“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.” – Mae West
In this post, we’ll look two alternatives to monogamy: an “anything goes” sex club and living with three lovers at once.
It’s very graphic, definitely not suitable for work (NSFW), and guaranteed to offend most of you.
If you’re chomping at the bit to express mock outrage, please check this out instead. For the rest of you, I’m hoping the below is hilarious and somehow helpful.
Lifestyle design is, after all, about a lot more than work.
And if anything below shocks or appalls you, please ask yourself: why does this make me so uncomfortable? Dig into the discomfort. Looking inward before lashing outward is good for the world.
Now, on to the taboo.
As some of you know, I’ve been conflicted about monogamy for a long time. I love intimacy, but my biology craves novelty…
So, what the hell is a guy to do? There is reality as we’d like it to be, and then there is reality.
This is where Neil Strauss often enters the picture. I’ve known Neil for years. He’s a seven-time New York Times bestselling author, arguably best known for The Game. In that book, he enters a subculture of pick-up artists as a hopeless nerd and comes out able to conjure threesomes on demand.
Not surprisingly, Neil went on a tear of sexual hedonism after his transformation, and many men read his book hoping for the same.
Then… Neil fell in love. Things got complicated once again.
On this blog and in the podcast, he and I have talked about kickstarting creativity and his genius writing process. But at night over drinks, we still discuss what two guys usually discuss: women. The same questions come up a lot:
– Are humans really designed for monogamy? Is it possible or even desirable?
– Should you choose excitement over intimacy?
– If you’re a driven type-A personality, can you really have both with one person?
– Would life be better if you could sleep with anyone you liked at any time?
– What if you could get a hall pass every once in a while?
Neil has spent the last six years attempting to answer these questions, and the result is a brand-new book called The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships. I’ve been reading drafts for months.
This post includes two of my favorite stories from his experiments, adapted and embellished for this blog.
It’s written from the perspective of a male, of course, but many women grapple with similar questions. These are challenging times.
MY SELFISH REQUEST: Please share in the comments what has worked for you! I’m a simple animal living in a confusing world. How have you navigated the above questions?
AND ONE IMPORTANT NOTE (added after much confusion): The below is written by Neil Strauss! It covers his adventures, not mine.
Now, enjoy the debauchery…
Enter Neil Strauss
Several years ago, I was in a relationship with a fantastic person. She was great. Yet I was miserable. I felt trapped. Being romantically and sexually with one person for the rest of my life–at least four decades, barring any cruel twists of fate–made no sense.
First, there was the science: I had interviewed evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, historians, geneticists, and more. I could not find a single shred of evidence supporting the theory that monogamy was natural. And when I talked to a professor who wrote the only major research paper I could find suggesting monogamy was good for civilization, even he admitted, “If humans, just by nature, mated for life and there were a very tight pair-bond, then we wouldn’t need all these marriage customs.”
As Stephanie Coontz, the world’s leading marriage historian, explained when I spoke with her: ”…Now you don’t have to [accept traditional marriage and family as a package deal]: It’s literally pick and choose. Cut and paste the kind of life you want. Family life and love relationships are essentially becoming a build-your-own model.”
So I decided to build my own relationship, and after some thought, this is what I came up with:
- It can’t be sexually exclusive, which rules out monogamy.
- It has to be honest, which rules out adultery.
- It has to be capable of developing romantic and emotional attachment, which rules out being a permanent bachelor.
- It has to be capable of evolving into a family with healthy, well-adjusted children, which rules out unstable partners and lifestyles.
Then I started experimenting. Some turned out far better than others. Let’s start with one of the winners.
THE “ANYTHING GOES” SEX CLUB
Everywhere I look while traveling to Paris, I see young couples pushing sleeping children in strollers, carrying blanket-wrapped babies in their arms, hurrying along superhero-backpacked toddlers.
Each family makes me think of Ingrid, the girlfriend I broke up with, and the future I ruined. I wonder what Ingrid’s doing, who she’s doing it with, and if she’s happier living without my wandering eyes and ambivalent heart.
In Paris, however, everything will change. I will finally find the freedom I’ve been looking for.
First, there is Anne, a woman who’s been flirting with me on Facebook. She’s waiting in the hotel room when I arrive. She’s slender and toned, with dirty blond shoulder-length hair, minimal makeup, and boyish clothes. As I approach her, she looks deeply and mutely into me with quivering brown eyes. I take a step toward her, brush her hair aside, and we kiss.
We disrobe. Get in bed. Make love. Spoon. And then she says salut. It’s the first word we’ve exchanged.
Then, there’s Camille, an open-minded Parisian who some new swinger friends made me promise to get in contact with.
“Hi Neil. I’m meeting my friend Laura, who’s American just like you,” she texts. “She wants to go to a great switch club and I promised I’d get in trouble with her. Do you want to come with us?”
“Is it okay if I’m with a date?”
“Dump the girl. There’ll be plenty of dates for you there! And they all want to have sex :)”
This switch club sounds like a goldmine of open-minded single women. The only problem: I want to bring Anne.
“If you have to bring her, use the ‘We’ll just have a drink and watch’ technique,” Camille relents. “That’s how my boyfriend got me there in the first place, and look at me now! The club is by Montmartre. Give me a call after dinner.”
In my monogamous relationship last year, my credo was to say no. Only by saying no to others could I protect Ingrid’s heart. But now, I am saying yes—to everyone, to everything, to life. Because every yes is the gateway to an adventure. Whatever I am heading toward, it is a relationship that operates out of a place of yes.
At dinner that night, I do exactly as Camille instructed. Anne and I are with two women I met on a European press tour a few years earlier: a German fashion photographer and a Swedish designer. They spend most of the meal gossiping about people I don’t know.
“We don’t have to do anything,” I explain to Anne. “Let’s just plan on having a drink and watching, and we can leave right away if it’s lame.”
“I’m a little tired,” she replies, her voice barely audible. Throughout the day, she’s barely spoken. Instead, she’s attached herself to me energetically, gazing at me almost constantly with big, vulnerable, barely blinking eyes. I get the sense that she wants something from me or may already be getting it from me. “Is it okay if I go back to the hotel?”
“Can we come?” the fashionistas interrupt.
“You can go with them if you want,” Anne tells me softly.
It’s hard to read Anne. I’m not sure if she’s legitimately tired or just uncomfortable with the suggestion. “Are you sure it’s all right for me to go?”
“I don’t mind,” she replies.
I study her face to make sure she’s sincere, that it’s not a test to see if I’ll choose her. She appears placid and unconcerned. I ask three more times just to make sure.
“She said you could go!” the German photographer snaps at me.
We drop Anne off at the hotel, and she gives me a deep kiss and walks off. It’s a good sign: Letting your lover go to a sex club alone is actually a much more open-minded feat than going with him. As the taxi speeds away, the German photographer loops her arm in mine.
I’m determined not to wreck this orgy like all the others [Editor’s note: elsewhere in the book].
We arrive at the club just after midnight. I spot Camille instantly. She has long brown hair worthy of a shampoo commercial and skin so smooth and flawless that a metaphor to an inanimate object, like a pearl, would hardly do it justice.
She’s standing with two other women: Laura, her American friend, who looks like a burning candle—long and narrow, with a white pantsuit and a shock of short blond hair. And Veronika, a haughty beauty from Prague with lips like cylindrical sofa cushions, flowing brown hair, an overdeveloped nose, and a tall, thin, sensuous frame that reminds me of the actress Jane Birkin.
“Do we have to put on robes or towels when we go in?” I ask Camille, unsure what protocol is for places like this.
Camille looks at me like I’m crazy. “No, we just wear our clothes.”
That’s a relief. Despite my desire to be open, evolved, and shame free about sex, I’m still not totally comfortable with the sight of my own body. The first time I ever had sex, I was too embarrassed to remove my shirt. And the second and third times as well.
Behind us in line, there’s a Frenchman with a shiny suit and slicked-back hair. He looks like a shady businessman who snorts a lot of cocaine. “Since you have so many girls, is it okay if I come in with you?” he asks.
The club has a rule that all males must enter with a female—and I’m standing there with five of them like a glutton. I suppose this is what I missed when I was dating Ingrid: options, variety, adventure, discovery, novelty, the unknown.
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “It’s my first time here.”
As we wait, Camille and Laura discuss sharing toys, by which they mean boys. “Is your boyfriend coming?” I ask Camille.
“Does he know you’re here?” I’m asking not to judge her, but because I’m curious how their relationship works.
“No.” She smiles guiltily. Clearly, having an open relationship is no cure for infidelity. Almost everyone I’ve met in the scene so far has transgressed even the minimal rules of their supposedly open relationship.
Perhaps the problem with most relationships is that the rules start to become more important than the values they’re supposed to be representing.
Eventually two of Camille’s toys arrive, both in designer jackets and skinny ties. They introduce themselves as Bruno and Pascal. Bruno looks like a clean-cut college athlete, while Pascal, with thin-framed glasses, tight curls, and slow, well-mannered gestures, looks like an intellectual dandy.
Unlike the highly sexualized crowd at Bliss [another sex party], the men and women here aren’t divorced weekend warriors dressed like porn stars. Aside from the slick-haired businessman behind us, everyone here seems young, hip, well dressed, and silicone free. They don’t look much different than the crowd outside an exclusive nightclub. Evidently, after a night on the town, they come here for dessert. As the line starts moving, Laura takes pity on solo slick guy and invites him to come in with her.
“Do you know how I can tell these people are barbarians?” the German photographer says to her friend. “Look at their shoes. I wouldn’t wish a single pair on my worst enemy.”
I glance back nervously and think about ways to slip away from them. But it’s too late: We’re being let inside.
When we enter, a hostess asks us to check our jackets (which for some reason leads to sniggers from the fashionistas), then gives me a card that she explains will serve as my tab for the night. Veronika removes her blazer to reveal a loose-fitting backless dress that, when her stride is long, would get her arrested. “She will be my first fuck tonight,” Pascal tells me confidently as I stare mutely at the tan expanse of Veronika’s back.
We walk downstairs to an empty, low-lit dance floor dotted with stripper poles. The twenty or so people in the room are clustered against a bar, drinking away their inhibitions. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is playing. It seems so . . . obvious.
At the end of the anteroom, there’s a black door that leads to the fun. After her friends have drifted into the rooms behind it, Camille takes my hand and offers to show me around. “What about my friends?” I ask.
“They’ll be fine. Are you coming or not?”
I look over and they seem deep in snide conversation, concealing their discomfort by increasing their arrogance. I should invite them to join us, especially since I brought them here. The last thing I want to do, however, is walk around the orgy with them making obnoxiously loud comments about how everyone’s sexual techniques are so last year.
• • •
Behind the black door, Camille and I slowly wander through sunken living rooms and small porthole-fitted chambers, all in copious use, until we arrive at a space that consists of just an enormous bed and a narrow walkway along the front wall.
Most of the women on the megabed are completely naked while the men are still wearing dress shirts, ties, and pants. However, their pants are all unzipped or lowered and their junk is hanging out. Dicks are everywhere. Even the guys who aren’t with women are walking around the room with expectant cocks dangling in the air in case someone has a need for them. I’m the only guy who’s zipped up.
In the bottom right corner of the bed, Laura is on all fours with her dress up. Bruno pulls out of her and parks in Camille’s mouth while Pascal, true to his word, fucks Veronika against the wall. She’s standing up, facing frontward with one leg raised and her face flushed, in a pose that, if photographed, would incite a million sticky nights.
I don’t know what to do, how to get involved, or what the rules are. This is the closest to a free-for-all I’ve ever seen.
So I sit in the empty space on the mattress in front of Laura, who’s still posed on her hands and knees expectantly. “Thanks for letting me come here with you guys,” I tell her, because I feel like I need to say something.
“Is this your first time at a switch club?” she asks astutely. This is probably the stupidest place I’ve tried to make small talk since the last orgy.
As we’re talking, the creepy businessman from outside the club materializes behind Laura and rubs her pussy. Then he scoots under her like he’s repairing a car and starts eating her out.
“Is that cool with you?” I ask her. “I can tell him to stop if you’re not comfortable.” Here I go again: taking care of everyone’s needs but my own.
“That’s so American of you to say,” she laughs.
“What do you mean? How is that American?” I don’t even understand the comment: She’s American herself.
“No one’s ever asked me that before.”
“But I thought maybe—”
“I just want a cock in me.”
This is the kind of woman I fantasized about as a teenager: an indiscriminate one. And more than anything I’ve experienced so far, this seems like free sex–because there’s no spiritual baggage, drug baggage, or even much relationship baggage around it. In fact, there’s no baggage or encumbrances whatsoever, just randomly intersecting body parts. And now that I’m in the midst of it, I’m terrified. It’s so shockingly . . . open.
It’s not society that holds us back, it’s ourselves. We just blame society because not only is it easier but it’s a nearly impossible weight to move. This way, we don’t actually have to change. I thought I was fighting the system, but perhaps all I’ve really been doing is fighting myself.
Meanwhile, the slick-haired guy stops licking Laura and appears to be going for a home run.
I realize this is very crude, but the story takes place in a sex club. What else am I supposed to describe? The chandeliers? There’s nothing going on here but sex.
“Can you make sure he puts on a condom?” Laura asks.
“Okay,” I reply over-enthusiastically, grateful for the opportunity.
I have a job to do now. A purpose. I am the condom police. I watch him carefully to make sure he puts the rubber on. Then I worry that I’m creeping him out. But I won’t be swayed from my very important duty: no protection, no service. That’s right, sir, roll it on all the way. Otherwise I’m going to have to ask you to step out of the bed.
“It’s on,” I tell her with an air of authority,
As he thrusts inside her, Laura’s face swings closer to mine. Now’s my chance, I think, and I start making out with her.
And that’s when I realize: No one else here is making out. How many dicks has she had in that mouth tonight?
So I pull away. It’s time to say yes and unzip. I kneel so that my crotch is level with her head. And sure enough, she takes it in her hands, guides it into her mouth, and starts sucking.
“What do you like?” Laura pauses to ask.
Good question. I like this. What’s better than a blow job? Or does she want more specific instructions? Perhaps they have names for different blow jobs here—the spit-shine, the round-the-world, the confused American.
Like anything, I suppose sexual freedom is a learned art. I still need more experience to get comfortable.
Suddenly, I see Pascal’s head appear over mine. He whispers in my ear, “Veronika wants you.”
It’s music to my ears, especially since things with Laura feel awkward. I know she has an any-cock-will-do attitude, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my cock isn’t quite doing.
When the businessman finishes, Laura makes her escape. But instead of Veronika appearing, Camille kneels in front of me and takes Laura’s place with more enthusiasm. I’m not fully present because I’ve been stuck in my upper head, so I look around the room and notice a woman lying spread-eagled in front of me. I take her hand and start massaging it, and she massages my hand back. I move my hand between her thighs and start playing with her.
I’m starting to get comfortable here. Finally, I’m actually part of an orgy—awake, accepted, alive. I rear up tall and look around. Everyone is fucking and sucking.
Perhaps my previous disasters in CNM (consensual non-monogamy) have actually been necessary experiences to get comfortable at these things, learning lessons on the road to orgy mastery.
Suddenly I hear a guy’s voice exclaim loudly, “Tu es sur ma jambe.”
Nearly everyone on the megabed starts laughing.
Evidently I’m kneeling on some guy’s leg. I slide out of his way and notice Veronika crawling toward me on the mattress. I drink in her unique amalgamation of devastating beauty and awkward innocence, and I instantly harden.
I make out with her passionately. I don’t know why I keep touching people’s filthy lips, but I crave the intimacy and connection more than the anonymous sex. Maybe I am polyamorous—because it’s not just free sex I’m searching for, it’s free romance, free connection, free relationships, free getting-naked-with-someone-you-enjoy-and-who-enjoys-you-and-then-getting-to-know-each-other-even-better-afterward.
I seriously need to gargle with Listerine when I leave this place.
Meanwhile, Bruno has appeared out of nowhere and started having sex with the spread-eagled woman.
I pull back and look at Veronika’s face, and she bites her lower lip in response. There’s so much heat between us and we’ve only just met. I hope it isn’t because she was abandoned by her father (long story).
I run a finger across her lips and she sucks it into her mouth and . . . oh god, I feel like I’m about to . . .
But I don’t want this to end, so I pull out of Camille’s mouth.
“Let me suck you!” she begs.
This is the best night of my life.
I’ve finally entered the world I’ve been reading about in porn magazines and watching in adult movies since puberty. Just as women are trained by the media and society to look for their Prince Charming, men are conditioned to look for their nasty slut. Not for a marriage, but just for an adventure. Both are fairy tales, but a Prince Charming is nearly impossible to find, because it’s a lifetime illusion to sustain. It takes only a few minutes to play the role of nasty slut.
The only thing keeping me from fully enjoying this sexual paradise is the guilt: that Anne is in the hotel worrying, that the fashionistas are angry, and that because I’m liking this so much, it means I’m a sex addict, as is everyone else here. The counselors back at rehab have really done a number on my head. I used to be worried just about sexually transmitted diseases, but they’ve turned sex itself into a disease. And now, any time I’m giving myself over to pleasure, I hear a therapist’s voice in the back of my head telling me I’m avoiding intimacy.
Just as I promised my friend Rick Rubin I’d go all in on addiction treatment without doubt, I need to go all in on freedom without guilt. The answer will become clear over time: Either I’ll hit bottom, as others predicted, or I’ll find a solution that works for my life, as I hope. I need to get out of my head and be present for this experience. And to remember why I’m here: not just to have a lot of sex, but to find my relationship orientation and like-minded partners.
As my eyes meet Veronika’s again, I notice a dick hanging in my peripheral vision like a cloud covering the sun. Its owner says to me in a thick French accent, “All the girls here, they have been sucking your dick.”
“I guess so.”
“Do you like having your dick sucked?”
It seems like an obvious question, but I reply anyway, “Yes.” I try not to make eye contact. This conversation definitely isn’t helping my staying power.
“Would you like that I should suck your dick?”
“Oh, no thanks.” I don’t know why, but the situation seems to call for politeness. “I’m good.”
I suppose if I technically wanted total freedom, I’d let him go to town. But, I realize, the goal isn’t sexual anarchy. It’s that I want the rules around my sexuality to be self-imposed, not externally imposed. That’s the key difference—perhaps in everything.
The goal, then, is liberation: to be the master of my orgasm. I don’t want my partner to own it, which would be monogamy, but I also don’t want the orgasm to own me, which would be addiction.
My new admirer has inadvertently given me a gift. Though he doesn’t say anything else, I keep seeing his dick—on my right side, then my left, then a foot above me—as if he’s hoping that by just dangling it around me, at some point I’ll decide to show my appreciation. That seems to be how things work here. Maybe this is where all the women hang out who actually like it when guys text photos of their dicks.
A Valkyrie with long blond hair and missile breasts clambers onto the bed with her boyfriend. I eye-fuck her to get back into the spirit of the orgy. She holds my gaze. But before I get a chance to do a thing about it, Bruno appears out of the blue and starts fucking her.
I don’t know how he does it. This must be his tenth woman. Suddenly I remember that Camille has been down there sucking me for half an hour straight. I put on a condom, lie down, and move her on top of me.
Camille rides me as Veronika positions herself over my face. I am smothered in woman. If this is happening right now because my mother smothered me, then I owe her a serious thank-you.
Suddenly, a loud, condescending German voice fills the room: “Where is he?”
I tilt my head back and see an upside-down image of the fashionistas standing against the wall, staring into the mass of bodies.
“It’s just like him to do this to us!”
I try to shield myself underneath the women so the fashionistas don’t spot me.
“Let’s just leave without him.”
Their voices cut through the room, killing all sexuality in their path.
For a millisecond, I consider stopping. I should probably get back to the hotel and check on Anne anyway.
Then I think, No. This is amazing. I don’t want to stop this. So I’m selfish. Let me be selfish. They can leave and I’ll deal with it later. I’m learning how to take care of my own needs for a change.
In moments like these, the true nature of one’s soul is revealed.
“Let’s switch,” Veronika suggests. This is a switch club after all, so I slide out of Camille so she can swap places with Veronika. However, as soon as Camille’s lower orifice is free, Bruno is in there. The guy never misses an opportunity. I’m sure he’s a great businessman in the outside world.
Veronika slides her body over mine, her skin rubbing against my clothing, her back arched so we can see each other’s faces. I switch condoms and slowly enter her. We move against each other sensuously. Time slows. We fall out of sync with the rest of the club and into each other.
I gaze deeply into the world in Veronika’s eyes and she into mine—and it feels like love. Not the love that is a thought that comes with expectations of commitment and fears of abandonment, but the love that is an emotion that makes no demands and knows no fear. I’ve found, for a moment, love in a swing club.
Connected sex is a spiritual experience, but not in the way new-age western Tantra devotees describe it. It is spiritual because it’s a release from ego, a merging with the other, a discorporation into the atoms vibrating around us, a connection to the universal energy that moves through all things without judgment or prejudice.
Thus, orgasm is the one spiritual practice that unites nearly everyone on the planet, and perhaps that is why there’s so much fear and baggage around it. Because they were right both in rehab and the pseudo-religious sex cults: It is sacred.
And every orgasm. Is in itself an act of faith. An attempt to reach out. And just for a moment. Relieve our separateness. Escape from time. And touch eternity. And, yes!
As she drenches the mattress, I fill the condom.
Not only did I find love at an orgy, I think I found enlightenment.
ENLIGHTENMENT COLLIDES WITH “REAL LIFE”
A MONTH LATER, IN SAN FRANCISCO
“I moved in with three girlfriends and it’s been a complete disaster. No one’s getting along.”
That voice is, unfortunately, mine. I am making an emergency call to the smartest person I know in the world of polyamory. I would caution against, however, judging his level of intelligence from the name he goes by. It is Pepper Mint.
Months have passed since I made the decision to find a free relationship, and I eventually found three of them. So with a relationship roster that looks like a visit to Disney’s “Small World” ride–Anne, from France; Belle, from Australia; and Veronika, from the Czech Republic–we all decided to move into a house in San Francisco together.
And while months have passed since my decision to broaden my relationship horizons, unfortunately only a day has passed since we all moved in together. Problems came up that I just couldn’t anticipate, that weren’t covered in any books on the subject, that even the experts didn’t mention.
Like this one: The four of us traipse down the stairs, hungry and excited for a good meal. I get in the driver’s seat of the car. And… three women stand in front of the passenger seat of the car, looking confused and uncomfortable. They look to me to make a decision. But how can I pick favorites? That’s not going to help us live in equality this weekend. Eventually, we decide on a rotational system for the front seat: Alice will take the front seat now. Next time, Belle gets the front seat. Then Veronika.
It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
The automobile was clearly designed by monogamists.
And that was just the beginning: Even though all three women were excited about being in a group relationship, and two of them had already had related experiences, by the end of that first night all together, I felt like I was on an episode of The Bachelor. Competition reared its ugly heads at a party that night, at which all three of them wanted to leave at different times, Anne became jealous when anyone else touched me, Belle became upset when I told her to be careful about touching me because of Anne, and Veronika was irritated with all the drama.
There’s a term popular in the poly world: compersion.
It was coined supposedly at the Kerista commune in San Francisco decades ago. And it’s the idea that if the person you love is with another partner, rather than feeling jealous, you can feel happy for them because they are happy. And if you love someone, you should be glad that they’re happy, whether or not they’re experiencing it with you, right?
Compersion is evidently a lot harder to feel than it sounds. And it already seems pretty difficult to feel.
So that night, in light of the clear and total absence of compersion, I ended up sleeping on the couch so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
The moral thus far: Be careful what you wish for.
So now, the next day, I was on the phone with Pepper Mint, begging for help. Things could only get better from here.
“You’re trying to run before you can walk,” he informed me.
“What do you mean?”
“How many people are in the house?”
“Four of us.”
“So mathematically that’s six relationships. And it’s hard enough to make one relationship work.”
I had thought of it as a single relationship, or three at most. But I do the math—n(n-1)/2, with “n” being the number of lovers in a poly pod.—and he’s right.
“But there was this guy Father Yod,” I protest, “who had fourteen wives and it worked for him . . . I think.” I realize I don’t know much about how Father Yod managed his relationships. In fact, I just looked at the pictures.
“Who’s Father Yod?”
“He’s like Charles Manson, but without the killing.” Actually, that’s not totally true. I recall reading online afterward that Father Yod was a judo expert who murdered two people with his bare hands in self-defense.
“What I can tell you is that a shared living situation is what we call an advanced skill,” Pepper says, unfazed. “But trust me, it can work. I just went on a weeklong vacation to Hawaii with my partner and her boyfriend. And it was totally smooth because the three of us had spent so much time together.”
“Right now, I can’t see us ever getting to that point.” I suppose after a few years, one can get used to anything.
“Do you want me to come by and talk to them?”
When Pepper arrives an hour later, we gather in the living room, desperate for a miracle. I dare not sit on the couch in case it looks like I’m favoring whichever girl drops down next to me, so I take an armchair instead. Veronika and Pepper sit in the other chairs while Belle and Anne share the couch.
I introduce Pepper to everyone and list all the problems we’ve had so far. He listens carefully, then responds as if telling preschoolers to play nicely with each other. Unlike with monogamy, our culture offers no schooling on how to make a group relationship work, no real role models to look up to, and few—if any—friends to turn to for advice. Even in movies, when couples decide to open their marriage, the results are usually disastrous and the moral of the story is to stick with what you’ve got.
“Here’s your first lesson in going out together,” he begins. He is a sharp-featured, pale creature with long black hair, a black choker, and a slow, measured voice. I wonder if he was always this calm and deliberate or if it’s something he learned from years of managing multiple relationships. “You need to talk before you leave and have a plan for party protocol. If someone gets tired, do they take a cab home alone or do you all leave together? And if it’s a sexual situation, decide ahead of time whether you want to watch or leave or join the sex pile.” This makes perfect sense, yet it never occurred to me: The art of group relationships is logistics. “I want to encourage you to do little check-ins with one another constantly, with the knowledge that you don’t know each other very well. This way you can start to build a team feeling together.”
We nod in agreement. I suppose I was naïve to assume we would all just instantly become attached and live in relational utopia together. I’ve made mistakes in every monogamous relationship I’ve had, but I learned from them and that made the next relationship better. So it makes sense that my first multiple-partner relationship isn’t going to be a runaway success. It takes experience and failure to get good at anything. This is my opportunity to learn.
“I want to add something that’s important,” Pepper continues. “You”—he points to me—“are the fulcrum. This is a long-known poly situation. The fulcrum is the only person in a relationship with each partner, but because of that, you end up torn in a lot of different directions. It’s a very uncomfortable thing, because you’re empowered and disempowered at the same time.” He turns to the women. “So I would like to recommend that you all try to de-center Neil a little.”
I heave a hopefully imperceptible sigh of relief. I watched several documentaries on poly pods before coming here, and many were led by people with a pathological need to be the focal point of everyone’s love. They didn’t seem to care whose feelings got hurt as long as the empty space in their own hearts was kept filled. But for me, it’s no fun being the center of attention when it results in collateral damage to other people’s feelings.
“So how do we de-center me?” I ask Pepper.
“The three of you”—he gestures to my partners—“should hang out without him and also start negotiating decisions that don’t have to go through him first. The easy part of the situation is you and Neil, and you and Neil, and you and Neil”—here he points to each woman. “The hard part of the situation is your relationships with each other. I have a saying: Poly works or fails on trust between metamours.”
“What’s a metamour?” Veronika asks.
“A metamour is a partner’s partner. So if Neil and I were both dating you, then Neil would be my metamour. And it succeeds between him and me, because we have the hard part but not the good stuff. So when you build trust among metamours, everything comes together and the group starts functioning. Does that make sense?”
We were in the dark before. This pale Goth guy is the light. He’s a relationship pioneer, mapping new realms in interpersonal space.
He tells us about the burning period, which is the length of time (usually two years) it takes couples who open up to deal with the issues and challenges that occur as a result. I learn about the joys of theoretical nonmonogamy, which is when two people say they’re in an open relationship—but instead of actually sleeping with other people, they just get to feel free knowing they have the option to do so. There’s the jealousy test, which you pass if you’re able to have a serious relationship with someone who’s sleeping with other people or in love with someone else. Then there’s fluid bonded, which refers to partners who feel safe having unprotected sex with one another, and veto power, which means that one partner can ask another to end an outside relationship—an agreement that Pepper feels can cause more problems than it solves. Finally, there are the wearisome cowboys and cowgirls who get into the poly scene, date someone’s partner, and then try to rope that person into a monogamous relationship.
“So what do I do if I want to spend time with Neil alone?” Belle eventually asks. “Every time I try to do that, he says it’s rude to someone else.”
“Try not making the request to Neil. Make it to Anne and Veronika. And if they both say it’s okay, then you can do whatever you want with Neil.” The corners of Belle’s mouth turn up in an unsuccessfully repressed smile. Pepper spots this and adds sagely, “But be willing to hear a no.”
Veronika sighs and uncrosses her legs. “It’s so hard to share a person,” she says. “It would be easier if we didn’t have strong feelings. But there’s always going to be this mental fight to have him.”
Although having three attractive women fighting over me may seem like an ego trip, in reality it’s nerve shattering. Whatever interest they had in me before they arrived seems to have been exacerbated by the competition. According to a copy of O magazine I once read, polygamous men live nine years longer, on average, than monogamous men. But I wonder how Oprah could possibly be right. Because this is definitely not good for my blood pressure.
Pepper turns to me: “What you can do to get them past that point is reassure them. I’ve seen really jealous people and people with a lot of abandonment issues get past their shit once the fear of loss goes away. A good nonmonogamous group is like a flock of geese, which is to say it separates and comes back together.”
Anne opens her mouth to speak. The words escape soft and unsure. Everyone leans in to make sure they catch them. “For me, I was really surprised last night because when everybody was touching, it was hurting me.” She takes a pause so long it seems like an intermission. “I have a complicated family history, so maybe I get more possessive. But I understand now that we have to make things work so this can be a relationship.”
Pepper’s talk seems to be straightening everyone out. The metamours are remembering that they didn’t come here to be in some reality-show competition, but to live, learn, and grow in a mature relationship together. “I would recommend letting go of expectations and trying to get to a place of comfort with everything,” Pepper tells her. “If things get weird, let them be weird. If you can all get to a high communication level, and learn the process of negotiation and setting boundaries and talking through discomfort, this will start working much better for all of you.”
Before Pepper leaves, the girls and I agree to hold house meetings every day, during which each person gets a turn to speak uninterrupted–like in the talking-stick circle I made fun of back in sex rehab.
As a sense of calm and understanding descends on the house afterward, Veronika makes egg salad sandwiches and we sit around the table, all on the same page for the first time. Then, with Anne taking the front seat of the car without incident, we visit Alcatraz. As we walk from the ferry to the island prison, Belle holds my left arm while Anne clutches the other. Veronika wanders behind, taking photos.
“I feel like I’m a third child whose mother doesn’t have enough hands to hold,” Veronika says as she catches up to us.
She takes Anne’s hand in hers as a group of frat boys walks by and gives me a thumbs-up. For the first time, there’s a group energy connecting us. Perhaps all of us just needed to let go of our expectations like Pepper recommended, adjust to being somewhere new, and allow the relationship to set its own course.
And that’s when something unexpected happens: I’m overcome by a powerful sense of unworthiness. It doesn’t seem fair that these women have to share me. Any one of them could easily have her pick of the guys here who keep looking at us. But instead they’re settling for scraps of my affection.
When I imagined living in a freewheeling love commune during my monogamous relationship, I thought I’d be adrift in a blissful sea of pleasure, excitement, and feminine energy. But instead I only feel embarrassed that I’m monopolizing three hearts.
I spent my childhood starved for the love of the adult figures raising me, feeling like most of their positivity went to my brother and their negativity to me. So being in a position where I’m actually getting so much positive female caring is a new experience. Maybe the real purpose of this relationship for me is to break through my walls and feel worthy of love—or whatever this is.
This was the quiet before the storm: One of the worst relationship storms I’ve ever experienced.
The situation lasted roughly a week, then turned into a triad with just Belle and Veronika, then turned into me alone.
The lesson: If a relationship with one person is difficult, then a relationship with three people is going to be three times as difficult—or, according to the Pepper sum, six times as difficult.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not a quitter. I decided that if I couldn’t make it work with three other people, then I’d definitely be able to make it work with ten.
After all, what could possibly go wrong?
But that’s a story for another time.
Want more stories and more of the lessons learned? Of course you do. Check out The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships. I have my own dog-eared early copy.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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448 Replies to “Inside an "Anything Goes" Sex Club”
This reminds me of The Wheel of Time series. Made for good fiction, but not a lifestyle for me 🙂
Nicely written. Gets the point across without being gratuitous. It is reassuring to read about other people struggling with the various desires and relationship dynamics but is balanced with a humorous tone that keeps the reader from taking things too seriously. I look forward to reading about your personal conclusions.
Thus far my experience is that an open relationship is very difficult on all parties. I was very lucky to have experimented on having one with a brilliant friend because I knew that I didn’t want to be monogamous but I work hard not to lie. I took advantage of the open-ness but he did not. I don’t know how I’d have felt about it if he had because I don’t share well but I try to be fair in all things. It eventually didn’t work; he got to a point where he wanted more and I wasn’t at a stage in my life where I could do monogamy even though I love him deeply. Domestically it was also a challenge but that I’ll own as my own failing. We remain friends but the entire experience does make me think that it requires some very special blends of personalities and people who are fundamentally comfortable with themselves and the knowledge that they’ll be some people’s cup of tea and not for others. It is rare to find that.
Best of luck to you both.
In a way, I’m not surprised this came up. While examining life in the profound way that Tim is choosing, one is bound to encounter the question of the nature of sexual and human (romantic) relationships.
Good luck with your research Tim, I’d be really interested to learn how things develop on your side.
And thank you Neil, I feel better now, as I must admit I felt horrible after reading The Game, which to me basically felt like a book about manipulation.
I’d like to draw attention to the best book that I know of about Polyamory (and non-monogamy and relationships in general), as I am surprised it hasn’t come up yet:
“More Than Two”, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.
Franklin’s blog (also called morethantwo) is also an excellent resource for all things poly.
And for the skeptics out there: I can tell you that compersion is really one of the best feelings in the world. Try it sometimes 🙂
Poly is the female version, not what you’re looking for… Spinning plates is where it’s at. It would highly recommend checking out Rollo Tomassi’s stuff.
You should look at some of the work of Esther Perel. She does a lot of work on sexuality in the modern age and if Monogamy and fidelity really fit and why polyamory and affairs happen. She’s been on a TED talk and is actively involved in exploring this topic. Definitely worth your time.
Interesting peek into a different kind of world.
I’m like a bear hibernating in the winter with a love I’ve had for 6 years now. In the summers I’ve been out and about, falling in love with different women–some local, some here for the season. Each one of them builds new values in me that helps my creativity in business, writing, and art. I never could have this life with one girl, but I’d also never have this life without this one girl. It’s wearing thin on her, however, and I might have to go full single soon. My life has been ideally unideal so far, but every summer I take the risk of my life changing dramatically, which could lead to one insane winter. It’s been a good ride; April is warm in Florida so my summer will start early.
I commented briefly on Facebook about this post, but I wanted to respond more fully here. Before I jump into my answers to your questions, I want to give you a brief background. I’m a 34-year-old female, married, in an open relationship, and have been in open relationships mostly for about 8 years. I’ve been a swinger for most of that time, but have experience polyamory as well when we had another woman live with us for 3 months. My husband and I are in the alternative medicine field, we teach health professionals around the world as well as having small practices in a few locations. We are ‘celebrities’ within our community, and have chosen to be completely open, although not flamboyant, about our lifestyle. This has driven away some and drawn others closer. I’ve really learned a lot about how to make an open relationship, and life in general, work in the past 3 years and many of the things I have learned, I find, are direct answers to some of your questions. So here they are.
1) Are humans really designed for monogamy?
I think the problem with this question is the question itself. Asking if we are “designed for something implies that there was a grand plan and a designer. Now if you’re of that ilk—one who believes in a designer/god/creator who created man—then I think that you land in religious territory when looking for an answer to this question. Then, I suppose, you must choose your religion and many of them allow for multiple wives although I think most require the sex act to remain within marriage (at least for the woman).
Let’s say that you’re not in the “creationist” camp. Perhaps a better wording of the question is “Were humans really naturally selected for monogamy?” After reading Christopher Ryan’s Sex at Dawn and doing some other research, I am convinced that we were NOT naturally selected for monogamy. My hypothesis is that monogamy arrived in human culture along with agriculture. When a man worked a piece of land, he wanted to know that it was HIS child that inherited the land and so he wanted to be the only one planting his seed in any given woman. Prior to that, living in hunter-gather tribes, it is my understanding that the tribe typically raised the children and paternity was relatively unimportant. Without the paternity issue, while I suspect humans still formed pair bonds, I don’t see monogamy as having been the norm. Our closest ape relatives certainly DO NOT practice monogamy. Sex at Dawn presents many additional points. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend that you read the book.
2) Is monogamy possible or even desirable?
I think it depends on how you define monogamy as to whether it is possible. If you limit the definition to “only performing sexual acts with a single person for a period of time”, then yes we see many people doing it all around the world. But if you are defining monogamy as “only wanting to perform sexual acts with a single person for a period of time”, well, I’d say that period of time will have to be QUITE short!
As to desirable, that really seems a matter of preference. Some prefer the safety and stability of a monogamous relationship, although I think that contingent is fewer that it appears. Some of us prefer options and variety and are willing to do the work necessary to achieve that.
3) Should you choose excitement over intimacy?
This question implies that excitement and intimacy are mutually exclusive. The research suggests exactly the opposite. Leonard Mlodinow purportedly speaks to this in his book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. I have only read excerpts of the book, but he writes about a study where a woman interviewed men under 2 conditions: 1) a low short stable bridge over a creek, and 2) a high long unstable bridge over a chasm. At the end of the interview the woman gave her phone number to the men in case they had any questions. In the first condition only 2/18 men called the woman after. In the second condition 9/18 men called the woman, suggesting that they felt a greater draw/attraction to her as a result of the conditions under which they interacted.
Bringing this into non-monogamy, my husband and I find that the excitement of swinging and polyamory absolutely deepens our intimacy with each other. We feel more connected, more in love, more intimate, after we have just been to an orgy, or had a long discussion about including another person in our relationship. These exciting, albeit challenging, things bring a much greater level of intimacy into our relationship.
4) If you’re a driven type-A personality, can you really have both with one person?
I’m trying to figure out what these two have to do with each other. As a driven type-A personality, it will be necessary to find a person or persons who are compatible. But on to what I consider more the heart of the question.
As for whether you can have both intimacy and excitement from one person, I’ve found, resoundingly, yes, you just have to find the right person! Now, I’m going to broaden your question. “Can one person meet ALL the romantic/sexual/intimacy needs that our modern western society leads us to expect they will?” I’d say no. Especially not with someone who lives life as large as you do. Maybe this is what you were implying with the type-A personality reference. There are many people out there who appear happy enough to work a job that covers their expenses, get married and raise kids, and it is possible that someone who enjoys that lifestyle could have all their needs met by one person (I’m still skeptical, but I admit the possibility). But for those of us who live a much more expansive life, to ask one person to meet ALL of our romantic and intimate needs would be to doom them to failure.
5) Would life be better if you could sleep with anyone you liked at any time?
Life is always better if we do exactly what we want to do. This doesn’t just apply to sex, but to everything. Now for this to really work it’s vital that we are in touch with our deepest desires, and not being driven by layers of ‘shoulds and oughts’. My theory, and I see this play out in my own life over and over, is that my deepest desires are in line with my, and humanities’, well-being and survival. So, if we clear out the static from our bodies and minds and get in touch with what we want on the deepest level, we find out what will serve us and the world. If we follow that process in choosing who to sleep with and when, I have found that life is resoundingly more joyful.
6) What if you could get a hall pass every once in a while?
I can see two possible scenarios with this question. The first is that you follow the process I discussed in the previous question, as a couple, getting in touch with your deepest desires, and finding times where one or both of you can have romantic and/or sexual experiences outside your relationship. This sounds great. The other scenario is that a partner who isn’t actually on board gives a hall pass because it feels like the only alternative to loosing the relationship. This sounds like a recipe for resentment and I find that kills a relationship VERY quickly.
I hope these responses contribute to your search for your place along the monogamy-polyamory spectrum. If you have any questions, Tim, please feel free to contact me. I certainly have more to say, but figured this comment was long enough as is. Best wishes!
I want to begin by saying how much I have appreciated your writing, your work, your dedication and passion to pursue the truth behind so many deeply held assumptions. You seem fearless taking on any subject, or any long held tradition. In this particular area of your testing, involving sex, I had some thoughts that I would love to hear you interact with.
I know you are very much into health, nutrition and bodily development. I also know that you know the joys and goodness of food. And because of this, if you see a guy who is 400 lbs., gorging himself on ice cream, chocolate bars and cotton candy, you are probably concerned for the guy and wish he knew how much better life would be if he gave himself to a healthy lifestyle. You know what his is missing out on. You know how much better it feels to be in good shape. You know how much better it is to eat food that makes you feel fantastic. You know what it is like to get a pump, have your body looking good, and being in the zone. But what brought you to this place was not the belief that your passions and desires determine biological design. And therefore, a wise idea to submit to them. You found a deeper and better pleasure by submitting your passions and desires to a deeper and better passion and desire. So you gave up one way for another.
I believe the same philosophy applies to sex. Most of us know that crazy, novel, passionate sex feels great in the moment, and that when we indulge ourselves in it, it feels like diving into a volcano of double chocolate fudge (if double chocolate fudge is your glut of choice). But just like the second bowl of ice cream, when it is done, there is a sense of guilt, shame, and the promise to yourself that you wont do it again. At least not until the next evening. We have a way of getting aroused again, enflamed with passion, and then overtaken—not long after we have wiped our lips.
The thing is, just like those of us who have tasted the better life of eating well, and exercising, there are those who have tasted a better life in sex as well. Sex has a magic zone, and if your ever enter it, you will know how deep, broad and rich it can really be. And once there, you will easily say no to the double chocolate fudge of the orgy. This magic zone is when you have deep, committed, mutual love in the act of sex—where each partner serves the other in a way that brings a very deep delight. Once there, you will have entered a place that can only be experienced—it can’t be explained. Shakespeare doesn’t even have the verbal powers to convey it. But this can only happen when the two of you have a deep love in the soul for one another, and know you are purely given to each other. Infidelity, or even hints of infidelity destroy the magic and casts a dark cloud upon it.
So there certainly is the pleasure of the novel double chocolate fudge orgy, but then there is the pleasure of the tuna salad with sprouts love making (which, of course, is mocked by those who don’t know its pleasure).
Just some thoughts
Great story. Tim, I’m glad you had the ballz to post it. Cheers!
Coming to this post a bit late, but I had to comment – what a great read, thanks for sharing Neil’s story and some of your own thoughts on the topic, Tim.
My husband and I have been married 10 1/2 years, have no kids, and enjoy the occasional threesome, partner swap, and orgy. We are deeply in love, very connected, and don’t identify as polyamorous or swingers. It’s not something we seek out or set up, it’s usually a situation which seems like it could go that way and we just know or give each other a look.
I realize that’s not something you could do in a new relationship, it took us years to get there. But it makes it so much hotter, imo, to let it happen naturally instead of planning it. There are not many things sexier than be deeply in love, connected, and sexually attracted to your partner, and that partner to you, and also having the freedom to share that with others when the timing is right.
The first year we were married, my husband asked if I’d like another man in bed (not for both of us, just for me). Hindsight, I think this was key to me feeling comfortable with letting other women into our bed. He displayed compersion, and it left me feeling sexy, desired, safe, it deepened our relationship, and of course lit a fire, and even though we didn’t really need it that early in our relationship, it set a precedent.
Every relationship needs fuel – sometimes we watch porn together and touch ourselves, or I send him a link to what I’m watching when he’s in the other room on his computer or at work. Sometimes we fantasize and talk about our last threesome or a potential threesome. Hallucinogens have also been fuel to our sexual fire – we don’t do them often but when we do the sex is always incredibly hot, connecting, and transcending.
Men, if you want an open relationship, or to experience a threesome, I’d encourage you to be open to bringing another man in first. It takes a lot of honesty, maturity, and selflessness to give that, but if you do, a whole world will open up to you.
Really insightful. I had the wrong idea of this guy because he’s worshipped by so many sexist assholes on Reddit who use his story to “prove” how women are inherently sluts who need to be manipulated.
HOWEVER, what I got was a man who is pretty normal who just seems to be trying real hard to be true to himself (as we all are.) Just the fact he’s working hard just to AVOID hurting women for its own sake (plus Tim’s endorsement) says a LOT.
“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.” Everything changes, nothing is lost.
As a widow in my early 40s, I believe that marriage/monogamy is impermanent. Nothing is forever. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Just as most things in life that are transient, it is how you approach them. It is your character.
With monogamy, there is much frustration and often monotony (funny how those two words are so similar). However, there can also be the creation of unique bonds that cannot be built any other way. I didn’t want to marry. I was always confused by the mano a mano and the thought of never experiencing that newness.
Four months into my marriage, my husband was diagnosed with cancer at 33 years old. After 4 years, he passed away. Over those 4 years, we created something that could not have been created any other way. Through lots of sacrifice and work, I came out the other side with an experience and knowledge and understanding of what it is to be loyal and kind and human. It’s not to say that it couldn’t be done without monogamy. However, the reality of working on a career, working on a marriage and taking care of someone’s health, while having other partners would have tapped out my personal skill set. So there was no other way.
To be fair, I don’t know the other ways, as I haven’t experienced them. I only know my path so far. I have to say that I’m a lucky C@*t to have felt that love and bond. Lucky to have had the honor to be the one that is there to help someone live and then die. There is no greater gift. But as any lesson learned, it takes hard work, dedication and often pain.
If you are upfront about your desires, questions, confusion and emotions, you’re doing the very best that you can. And, if you surround yourself with these things AND those who live the same, you’re doing the very best you can.
My boyfriend of two years and I have an open relationship. It continues to work because our first priority is to listen carefully to each other and adjust as we go to make things comfortable for both of us.
My general opinion is that sex outside of a relationship is not more impactful than a healthy, loving relationship. That is, I would never throw away a wonderful relationship just because my boyfriend wanted to have sex with other women. He and I rely on each other and trust that we will always be there for each other, and that’s enough. The rest can be worked out, and certainly sex isn’t given more weight than honesty, affection, compromise, and all the other things that make a great relationship work.
I’m in favor of monogamy as long as is not externally imposed or a pact/contract. There are very few occasions when someone has this feeling of intimacy and connection that they just don’t need anyone else, or makes you see the rest of the world as genderless. And it’s true and real and can be long lasting, but is rare. The problem is when people get into meh relationships that don’t fulfill them 100% and after the initial excitement their hormones pull in a different direction. You also can not pursue the quest of a soulmate if you are sleeping around or having short term relationships, your heart is too busy and distracted. So it’s a trade off. You can choose between multiple superficial relationships or a rare chance for a meaningful one. Both options are fine (as long as they don’t mix together, a recipe for disaster) but you can’t have both. You can find all the references of how unnatural it is to be monogamous and I’ll agree, but non natural doesn’t mean that is a worse option (we are more advanced than our ancestors and understand what makes us happy in the long term versus short term). But at the end of the day, love is a made up concept but it works because we decide to believe in it, like money or Christmas.
At what age should one start experimenting with this tipe of experience? I could ask at what age can one start experimenting with sex, there has to be some idea or sugestion as to what whould be best. Then the question on it being consentual or not leaves some room for debate in that same regard! The point i would like to make is that, we all should be able to agree that it is not healty for children to have sex before a certain age. Why? Because sex is not just a physical thing. If it was, kids and adults could have sex nilly willy with no emotional scaring at any point and time. Some researchers had 2 poeple meditate in the same room for a peroid of time. After wich they were put in a faraday cage seperatly. Both were linked to brain monitors. A light was shined in the one persons eye and the area of the brain that responds to a light been shined in ones eye ligt up in both. Not to dull down meditation or hype up sex, but in my opinion sex is much more intemate and personal than meditation. If i am right i think there is more to consider that just being able to do what you whant, when you whant and with who you whant in life.
Great read, in 2016 as well. I lived a variety of relationship set ups and the most open ones in my mid-twenties. You learn communication on a whole new level
and being vulnerable. When the other woman asked to have tea our man-in-common sat at home verrrrrrry nervous but it really was important to get to know each other and share what’s important to us. Also I always had bi-man with a man around. Now I’d like to create more depth and with that comes my favorite set up: Start exclusive to get to know each other and enjoy the love-high nature gives as a sweet gift and before that having agreed on being open
for the possibility of other sexual connections. AND: it’s not about one night standing it’s about connection so if one of us meets somebody we like to explore we ask our partner and if the timings good we’re free to roam and if the other one doesn’t feel like we don’t and wait. having the permission makes it beautiful. also: to have the freedom in general is an important thing and the depth is exclusive between us. if there going to be more partner after 5 or more years. let’s see. it’s a journey. I’m happy i experienced having multiple partners so early to now come to this kind of typical setup voluntarily and not cause it’s done like that. (I’m German I hope though not being so elegant with the description you like the read)
” Are humans really designed for monogamy?”
Putting the question this way is so unprofessional. It almost seems like just another bs trying to reason your way to short-term pleasure. I don’t condemn short-term pleasure. I think though that one owes his readers honesty. Do you really believe humans are designed? I think you cannot just overstep such a huge assumption. Maybe it would be better to rephrase this question: “Have we evolved to monogamy?” But then, all this epic search is pointless. Whatever works for you is fine and you can come to this conclusion just by putting the question right. No need for dangerous experiments.
I think I don’t need to explain the ramifications of thinking that we really are desinged. It’s even simpler.
Thank you for your great blog and work.
I know Neil is your friend but is it worth it to post softcore clickbait? Below your standards Tim.
I’m very content in monogamy but always curious about human nature which is I suppose why I ended up buying the book. I found the story fascinating and enlightening. It really made me look at my own upbringing and others in my family. Bravo to Neil for having the courage to tell his story in such an honest and guttural way. We all come to adulthood with a lot of childhood baggage and through the love he has for Ingrid he fought hard to unpack that heavy load and toss in into the abyss. I hope they continue to be healthy and happy. Thanks Tim for the posting.
Unrelated to the entertaining Neil Strauss stories, I don’t understand why you value (in this context) your biology. It seems like you are connecting dots between what your body wants at a given moment and what is right or natural.
We are what we are because of the circumstance of our past and I guess the fact that we survived it. I love cinnamon rolls. Don’t you think this love is more representative of the circumstance of my ancestors as opposed to a clue about how best I can thrive today? I think we should analyze sex and relationships through a similar lense.
We should make decisions based on well being—our own and that of others. Put this framework into the context of monogamy vs. polyamory, and I think the conversation levels up. Chances are we weren’t “designed”, so maybe the reason why we are asking these big questions shouldn’t pay such tribute to biology.
Omg, I just love this post, Tim. Neil really is a great writer, some of the lines and passages made me laugh out loud, his writing feels as I’m experiencing everything myself 😀
I tried OM for over a year and it’s a great world for safe explorations. It’s kind of like the super highway through your desires and the burning up of what isn’t as exciting as the idea versus the stuff that is really “you” if that makes sense.
Been doing poly since 2010 with recurring phases of monogamy until I decided to be only non-monogamous this year.
An axiom that works for me is not to expect anything from my partners what I’m not willing to give myself. Expecting three partners to be around you only is going to fail, cause everyone expects you to meet their needs and you only have a limited amount of time and energy. This whole throwing people together and expecting them to like each other thing is insane…
Polyamory is hard cause you need to figure out, monitor and communicate your needs, then keep track of all your partners needs, and overwrite tons of (unfunctioning) monogamous blueprints for relationships with your own. It takes time and work to overcome your own insecurities and laziness. On the other hand you evolve like crazy and learn so much about yourself and the world around you everyday.
I had trouble believing Neil’s story. Not the facts part but more the image of the innocent boy he tries to paint of himself. I’ve spent time with a lot of puas in my life.. Not saying that they aren’t insecure, but guilt about meeting their needs is nothing they feel. To me it looks like a bad try to seem “normal” and therefore approachable.
Utterly brilliant! While I’m not sure how much of those adventures and that lifestyle is nessisarily for me, parts of it are fun to think about. I think it would be fun to have a partner that I love and trust that I can explore with…maybe
Esther Pearl gave a talk at google that really had an impact on me and my ideas around monogamy as did this talk on Ted why we Love and Why We Cheat. You would find them very interesting.
(Although, to be honest, I’m not so sure if you really read the comments that’s not to be rude, it’s understandable, after all a. Your busy b.We shouldn’t just let “anybody” influence our work-I learned that from your podcast with Seth Godin and it help me a lot!)
I also really appreciated the honesty vulnerability expressed by the author. Kind of beautiful in its own way.
Cheers to Peppermint for being so insightful/helpful… Gotta love people like that!
I of course had my immediate reaction to this article, 1) to the article itself and 2) that you of all people would post it… But RE-acting is never the answer, so I chose to read the article to attempt to understand how you would support the content of this article.
I wasn’t completely clear how much was written by you vs. Neil? It seems like it is mostly Neil, but maybe not? Not that that actually matters aside from appeasing my curiosity, as the truth is the truth regardless of situations and individuals.
I thought it interesting that after the whole article, there really wasn’t much of a conclusion? Not that people should stop doing seeking something simply because it didn’t work out, but it doesn’t seem like any of the above stories were truly successful, and that would be an opportunity to ask “why”.
We live in a very over-sexualized society. All major outlets (media, news, pop culture, friends, family, etc.) perpetuate the perspective that sex is meant to be given freely, that to be truly self-expressed, we must be comfortable sharing our bodies. All of this also comes with the understanding that sex is predominantly something physical.
Both genders are taught that to have value, they must be sexually desired. If they are not sexually desired, there is something wrong that must be fixed. Often times money overcompensates for the lack of physical appeal, so no worries there. And especially for women, plastic surgery fixes anything, right? But even if you can’t afford or don’t have the ability to force your physical body to become more sexually desirable as a female, being “easy” generally goes a long way. Essentially, for any gender (anywhere on the gradient) compromise yourself enough, and you’ll finally be valued and feel worthwhile.
If you are not getting the desired results, you simply need MORE. More money, more makeup, higher heels, more surgery/alterations, more compromising, etc.
Now that we have painted a picture of current societal understandings, I want to establish what it actually means to have a infinitely intimate relationship with someone. Unfortunately this is gravely misunderstood by many, for a variety of reasons, so understanding the truth behind this is crucial.
A true intimate relationship where 2 souls are in love (love is another gravely misunderstood word, we will address that in a moment), means that they become One. Not only when intertwined in the act of sex, but energetically. Love, in its pure/true form, is infinite, unconditional. We can only love another once we love ourselves, and then find that which we see within, in another. Love is not something to seek externally, it comes from within. Too often, people do not love themselves-they feel this void, and they seek to fill it with another person, substance, activity, etc. This is a futile endeavor that in reality only increases that void, as it furthers the self from seeing its Truth.
When two people come together in love, in the true sense, they act as one.
Let me give an example…
I have become One with a soul more beautiful and sage than I ever imagined, though when understanding things on a deeper level, I realize that we have always been destined to be One.
He is the oldest most elevated soul I have ever encountered… He understands things on a level that is too much for most people to comprehend. He has the ability to do certain things that most people would not believe, as they sound a bit fiction. However, all of this is possible because he knows who he is, and IS all that he is. He does not feed into the confusion of society/others, but obtains knowledge from Divine source. To understand that, imagine a global consciousness, infinitely connected energy carrying infinite information, that every soul in their true form has access to, always. All truths are found within. To access that, one must simply BE, and let go of everything we are not, that is in the way/clouding all that we Are.
From the beginning, he has been able to know my thoughts, the energy of a stranger sitting next to me, and certain aspects of our future, among many other things. Becoming all that I Am, I have begun to experience some of these things myself, where I will have certain un-explainable physiological situations, where upon speaking to him, we realize pertains to something he was experiencing at that time.
Our entire BEings are infinitely intertwined. The trust is infinite, as to do something that is against us, would simply be inconceivable.
The reason people associate sex as simply the physical act is because most people have lost touch with their true self. To view it as simply physical only increases the void, separating understanding further from truth. When we deviate from truth, there become voids that can never be filled, of which this blog is a perfect example of. The author feels that to be with one person could certainly not be possible, because he needs MORE-more variety, more excitement, more people, etc. Such a desire can never be satiated, because it is a deviation, not truth.
Think this to be wrong? Find me one person who is truly happy in every moment, who feels this desire to be satiated, and the same to be true for anyone else intimately involved.
The only way to find what is sought with the desire of sex, is to go within, to fall in love with Self, and to find that in another and understand what it means to become One. Do not misconstrue “falling in love with Self” to be in a narcissistic way, but understand it to mean someone must BE, BE Nothing, BE Now, BE Love. When that is achieved, all things that are not us can be let go of, revealing true self, and all Truths.
Through this, we understand how we are connected with all God Consciousness, the infinite interconnectedness of the universe. All the beauty of life is then revealed, and we realize we are limitless.
There are so many people currently who are severely confused as to what “freedom” looks like. Understandings seem to become increasingly clouded it seems… So many look for things like happiness, love, satisfaction, etc. externally, when it can only be found within.
Articles like this, and all of the attached practices and mentalities, serve to perpetuate this confusion.
I would love to speak to Tim further to understand why he would perpetuate something that is so destructive to society, and to discuss how to use his platform to maximize the elevation of society. There are a handful of things I have not seen him touch upon that could change the world in a beautiful way.
Much love to all
I think it’s about loyalty. If so. is with me, I expect that person to be with me, as in: be friends, lovers, partners. That doesn’t mean, they can not be with anyone else, but don’t tell me. You are your own person and I am mine, so there is no reason for justification. That is the theory: But then, all the little complexes set in. I guess we’ll just have to get over ourselves.
I too always struggled with the concept of monogamy. Novelty and variety are my “deficits” apparently, although I don’t subscribe to the idea that something is wrong with me just because I can separate love from sex if I want, as I often need both from more than one source.
Here’s how it works for my spouse and I :
We have 1 rule and a whole lot of parameters.
The 1 rule for our openness is complete honesty (even/especially when it’s tough). This rule has opened a line of communication between us that would have never been there before. It’s a vulnerable thing to come home and tell your spouse you just got head from a stranger just because you two were feeling eachother in that moment. Then the spouse will be intrigued, want to know the details, we discuss them, and we both discover things about ourselves and eachother in those convos that would never have been revealed otherwise… It’s not easy, but it’s worth it and this is what I have discovered to be true intimacy. This is just one of many revelation and discovery lanes in the sex-positive, openness realm… I’ll leave it at that for now though, as many self discoveries have sent me down some fun and dark rabbit holes designed for a different blog.
I mark a difference between parameters and rules for our openness bc all circumstances are different and what either of us may not view as appropriate in one scenario, may actually be acceptable and warranted in another and that type of ‘soft-end’ line allows the both of us to freely explore ourselves as individuals and eachother in a very honest, vulnerable and authentic way. Let me explain: a recent example is that my spouse really doesn’t like us giving out our contact info to our ‘random encounters’. It’s annoying, but actually makes a lot of long term sense for us and so we follow those parameters as some of the guidelines in which we carry out our dalliances. However, a recent ‘random’ that I hooked up with was from out of town, a place that my spouse and I were headed in a few months on vacation, and I knew that my spouse would have a sexual blast with this person and so I went out of the usual parameter guidelines and exchanged contacts, knowing that I was going to tell my spouse about it later that night. I did, the situation seemed acceptable, no problem from the chief, and a few months later the three of us had a night of bliss and fun on our vacation that would never have happened if I didn’t exchange contacts…
The overall point? Sexual Monogamy doesn’t work for us, and that’s ok because my best friend and I have a great marriage built with honesty, trust, vulnerability and common sense.
Figuring out where one’s own boundaries are and balancing that against one’s desires is the fuck-all of internal processing. Congrats to Neil for being willing to explore all that. Thanks for sharing this, Tim!
People have to be a really special breed to be accepting of their loved one loving someone else. I can see this working with the right partners in theory, but in practice I sense a lot of jealousy, discomfort, and hurt feelings as seen in week one of living together.
I dunno, call me a monogamist, but I’d be devastated if I had to share my fiancé with another woman or man that didn’t reciprocate love 3-ways.
I also wonder how someone sustains this type of lifestyle when parenthood is reached. Does the child have 3 moms and 1 dad? Do the other two women love the child as their own?
When I started reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck,” I wasn’t expecting to like it. It was actually fantastic though. One of its principles is “We’re not entitled to a life without problems. Avoiding problems is the source of all manner of addictions. We do, however, have some choice over which problems we have.”
So which problems do you want? The boredom of monogamy? The exhaustion and instability of polyamory? Or the needle-in-the-haystack quest for the relationship that has the perfect balance?
For me, monogamy has proven to be the best set of problems, mostly because it frees up my energy for other areas of my life. I’ve tried 2-3 NSA relationships at a time. It’s exciting and ego-boosting, but those benefits fade with time. I’ve decided one relationship with someone I’m attracted to, who’s dependable, who I can grow old with, who takes care of me when I’m sick, is hard enough to find and maintain.
Tim – Sounds like quite an adventure you had… brought me back to my single days in NYC chasing for similar stories, experiences and thrill. While I always struggled with a fear and challenge of monogamy and being confined (which is not my nature as an adventure/experience seeker), I’ve found it’s also not my nature to be self sacrificing, outward and to serve others. Just a blunt reality . But nature isn’t the only truth…one’s instincts can be trained through discipline like anything. This past year I got married to the love of my life, someone who is not only beautiful but has a warm, outwardly loving unwavering heart and also down for anything. Through this relationship, Carol has taught me (in time) what it means to truly love by directing my first thoughts outward through her at all times, matching her equal efforts towards me. That equilibrium is only established with 100% commitment and leads to pure fulfillment, and always a work in progress to obtain. Only when you project the love outward and have it project back to you will fulfillment be reached. A hard truth for someone who hates rules, discipline and confinement to accept!! But being on both sides, I got to say this has made me such a better person. All in thanks to her , and a decision to let go of some adventure and start offering something up in return. Hope this advice is helpful to some!
I have known many non-monogamous and polyamorous people and it’s true that the dynamic tension increases exponentially with each new person entering the situation. I only know of one such relationship that actually works. The added thing to consider is that if relationship break-ups hit you hard, you need to learn some coping mechanisms otherwise the other people in your life are only going to become convenient sources of comfort for you. And that’s using them. Which is not cool.
Hello Tim, interesting post. Firstly, I don’t think there is one way of living. I questioned monogamy and the marriage institution from the very young age. I’ve never been faithful to anyone😁 It was horrible since I always felt guilty. I got married and divorced by 23…I never wanted to have kids, I demand a separate bedroom and complete freedom. I always thought I was a weirdo. Hence, alcoholism and food addictions. But, as I was growing up, cleaned up my act, and learned to accept mysel, I fell in love. My partner of nearly 13 years together [married for two] shares my believe system. I haven’t met anyone I find more interesting or attractive. Would I be tempted if I were to meet someone? I don’t know. Till that moment, I am very happy in my relationships for the first time in my life.
Monogamy doesn’t work. Spinning the plates does. Also, as per the story polyamory seems not such a good idea.
This is cool, but you should ask yourself 2 questions:
1. What patterns are controlling/influencing my life? Are they the patterns I want to express?
2. Where do I draw the line with freeedom? I allow myself to have a bunch of partners because I like variety, why not allow myself to be a racist as well, or just violent because I feel like it?
Bottom line, choice is very important in life and very little of it is guided by the dick. Allowing the dick to lead you is also a choice. Let’s not pretend it’s not.
Hold up… You believe in ethical non-monogamy, AND you’re friends with Neil Strauss? Is there no end to your awesomeness??
I feel like a starving Nigerian child reading a scrap of a NY Times review slamming the best Manhattan pizza joint (Imperial off 34th/Murray Hill was when I lived there)
I believe that, in some ways, monogamy after childbirth ruined my marriage. I was exhausted and touched out for 6+ months, and my husband became completely disconnected from me because of the lack of physical connection. I would have loved to have a girlfriend for him so he could be sexually fulfilled and emotionally available to me, but instead he was resentful and unhelpful and I was exhausted and angry.
Before my husband I have participated in swing community but it has been tricky – a need for intellectual connection that’s not always there, and most of all – trust. I believe that a relationship can withstand the issues brought up by polyamory BUT it means *not just* doing what you say you’ll do, but in being honest about your own feelings, even if they’re ugly. If my partner consistently abandoned me to have sex with women “prettier” than me? I have to own my anxiety and, while perhaps not trying to control him, at least tell him how I feel. If he makes me feel SO LOVED, secure, and comes back from those sessions with extra vigor for connected sex? GO GET IT HONEY.
How much of our own self doubt and/or ego are we willing to work through to get to intimate, open relationships? Because I don’t see one without the other. Self confidence, honesty, good boundaries – not many of us have these dialed in anyways, much less sexually. Find someone committed to self improvement and well being in all aspects of their life and then you’ve got a decent start. No guarantee though
“Connected sex is a spiritual experience, but not in the way new-age western Tantra devotees describe it. It is spiritual because it’s a release from ego, a merging with the other, a discorporation into the atoms vibrating around us, a connection to the universal energy that moves through all things without judgment or prejudice.
Thus, orgasm is the one spiritual practice that unites nearly everyone on the planet, and perhaps that is why there’s so much fear and baggage around it. Because they were right both in rehab and the pseudo-religious sex cults: It is sacred.
And every orgasm. Is in itself an act of faith. An attempt to reach out. And just for a moment. Relieve our separateness. Escape from time. And touch eternity. And, yes!”
Finally. Someone actually says it. Too bad this concept is lost.
I really enjoyed reading the article. This is a question that’s talked about a lot lately in my entourage.
My husband and I have an open relationship. He was first non monogamous relationship. And I was completely lost at the begining. I am longtime jealous freak so I had no idea how that was going to work.
But it ended being the most stress free honest and happy I’ve ever been. We ended up getting married and are having a child soon.
He was in polyamory before that but just like Neil it wasn’t quite right for him. .
I find the fulfilness and stability of having a partner , a true partner that you trust and love vulnerably being the key of peacefulness. And then the freedom of seeing and having relationships with other people makes the relationship even stronger, and a lot more fun. And at the end of the day there is just so much less to fight about and so much more to be happy about.
Feel free to email me if you have more questions.
I still have to read the full article and the topic is extremely interesting.
But I feel the “conjuring up threesomes on demand” is misleading.
Maybe that’s what he did with the fame after afterwards, but The Game is otherwise not so great advise on seduction and if you read well between the lines you’ll see most of the guys, including the teachers, were barely getting laid (letting alone threesomes on demand).
Not that it’s not possible, far from it, but it wasn’t happening like the article suggests.
Whats the name of the club in paris?
I’m in a relationship with three people and it works great for us. But I understand what works for some wont work for others. My boyfriend is straight and I’m Bi sexual, and when I fell for another woman, instead of losing my boyfriend we moved my girlfriend in with us. It works great.
The reason monogamy is a good idea is that kids bond with specific parents and moving them around like it’s musical chairs really messes kids up for the rest of their lives. It may be inconvenient and prevent you from stretching your sexual wings but out of it comes stronger, healthier and happier members of society. That’s the way nature “wants” it to work for the survival of our species. So yeah monogamy is pretty natural.
I’m late to read this. But lord, I had to laugh. Been there, done that, got all the t-shirts i could possibly want — and a set of consequences more spectacularly bad than I ever could have imagined.
15 years later, all I can say is that if you are considering polyamory, consider it again. And again. And again. If you’re not good at monogamy, adding more relationships — as shown above — really does not make things better.
Instead, I strongly urge studying the book _Passionate Marriage_ by David Schnarch. You want to learn the incredibly hard stuff about relationships? Look there. It’s inside work. Very, very deep inside.
Hi, monogamous person commenting here. I had several friends who tried pursuing polygamous relationship even with kids and marriages. It seemed working for a second, but would have really traumatic outcomes with public drama specially for those with kids.I don’t know any poly couples with happy ending. IMHO boredom comes 1-from within, 2-from shallow partners.