Or, Why I Am Not a Swinger
For the introduction to this post, read Bad Coffee in Bed, September 22, 2005
Wayne drank bad coffee just because it was coffee and he believed that he liked coffee; I had bad sex just because it was sex and I believed that I liked sex.
But I decided at some point that I'd had enough bad sex to last a lifetime, and that I'd like to limit its occurrence in the future. This has pretty much resulted in celibacy, which I'm fairly OK with. The fact of the matter is, if celibacy is the price I have to pay for not having sex I regret later, I will pay it.
What happened is this: I had one too many one-night stands with someone who A) had no investment in my life and B) was a bad lay to boot. This last guy couldn't muster enough courtesy or decency to call me even ONCE after having two orgasms in my bed while I went thoroughly unfulfilled. There had been a moment, when, in a drunken haze, I thought getting naked with this guy was a FABULOUS idea, but many hours later when he was gone and I was left with my hangover, I realized that all I got out of the experience was some very troubled sleep and a few weeks of wondering if my contraceptives had really worked.
So I figured I needed some rules to have sex by. These are the rules I came up with.
1. I will never sleep with anyone BEFORE the first date. This means I will never again pick someone up at a bar, take him home and f*ck him, though there are things I am willing to do that stop short of that. I think there are circumstances where it is OK to engage in certain forms of sexual behavior with someone with whom I am not (yet?) emotionally intimate; I think it can be both thoroughly fun and perfectly harmless to make out for a while with some unattached (see Rule #2) hottie (whether this hotness comes from a fabulous exterior or a really exciting mind) you just met. But as far as any activity for which a healthcare professional would recommend that you use some type of "protection,"--well, that ain't going to happen ever again in my life (at least not consensually) until AFTER there has been a phone call, dinner and a movie, or some equivalent, pre-arranged activity. I want the guy to demonstrate some investment, you know?
2. I will never sleep with someone who is sleeping with someone else. I have a real problem with infidelity. I've pushed the boundary a time or two: dating, the second he became single, some guy who had made it clear before he broke up with his girlfriend that he was interested in me; dating someone who wasn't the least bit over his ex; kissing someone who still had a girlfriend, though it was pretty obvious the relationship was about to die a miserable painful death. But I have never carried on a full-fledged "affair," and I don't want to start now--in fact, I want to back off even from the boundaries I was willing to push before. It's just weirdly complicated and I prefer unencumbered clarity.
I'm also not interested in swinging, or being involved with anyone who swings. I know it's often done successfully among gay men, who, according to those of my acquaintance who live the lifestyle, tend to know both the playing field and the rules. I have also met straight swingers from time to time, and some have suggested to me that my insistence on monogamy makes me a prude. Of course a prude is the last thing my Mormon mother would EVER call me, but perhaps it's true, since when I went to Amazon and looked up titles on polyamory, or being free to have sex with as many partners as possible, what I found pretty much turned my stomach. If the reviewers (even the enthusiastic ones giving the books five stars) are to be believed, the best books spend lots of time detailing how to avoid jealousy and breaking people's hearts--and, they admit, even with the books' advice, those things are hard to avoid. I once got hurt by a swinger who didn't seem to play by or even understand the rules. He told me simultaneously that A) there were no marriages like his that could serve as models to help him figure out how to deal with other women and B) there was this really great book called The Ethical Slut that he wanted to read but hadn't got around to buying. I wish he had read the goddamn book before pursuing me--apparently there are many marriages like his.
In fact, some of my ancestors had marriages rather like his. Something in the rhetoric about how "it's not infidelity if everyone knows what's going on" smacks too much of the rhetoric in the "revelations" Joseph Smith produced, in which God told him that there was not only nothing wrong but something deeply righteous about having sex with lots of women as long as he was married to all of them, then "commanded" him to go out and start doing just that. It's perhaps a strange condemnation, but it's true: heterosexual swinging is just too close to historical Mormonism to appeal to me.
(For information on Joseph's wives–-at least the ones historians are fairly certain about, go here:
There is of course a belief in Mormonism that at some point polygamy will be reinstated, when humanity is finally ready to live that "higher" law. Some men say they have no interest in acquiring a second wife, since it's hard enough making one marriage work; some men don't bother to conceal their delight at the prospect of having more than one sanctioned sex partner. When I was still active in the church, more than once some married man paid me what he thought was a fabulous compliment: "Holly, when polygamy is reinstated, you'll make the greatest second wife." Gee! Thanks ever so much, but I'll pass.
3. I will never have another one-night stand. They're just too goddamned depressing! As Liz Phair points out, you wake up from them disoriented, and almost immediately you feel sorry. I don't ever want to feel sorry quite that way again. This means that anyone who wants to sleep with me has to agree to do it on two separate occasions, separated by at least 24 hours. I'm not asking for a HUGE commitment: we're talking a weekend. And then, if the first occasions aren't horrible, there can be future occasions; and if they are horrible, well, sometimes there's no reason to test out the old adage that "third time's a charm."
I began making it a practice to share these rules with any man who made it clear that he was interested in sleeping with me. They never had a problem with Rule #1 and Rule #3, but Rule #2 took many a man by surprise. They sputtered out their disappointment and surprise to me.
"But...but...but I just moved to town and I don't know that many women yet and I'm already sleeping with this other woman I met and I don't know who I like better so far, you or her," one said.
"I think it's clear that you like HER better," I replied. "That's great! I hope things work out really well for the two of you."
There were a couple who said, "But... but... but I'm still sleeping with my ex-girlfriend!"
"Hey, whatever works for you!" I said. "I can completely understand why you would prefer to continue sleeping with someone with whom things didn't work out right the first time instead of investing in a new relationship. It makes things easier, after all."
Recently I have been thinking about the ways in which my evil ex Adam screwed me up and screwed me over. I would not have violated any of those rules in sleeping with him, but what was awful about him was not that he wanted irresponsible sex from me, but that he wanted irresponsible sex with everyone else, and he wanted me to provide an emotionally stable and supportive friendship while he was having that irresponsible sex, even after he dumped me cruelly. In case you've forgotten, this is the guy who said to me, "I can't sleep with anyone who knows me as intimately as you do," and "After a week of sleeping with you, I've begun to feel a commitment not just to you, not just to the relationship, but to being a person I'm not yet ready to be, so I'm going to sleep around with undergrads," then DEMANDED that I remain his best friend while he conducted these shallow sexual relationships. Which resulted in Rule #4:
4. I will not remain emotionally intimate with a man who extends and then withdraws the offer of sexual intimacy.
Even more recently, prompted by the advice of friends who hate to see me fret endlessly over some guy who has treated me badly, I have come up with yet another rule:
5. I will not remain emotionally intimate with--or even continue to speak to--a man who deceives me, either deliberately or through carelessness, about his status or intention with regards to the other rules.
The thing is, although that rule seems emotionally and ethically healthy to me, I'm bad at cutting people off. I always want to give people another chance, and while that has prolonged my misery in some cases, in others it has turned out well. I mean, yeah, there have been plenty of mistakes in my sex life. But even some of the guys who were jerks when I dated them turned out to be decent guys later, and I'm really glad to be friends with them. How many chances do you give someone to turn into a decent person?
So those are the rules for what I won't do. As for what I will do, well, right now it all seems kind of moot, given the dating pool where I live, and the paucity of men who are truly interested in 40-something women with PhDs and bad attitudes. Not that I'm complaining. I've always been fond of solitude, even as a child, which I shall discuss in the future.
And I might also talk about good sex at some point–-I actually have had some, in case you wondered.