I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about how hard she’s finding her relationship. Part of the problem is that they’ve been together for quite a long time and are monogamous. He’s not interested in negotiating any other kind of relationship and, frankly, she’s starting to go a bit crazy! Having spent years having a lot of fun and enjoying polyamorous relationships before she met him, she decided she wanted something with more of an emotional connection and committed to an exclusive relationship. At first she enjoyed the sexual and emotional exclusiveness but now she feels she cannot be truly herself in this relationship any longer. Even though she loves him, she has some sexual needs that she cannot live out with her partner. He does not want her to live out her kinkier desires with other lovers and she finds it impossible to repress those desires any longer. Until recently she has been ‘paying’ for the emotional security that the relationship offers with her freedom, having had to neglect parts of her sexual self in order to keep him happy and the relationship going.
This got us talking and me thinking about how important it is to be able to make choices about the kind of unique relationships you want, rather than being coerced into the kind society thinks is ‘normal’ and acceptable. I’m a big fan of the book The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, which is a classic for anyone interested in open relationships and how we can achieve sexual and personal freedoms whilst treating all the people we relate to with the utmost respect and honesty that everyone deserves.
One of the important ideas at the heart of this book is that everyone is an individual responsible for their own happiness, and that while we can have deep, loving connections with people, no-one should be responsible for someone else’s happiness. This approach to relationships is one that values everyone as strong, independent individuals rather than suggesting people are incomplete and need someone else to make them whole. This is especially relevant for women, who have been, and sadly often still are, conditioned to sacrifice their own life goals and autonomy in favour of romantic relationships. Not only that, but conventional opinion often encourages these sacrifices, positing emotional dependence as the only ‘right’ and ‘natural’ way to love another human being.
Of course this just isn’t true! It’s completely possible to be a strong, satisfied individual and to choose to love someone just because they’re so wonderful – in fact this must be the best way to love – out of choice rather than need! A relationship as the icing on the cake of our happiness rather than our emotional ‘bread and butter’. As my friend is currently finding out, love and sex can be two very different things. They don’t necessarily come together and can’t always be satisfied by the same person. Often we live out completely different facets of our sexuality with different people. And many of our fantasies involve multiple lovers.
Loads of the fantasies shared with me by my female audience involve some form of group sex. I enjoy turning these female fantasies into reality for my performers in my films: in Female Fantasies a woman is licked to orgasm by two skilled male lovers at once and in The Female Voyeur there’s a sumptuous, exotic orgy with sex slaves all pleasuring the women. These are the sorts of things so many women dream about that just aren’t possible if people aren’t allowed to think outside the monogamy box once they are in a relationship! And when you start to explore other options, dreams really can come true.
This is why I think challenging the cultural dominance of monogamy is an important part of female liberation. It’s not to say that some women depending on their situation or needs won’t want to choose a monogamous relationship anyway – I’ve been very happy in my monogamous relationship for years – but that often they don’t really get to make an active choice about it. The films I make are all focused on allowing women to be honest about what they want and what turns them on – and sometimes that just isn’t monogamy. As my despairing friend said to me, sex is like eating ice cream: strawberry is her favourite flavour but she doesn’t want to eat it all the time. Sometimes she wants other flavours she knows she likes, or to try new ones, and every once in a while she wants a giant sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top!
In fact, her sweet tooth is so strong that eventually she did start to sample some other sexual flavours again, and her taste buds are tingling. But where normally she would be happy and blossoming if she had such an abundance of love and sex, the experience is tainted with an enormous sense of guilt – not because she’s enjoying sex with several people, but because she’s lying to her partner about it. It’s a tricky situation; she knows no matter what she says to reassure him he won’t give her the freedom she needs to be happy. She loves him very much and fears that her honesty would mean losing him. And this is the downside of a society that refuses to discuss or accept other relationship options: if you feel you cannot live with monogamy you are left with the choice to either end your exclusive relationship, or to live out your fantasies behind your partner’s back and lie. So in this case, he is still experiencing the very thing he can’t stand the thought of, he just is not aware what is going on. She can neither fully enjoy her sexuality (with other lovers) or her intimate, loving relationship with her partner without feeling guilty. It’s a lose-lose situation, and one that would really benefit from some openness and honesty. All involved deserve to know what is going on so they can make an informed choice about what kind of relationship they want to live. Maybe the needs of my friend her partner are just not compatible any longer – even if they still love each other…
To love polyamorously does not mean doing whatever you want without any care for others – that’s where the ‘ethical’ part of Dossie and Janet’s book comes in. They spend most of the book discussing communicating, compromising and caring for your partners and yourself, and recognise that all open relationships are going to take hard work and can and will be subject to bouts of jealousy and insecurity. The irony is that by refusing people their desires – as my friend’s boyfriend has – you often might end up more hurt than if you had been willing to give your partner the freedom they desire. She has now betrayed his trust in a way that might eventually destroy their relationship for good…
Monogamous, polyamorous, single or partnered – love and relationships are always difficult seas to navigate, but we should all have the freedom to live and love in whatever way we wish, whether that means having sex five times a day or never, with one person or with dozens. And with that in mind, I hope my friend finds a way to resolve her dilemma soon and live as the ice-cream-loving ethical slut I know she truly is!