Despite taboos, some students delve into kink, group sex, polyamory or open relationships
The Brown Daily Herald
By Emily Wooldridge
Lynne could not decide what color to wear to the stoplight party. An open relationship doesn’t come in colors red, yellow or green.
“Do I wear green because I can hook up with people or yellow because maybe I can’t?” she asked herself. Lynne is a female undergraduate whose name, like those of several other students interviewed for this story, has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
For the multitudes of alternative relationships and sexual practices on campus — including group sex, kink, open relationships and polyamory — there is no cruise control. These practices can be difficult to navigate or understand, because every experience is different.
“There is no such thing as normal sex,” said Anica Green ’17.
Instead of worrying about what color to wear, “why don’t you ask him?” Lynne’s friend suggested.
“Gossip Girl” warns, “Inside every threesome there is a twosome and a onesome,” but what about a fivesome?
In a dorm room, there are 10 condoms on the floor. When first-years walk by, they ask, “Is this the room where the orgy happened?”
For Dominic, a male undergraduate, that threesome was “the climax of a term where everyone is having meaningless sex,” he said.
For others, group sex is “the best thing that has happened in their lives,” said Andrew, a male undergraduate, or “their two favorite things at once — boobs and penis,” said Emma, a female undergraduate.
Dominic said the threesome was more relaxed than having sex one-on-one. When the responsibility of pleasure is shared by multiple people, there is not as much individual pressure to perform, he said.
For Emma, the threesome turned into a text message that made its way around campus. By daylight, everyone knew.
Andrew’s date and his friend’s date hit it off at the formal, he said. After the party, the pair of couples took a cab back to Andrew’s room — jazz, flameless candles and an L-shaped futon next to the bed.
“Sometimes you couldn’t tell whose lips were whose,” he said. “We didn’t know how much we could get away with.”
“There was no penetration involved,” Andrew added.
“During one-on-one sex there is clear intention,” Andrew said. During the foursome, “there was neither intention nor destination — you could be more present.”
When Oliver, a male undergraduate, opened a door at a party, he found three girls making out. One of them was his girlfriend.
Oliver and his male friend, whose girlfriend was also participating in the makeout session, decided to join.
While the friend performed cunnilingus on Oliver’s girlfriend, “it was difficult to wrap my head around it,” he said. But having the fivesome did not ruin the chemistry between Oliver and his girlfriend.
“It made our relationship more official, because we were part of (the fivesome) together,” he said. “We can laugh about it.”
Kinks and high jinks
In 2012, Harvard recognized Harvard College Munch as an official student organization.
Members of the group gather weekly in dining halls to discuss kink, consent and safe practices over lunch. There are around 70 students on the group’s mailing list and around 25 regular attendees.
“There are no trolls in our dungeon,” said group president Cleo, whose name has been changed for confidentiality. For the most part, the “liberal utopia” of Harvard Square offers students interested in kink “a positive and respectful environment,” she said.
Columbia’s Conversio Virium, which means “exchange of forces” in Latin, was the first kink organization for students recognized by a university. College Hill Kink — a subgroup of Queer Alliance comprised of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design undergraduates — also offers a safe space for students interested in kink. Other colleges in New England and across the country — including Tufts University, Iowa State University and Reed College — have similar organizations.
The New England Leather Alliance was established in 1991 under a different name, according to the organization’s website. This nonprofit organization strives to raise awareness and create a safe space for those interested in leather, fetish and BDSM, which Cleo defined generally as “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.” ...
irst things first: Maintaining intimate emotional and physical relationships with multiple partners is not for everyone.
American cultural norms steer us toward monogamy — a faithful, one-on-one, forsaking-all-others, 'til-death-do-us-part definition of love and intimacy that usually involves marriage. For a lot of us, this works. For others, it doesn't. Hardly a news cycle goes by without the revelation that some celebrity or another has been caught with his (or her) pants down. But cheating isn't reserved for the rich and famous. There's not a community in the country that hasn't experienced the scandal of extracurricular romance between otherwise ordinary people.
All this begs the question: Is there a functional alternative for those who are not by nature monogamous? One that doesn't involve secrets, dissemblance, and emotional betrayal?
Anywhere from one million to two million Americans are choosing polyamory, a word best defined by its Greek roots meaning "many" and "love." Polyamorists openly love more than one person. The estimated 500,000-plus polyamorous (or "poly") relationships in this country vary in configuration as widely as the people who comprise them, from heterosexual married people who simply date others, to larger, more complex relationship structures that often involve shared living space and raising families. What all truly polyamorous arrangements have in common — and what makes them distinct from secretive infidelity or "cheating" — is a defining characteristic of the practice: transparency. Polyamorists believe that their relationships can thrive only in an environment of complete honesty.
In that spirit, a number of polyamorists agreed to share with me the following pieces of wisdom and advice for those who might be considering "going poly," or those of you who are just curious about the practice.
Polyamorists are just like the rest of us.
Put aside notions of fringe-living religious zealots and commune dwellers: Most poly people are otherwise ordinary Americans who raise families, pay mortgages, and go about their daily routines just like everybody else. If anything, poly people tend to skew a little more intellectual — or "dorky," as one thirty-something biologist describes his poly circle of friends. Perhaps this is because most polyamorists have come to their decision to open their relationships by doing a lot of research.
Interested in doing a little research of your own? Novices and academics alike find Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá to be an accessible, engaging take on human sexuality and behavior that might just open your eyes, if not your marriage.
Polyamory is not just about sex.
"My husband wants me to set up a threesome with my PTA co-chair" is the stuff of mediocre pornography, not polyamory. While polyamorists must by definition be comfortable with less conventional sexuality — and many are aligned with the Sex Positive movement — most bristle at the implication that their desire for multiple relationships is rooted solely in lust.
Unlike the swinging or spouse-swapping so luridly portrayed in popular media, polyamorous relationships are based as much on emotional intimacy and love as they are on the physical. With many polyamorous arrangements lasting years and even decades, all participants eventually develop a deeper personal connection with one another that may or may not have anything to do with who sleeps with whom and when. ...
Not only is BDSM far more common than you might think, it’s also far less of a red-flag when it comes to health and psychology
by Rose Eveleth
Would you let somebody you were in a relationship with tie you up? If you said yes, you’re not nearly as unusual as you might think.
It turns out that Americans are actually far more into BDSM than the rest of the world seems to be. According to a 2005 survey by Durex, 36 percent of adults in the United States use masks, blindfolds and bondage tools during sex. Worldwide that number is only 20 percent. Melanie Berliet at Pacific Standard reports that the trend isn’t new, either — a study from 1953 found that 55 percent of women and 50 percent of men liked being bitten, and a 1999 study said that 65 percent of university students dream about being tied up.
Although these preferences are relatively common, people still feel the need to hide them, Beliet reports:
But in spite of the evidence that BDSM is commonplace—normal, even—those who openly adhere to the lifestyle are frequently marginalized. Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, has written at length about the risks of disclosing one’s affiliation with BDSM, including discrimination, violence, job loss, and legal obstacles surrounding child custody. It seems not even the famously progressive Girls creator, Lena Dunham, is immune to stigma’s reach. When discussing 50 Shades in the January 2014 issue of The Believer, Dunham said, “I don’t have an elicit [sic], confused relationship to my sexuality, so I don’t need a book like that right now in my life….”
IN 1993, when Antioch College introduced its “ask first” policy — mandating that students solicit permission for every intimate advance, including kissing — the policy was widely derided.
Once the stuff of “Saturday Night Live” parody, “consent” today is proudly emblazoned on T-shirts, underwear and condom wrappers.
Through activism that happens as often on YouTube and Twitter as on the main green, foot soldiers in the consent movement are encouraging fellow classmates to ask first and ask often before engaging in sexual activity. Their mission is to make consent cooler than Antioch did. The movement’s slogan: “Consent is sexy.”
It isn’t always an easy sell. Today, as it was decades ago, the butt of the joke is the awkward formality of the ask. Sayda Morales co-founded All Students for Consent at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., last year. She hears from students: “Do I have to ask if I can move one inch closer? Do I have to ask if I can move my left hand one inch on their buttocks?”
But it doesn’t have to take on the air of a contract signing, she tells them. When she stands in front of the freshman class, she tries to keep the conversation light. “Consent is necessary,” she says, “and it’s fun.”
Getting consent should be just one part of a frank conversation about what is and isn’t O.K. during sex, she says, and can enhance the sexual experience rather than stifle it.
Ms. Morales says she shrugs off student giggles. “At least they’re talking about it,” she says.
Sometimes it pays to play on the mockery. In 2012, Rebecca Nagle and Hannah Brancato created a website advertising a supposedly new line of Victoria’s Secret underwear. True to form, they were frilly, lacy and kaleidoscopic. But instead of “sure thing,” the thongs were decorated with fiats like “no means no” and “ask first.” Before everyone picked up on the prank, the website went viral.
The two activists — through their Baltimore organization, Force: Upsetting Rape Culture — have been at the forefront of a new, edgier tone in consent advocacy. Their group held workshops at 10 colleges last year, educating students on how to spread the anti-rape message. Campus groups are trumpeting their message through “Consent Days,” and sometimes weeks, filled with panels, group discussions and consent-branded T-shirt and condom giveaways. ...
Polyamory and the potential for new ways of loving
The McGill Daily
I always dreaded having to play the game. Soon after coming out I entered a relationship with the first guy I hooked up with, and when we finally broke up almost two years later I felt lost and helpless in a world of single, gay men I knew nothing about. We attempted making our relationship an open one in the last few months we were together, which in hindsight was just a vain attempt to make a failing relationship work. Although he saw a few other guys, causing surges of jealousy for me in a confusing and turbulent time for both of us, I was always afraid to leave the cocoon of our comfortable yet dysfunctional situation.
Now, months later, despite continued qualms about immersing myself in the dating scene, as a single 20-year-old gay male in a city with a large queer population, I know that this is my time to experiment. I need to see what works for me as I figure out what it is I want from my relationships.
The media obsesses over the ways relationships are changing because our generation tends to communicate using social media and texting. We resist labels and commitment, and have a proclivity for casual hook-ups over serious, committed relationships. For queers, the likelihood of experimenting with polyamory adds to the complexity of the dating scene.
Despite having more straight than queer friends, it seems more of my queer friends have experienced, or at least considered, open relationships. It’s probably because the essence of queerness implies challenging, avoiding, and questioning traditional gender norms and social relations. I’m sure straight people engage in polyamory as well, but I personally haven’t met too many who are into that sort of thing.
In some ways, I sometimes feel this invisible pressure that as a queer person in this day and age, a successful polyamorous relationship is the rainbow-covered, glittery, golden peak I should be striving for. Given the benefits of polyamory, I understand why.
I remember a great conversation with a queer friend who has been in a successful, albeit sometimes challenging, open relationship. We discussed how being able to see other people while still having a committed relationship can mean fulfilling different sexual desires and preferences. Different people can provide you with different pleasures and help you discover different sexual practices and preferences. Polyamory can definitely limit the potential for boredom in a relationship, making things more fun and dynamic.
If you’re able to make it work and strike a balance, a successful open relationship can mean a much more interesting and challenging sex life. For a sexual young adult, what could be more attractive than that?
Of course, given the dimensions that seeing other people adds to a relationship, it can mean a lot of hard work and commitment in figuring out what makes you and your partner comfortable. Based on my own experiences, and what I’ve heard and seen from friends, nothing is more pivotal to an open relationship than communication. ...
Two summers ago, women were glued to Fifty Shades of Grey, and the novel had women asking their partners to explore unchartered sexual fantasies. Many claimed that the racy BDSM novels helped them to explore their sexuality and be more open with what they desired from their partners. Others just called it “mommy porn.” There was also a speculation that the racy novels would cause a baby boom, according to Digital Spy. However, according to a recent survey, many women are more inclined to revert back to “vanilla sex,” or, in other words, they are ready to hang up their whips and put away their handcuffs; women are craving intimacy.
The Swedish intimate lifestyle designers, LELO, conducted the LELO Global Sex Survey and found that women are no longer opting for the kinkier sex toys and gadgets anymore. “Kinkier ‘novelty-based’ liaisons between the sheets reached a plateau this year, strongly suggesting couples realized that going ‘Grey’ just wasn’t quite right,” according to a press release.“Sales of whips and hand cuffs have reached a plateau, while sales of couples’ massagers have increased by 82 percent.”
One reason for this might be that women have had two years to live out their kinky desires and 80 percent of women have said that their fantasies didn’t live up to their expectations — they were still missing a human connection. LELO believes that one reason might be women are unable to achieve an orgasm even with these stimulants is because “women are still unable to reach orgasm without direct clitoral stimulation, something that also explains why couples have overtaken singles as the biggest category of sex toy owners.”
Using these toys can help, but independently, they might just be a waste of time. “Sex toys are a great idea for couples; they are not only a fantastic way to spice up your sex life together, but they work,” said sex author Dr. Ian Kerner in the press release. “They help women reach the heights of orgasms that are usually difficult for most.”
Another reason might be that women need to feel a sense of security before sexual satisfaction or an orgasm can be reached. According to Dr. Justin Lehmiller, author of the blog, The Psychology of Human Sexuality. "It does seem to be the case that people who love their partners have somewhat more satisfying sex and, at least among women, more consistent experiences with orgasm.” ...
If you haven’t heard of the infamous novel “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, get your uncultured butt to the library or nearest bookstore. Prepare to be awed — and by awed, I mean confused, disgusted and maybe a little angry.
I’m going to admit with absolutely no shame that I haven’t read “50 Shades of Grey.” However, I’ve read enough plot synopses, summaries and critical examinations that I feel justified in shouting my contempt — or writing it for all of you to read reverentially.
Let’s all jump on the hate train.
“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic romance novel that follows characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in their adventures of love, hate and kinky sex. Throughout the series, Christian introduces Ana to the world of BDSM — or, well, he haphazardly drags her into it with no explanation other than a contract stating, among other things, that he’s going to anally penetrate her whether she wants it or not.
The author markets Ana and Christian’s romance as a healthy BDSM relationship. However, it is anything but. Rather, Christian engages in emotional and physical abuse. He is also a manipulative scoundrel.
Now let’s talk 50 Shades of Healthy BDSM. BDSM is a complicated abbreviation that stands for a number of terms: BD for bondage and discipline, DS for dominance and submission, and SM for sadomasochism. It has become somewhat of a blanket term for a number of sexual kinks, including leather, gags, power play and restraint, not to mention all that its letters imply.
Take a moment to forget all the weird porn you’ve seen because what the Internet might label BDSM is probably ignorant and horribly misguided. Healthy BDSM lifestyles operate on three doctrines: safety, sanity and consent. These key concepts distinguish BDSM from abuse and rape, and when ignored can turn a night of fun debauchery into frightening violation. Do I need to mention that “50 Shades of Grey” never adheres to the aforementioned tenets?
To elaborate on the doctrines, let’s start with consent. Both partners must explicitly communicate their consent and willingness to participate prior to sex acts, and both also have the power to stop them at any point. If the participants agree that “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “no,” they employ a safe word: a word or phrase that can be said to completely stop the other party’s actions or indicate undesired discomfort. ...
Please take this survey even if you’ve never had a consent violation. We want to know what are your power exchange and sexual identities? Are you “out” about being kinky? How often do you go to BDSM groups and online communities?
NCSF will use these results to help perform its advocacy, such as helping law enforcement, prosecutors and health care professionals understand the experiences of kinky people and provide better quality service.
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