want to do whatever I want, and I want my partner to be in a cage when I’m not around,” Ms. Sciortino said. And while that kind of setup is possible, it’s not exactly the one she’s looking for.

So what does she recommend? “Put yourself in their position,” she said. “If you can have sex with someone else and it doesn’t take away from your love and even enhances it, you have to allow them the same freedoms.”

Dr. Sheff suggested taking a close look at the underlying causes of the jealousy: Is it insecurity? Fear? Maybe it’s even justified? “Sometimes jealousy is a signal that you really are being slighted,” she said.

Tips for confronting jealousy in open relationships are the same as in most other relationships: writing down your thoughts, talking out your feelings with your partner, seeing a counselor.

And that, all three experts were quick to note, may be the most important point to understand: In many ways, open relationships aren’t all that different from monogamous ones. The best way to feel comfortable is up to individuals and their partner(s).

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