Editor's note:Janet W. Hardy, a writer, editor and consultant, has published 11 books, including the best-selling, "The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures." She has taught workshops about alternative sexualities and relationships all over the world.
(CNN) -- I grew up in the early 1960s in an affluent suburb on the East Coast. Every child I knew went home to a family that looked like mine: a mom at home waiting for us, and a dad who showed up a few hours later in time for dinner.
How tempting it is to remember such households as an ideal and universal norm. But they were rarely ideal, and they were never universal.
Let's not discuss the stresses that affected those nuclear families. Let's just talk about the innumerable people who, by virtue of race, background, health or circumstance, could not -- or did not want to -- live in such families.
Instead, they lived in single-parent households, in households with two men or two women, in extended families of grandparents and aunts and grown siblings, in households where multiple adults pooled money and skills to make ends meet, and in many other configurations.
Back then, it never occurred to the people I knew to call those configurations "families." Today, in a more tolerant era, that old standard of the nuclear family is still encoded in our laws and our tax code, as well as in the antiquated and judgmental phrase "family values."
Among my own circle of acquaintances, I hold many "alternative families" close to my heart:
-- A man and two women who have been raising their two children together from infancy through high school.
-- Three men who have shared a loving household for nearly 20 years.
-- A "core couple," married for many decades, who have consistently surrounded themselves with long-term, live-in lovers.
-- Two couples who share a duplex and a busy and intermingled sex life.
-- A long-partnered gay man and lesbian woman who together brought a third, lesbian woman into their household because the female half of the pair missed that part of her life.
There are as many configurations of genders, ages and numbers as you can imagine. These are families as surely as any family you've welcomed into your neighborhood. They share property, raise children, tend to their homes and communities.
Last month, in a case involving the plural family portrayed on the reality show "Sister Wives," a Nevada judge overturned a ban against cohabitation, enabling consenting adults to form whatever style of household meets their desires and needs. He refused, however, to overturn the part of the law that banned plural marriages.
Most Americans, when they think of plural marriage, associate it with the one-male, multifemale households of a rebel offshoot of Mormonism and of some contemporary Muslim cultures -- popularly known as "polygamy" (many spouses of both sexes), but more accurately called "polygyny" (many wives). However, these polygynous marriages represent only a fraction of the ways in which adults form families.
Many people rightly feel some concern about religious polygyny's history of abuse and nonconsent and might feel that anti-plural marriage laws are necessary to prevent such exploitation. However, strong laws already exist against forcing anyone into sex or marriage of any kind -- vigorous enforcement would surely suffice to protect the unwilling in a plural marriage recognized under the law.
More problematic, of course, are issues such as child custody, inheritance, hospital visitation, etc., when more than two parties are involved. It is clear that the current legal structure of marriage cannot readily accommodate this problem. For that reason, the Nevada judge's ruling was probably correct, at least for now.
One solution for the future, though, might be to designate "marriage" as a social institution with no legal standing and to create "civil union" as a legally recognized subtype of business partnership, available to anyone who is willing to make the appropriate commitments. ...
A woman claimed "swinging" was promoted at the camp in Davidsonville but the camp denied the allegations and a court dismissed her case.
Five months after she hunkered down in Cabin 13 at Maryland Health Society—a nudist park in Davidsonville—a 53-year-old woman was officially evicted from the property and ordered to remove all belongings, according to online court records.
According to its Facebook Page, the Maryland Health Society, or MaHeSo, has been in Davidsonville for nearly 80 years, sitting on 96 acres of wooded lands adjacent to the Patuxant River. The page also boasts family-friendly features like a pool and a "kiddie park" at the site.
However, according to Catherine Holmes, 53, MaHeSo dropped her membership and locked her out of her cabin when she raised concerns that the camp was promoting "swingers," reported Health Medicine Network. The MaHeSo board of directors denied Holmes' claims that sexual practices of any kind were promoted at the park.
Holmes continued to sneak into the cabin through a window. She told The Capital Gazette that she barricaded herself in the cabin in protest of what she alleged was a "swinger" lifestyle at the park, and to get money from MaHeSo for improvements Holmes made on the cabin.
The case was resolved Thursday when the courts dismissed Holmes' case "with prejudice," according to online court records. In a separate ruling, Holmes was also prohibited from destroying or defacing MaHeSo property and evicted from Cabin 13. ...
There’s something vaguely primal – and sensual – about having your hands tied to the frame of the bed, the weight of your partner holding your legs apart. Being worked over by someone aggressively emboldened by your own submission, you build a bond of trust.
A normal hookup can be disappointingly guarded. Both parties, afraid to scare the other off or cross an unspoken line, can make it more like a business transaction than a sexual bond.
Nobody wants that. And I think this campus is thirsty for something better.
It’s up to a group of kinky kiddos among us to save GW from its sexual staleness. Scanning the posts of “GWU Secrets” – our wannabe “Post Secret” Facebook group – it’s clear that this campus has an appetite for occasional (or incessant) bondage, discipline and sadomasochism.
Regular columnists analyze campus culture to work out problems and propose solutions. As The Hatchet’s new sex columnist – I’m a gay male undergraduate and a bottom, by the way – I have a similar charge. And it’s clear to me that we need to do more to satiate our kinks.
At a school with more than 400 student groups, not one of them is related to kinky sex. Other universities have already beat us to the punch. Harvard has one called “Harvard College Munch.” Iowa State University students founded a club dedicated to bondage back in 2003, funded by the student government, no less.
Columbia, Tufts, MIT and Yale all boast some kind of kinky club, though some of these orgs exist in a quiet, unthreatening, gray zone lacking official recognition.
So I ask: Why don’t we have a student organization for those of us devoted to or curious about BDSM?
My guess is because half the student body thinks it will run for U.S. Senate in 2032, while the other half is hoping for an internship next semester that requires a security clearance. We wouldn’t want the potential boss man to know we actually like being whipped and treated like a slave.
GW, despite having stellar progressive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, lacks a real sexual counterculture. Productions of “Hair” aside, GW fits a heteronormative mold that eschews the more deviant kinds of sexual behavior found in BDSM.
But there’s another problem – good old fashioned social stigma.
Even the handsomest, smoothest male suggesting bondage to a potential hookup could result in terrifying consequences for our kinky hero. It doesn’t matter if he would only act on this urge if it was consensual – the optics of his failed suggestion can be damning.
Women, on the other hand, would likely experience a different hesitation. A public reveal could mean slut shaming and character assassinations. ...
...The entire kink community, including Kardinal Kink, functions under as much anonymity as possible. Many fear the impact being outed would have on their career and relationships.
Many understand and respect our anonymity, but so few question why it is necessary and what negative impact this legacy of silence has on individuals.
Kardinal Kink is just what it sounds like: a Stanford group for all things kink, and a two-pronged effort to create a support system for Stanford students to safely explore kink and to campaign for the legitimacy of kink.
There seem to be more kink-identified people than queer or LGBT-identified people, but one can major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and never read an article about kink by someone kink-identified.
There are no resources at Vaden or the LGBT-CRC that address kink. There are no classes on campus that explore kink as anything more than a footnote. This isn’t Stanford’s fault in particular, but rather evidence of a widespread tendency for “legitimate” organizations to not acknowledge kink, for fear of being associated with it.
There is so little research into kink that we hardly even know what demographics it reflects, let alone the problems it faces. One exception, a survey by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, found that a third of kink-identified people, including the heavily closeted, report experiencing discrimination based on their involvement with kink.
More than half of that discrimination came from medical professionals and a quarter from government or police officials, which implies that these much-needed services systematically fall short of serving this population’s needs.
This has a concrete, negative impact: Isolation and a lack of resources puts many newcomers to kink at a high risk of abuse. In turn, there are few resources available for those who have their consent broken in an unconventional circumstance. While the kink community tries to enforce consent and offer resources and medical knowledge to those who need it, it should be the job of the police and relevant professionals.
I am not calling for a large-scale civil rights movement like the gay rights movement, but am asking the local community — Stanford as a university and as a campus — to respect kink as a gender and sexuality minority in academia and in services on campus. Although kink is currently dismissed as an individual’s crazy sexual tastes, it represents a world of enthusiastic consent that encourages you to craft the relationships and live the experiences that truly satisfy you; a world that must function in silence and in isolation.
While 2013 was a year of major victories for same-sex marriage in America, a controversial court ruling at the end of the year addressed another thorny marriage question: a federal judge in Utah struck down a portion of the state's polygamy ban. Many conservatives saw vindication of their fears that gay marriage would lead to legalized polygamy. In fact, the decision is limited in scope and does not actually change marriage law. But it also highlights a push for the acceptance of non-monogamous relationships that could change marriage -- and not for the better.
The ruling, which involves a fundamentalist Mormon man and his four "sister wives," does not require the state to validate multiple marriages: Legally, the husband only has one wife. It simply says such arrangements cannot be criminalized, particularly in a way that discriminates on the basis of religion (so that a man can live with several women and not face legal problems unless he calls them his wives in a spiritual marriage).
The Utah case represents a traditional, patriarchal version of polygamy. But there are also egalitarian, socially liberal subcultures in this country that embrace alternatives to monogamy: open marriage and polyamory (multiple intimate relationships with everyone's consent). These lifestyles have been gaining visibility, thanks in part to the discussions of same-sex marriage and new frontiers of tolerance.
Last August, Salon.com published an article titled "My Two Husbands," whose author -- living with her longtime husband and her boyfriend -- lamented widespread prejudice against families such as hers. A month later, Slate. com ran a pseudonymous piece by a man bemoaning the hardships of "the polyamory closet."
While the polyamorists often liken their cause to gay rights, the parallel fails in key ways.
First, in seeking marriage equality, gays could make a strong case that they simply wanted the same thing as heterosexuals. It would be much harder to make that argument for non-monogamous marriage. Sexual difference as a feature of marriage waned in importance due to the move away from strictly gender-based roles. But the idea of marriage as an exclusive union of two people is built into Western culture. (Indeed, monogamy was arguably the basis for the shift from patriarchal authoritarianism to affectionate partnership that eventually made same-sex marriage feasible.) The legal benefits of two-person marriage would be almost impossible to replicate with multiple partners.
The non-monogamists mostly want cultural acceptance rather than legal reform. But even that is fraught with problems. ...
Robert "Bob" Bashara, 56, the Grosse Pointe Park real estate investor, landlord and BDSM enthusiast accused of killing his wife, Jane Bashara, 56, in January of 2012, returns to Wayne County Circuit Court for his final pretrial conference Thursday.
Bashara is currently imprisoned for soliciting the murder of Joseph Gentz, the handyman who admits he assisted Bashara with the killing for which he's serving a minimum of 17 years in prison.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans will determine, among other things, a trial date and whether Bashara will be provided a non-Internet-capable computer with which to review thousands of discovery documents in the murder case against him.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m.
Prosecutors charged Bashara with first-degree murder, soliciting murder, obstruction of justice, witness bribery or intimidation, perjury and felonious use of a firearm.
First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Gentz said Bashara repeatedly solicited him to kill his wife and on Jan. 24, 2012 threatened him with a gun if he didn't carry out the deed. Gentz said he strangled Jane Bashara in the family's garage before he and Bob Bashara loaded the body in the back seat of Jane Bashara's SUV. Police found Jane Bashara in her vehicle parked in a desolate Detroit alley the following day.
Nearly 20 witnesses over the period of a week testified in September on behalf of prosecutors during the preliminary examination in the trial against Bob Bashara.
Testimony indicated Bashara had a kinky, porn-addled and philandering lifestyle that he kept separate from his wife and two children.
It is through a website catering to BDSM, which stands for bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism, Bashara met his mistress — whom he referred to as his "slave" — Rachel Gillett, in 2009. She called him "Master Bob."
One of their first meetings took place in what Bashara referred to as "the dungeon," a converted space beneath a property he owned and used for sexual role play. ...
A client came to see me recently to talk about an issue that was upsetting her. She is 39 years old and has been married to a man the same age for about 15 years. Neither had had many partners before they got together.
They've had a good sex life but in the past few years she has felt the passion was missing. She was getting bored and was thinking about what sex with other men would be like. She had no intention of cheating on her husband and when she read an article about a swingers' club in their area, she was curious.
When she suggested the idea to her husband she was quite surprised that he was not upset. On the contrary he seemed quite interested. It took them a while to find the courage but they finally gave it a try.
They both liked it and it improved their sex lives for a while. But the one thing my client had not expected was feeling jealous when her husband had sex with women who, in her opinion, were better looking and more sexy than she was.
Although she is an attractive woman she began to feel more and more insecure. She decided not to take part in swinging any more but her husband is now disappointed and blames her for suggesting it in the first place.
Swinging came under the spotlight in Australia when businessman and millionaire Herman Rockefeller was brutally murdered by a couple whom he allegedly met through an underground swingers' network.
Writer and comedian David Smiedt researched the swinging lifestyle for an article for GQ magazine.
Smiedt found swingers were a representative sample of mainstream Australia. Their age group was 30 to 45 and they were no more or less attractive than the people you see in a shopping centre. They were friendly and respectful.
Drug use in most swingers' clubs is forbidden as is drunkenness and there is an enormous emphasis placed on good manners.
Swingers are expected to show up to events in a well-groomed state, shower between erotic interludes and make sure always to practise safe sex.
For this article I spoke to couples who said they were attracted to swinging because it added spice to their relationship and they liked the excitement of an anticipated encounter with another couple or sometimes a single woman.
Swinging has a special attraction for women who want to experiment with their bisexuality or be the centre of attention of two males.
The couples believe swingers are generally happier in their relationships because they are more open minded and adventurous. But all insisted on the importance of setting personal boundaries.
As far as I know, no academic research has been conducted on swinging in Australia.
In the US, Canadian-born Edward Fernandes, an assistant professor at Barton College, North Carolina, has conducted studies on the sexual behaviour and motivation of people who have joined what's called the "lifestyle. He has published several articles on the topic and is working on a book called The Swinging Playground, which focuses on anecdotal and scientific perspectives of swinging. ...
...How prevalent is swinging? It's not something that is routinely tracked by academics with big budgets for data collection. The largest study, conducted in 2000 by Bellarmine University sociologists Curtis Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Williams, found that 84 percent of swingers are married couples or in relationships and had been together for a little more than 10 years.
Among swinging couples, marital happiness averaged 78.5 percent, compared with 64 percent of the general married population. Women on average are 31 when they embrace the lifestyle, while men are 35. Religious? Seventy-two percent belong to religious institutions, compared with 61 percent in the general population.
Michelle Golland, a Los Angeles sex therapist, said she thinks swinging is increasingly popular in part because of the importance couples place on having positive attitudes toward sex.
"We have a higher expectation for intimacy, for sex. We are healthier, stronger," she said. "I want to stay young and sexual in my heart. I want my husband to want me that way."
And swinging helps boost the sexual connection of some couples, she said.
"But this is not to solve a problem," she said, stressing that couples should be comfortable and happy with each other sexually before joining the lifestyle. "It's to experience something that is hot, erotic, interesting, and keeps your sexual life together alive and growing."
Bitti said the lifestyle includes emissaries from nearly every demographic — cops, teachers, CEOs and the rest of us. And where the caricatured swinger is a potbellied, middle-aged dolt out for some easy action, the reality is less unsettling, she said. Adults of all ages participate, looking good matters, and players tend to have good jobs and fertile imaginations.
She prefers the term "sexually social" to swinger. It seems more approachable and friendly, she said.
Like other swingers, Bitti calls people who are outside of the lifestyle "vanilla" and laments that her multiflavored approach to relationships remains relatively subterranean.
"We are just about being who we are, but we are all living in the closet. People are worried about losing their jobs, their kids," said Bitti, who along with her husband is so enthusiastic about the lifestyle that they are one of the lead couples on a Playboy Channel show called "Swing."
Bitti is so very out about the lifestyle, in part, to help drag it closer to the mainstream.
The stigmas still thrive, even in Colorado, but they appear to be eroding, said Denver sex therapist Neil Cannon.
"There are more people who are willing to find more creative solutions to how to make their marriage or relationship work," he said. "It's hard for some people to get all of their needs met in one relationship. In America, everybody assumes we are monogamous and that's the only way to live."
Exploring the lifestyle is not for everybody, he said. For one thing, concerns about sexually transmitted diseases alarm many people. Practicing what Cannon calls "safer sex" is simply imperative. Also, jealousy renders many people incapable of letting a spouse run off with others for romps between the sheets.
Those who succeed, he said, tend to bask in their partner's joy, regardless of whether it bubbles up from a career triumph or a sexual escapade with another adult.
And many of those who thrive in the lifestyle appreciate places such as Squirrel Creek. ...