I am an avid bicyclist. I ride for pleasure, I ride for transportation, I ride for recreation. In the town where I live and ride, bicycle theft is a serious problem. In 2009, I had purchased a beautiful, new, chrome Gary Fisher cross bike as my daily ride to and from class at the local state college. That bike was so well suited to my body and riding style, and I loved it dearly.

I still remember the day I came out of class to the bike rack and couldn’t find my ride. In rapid order I went through the clichéd ordered list of emotions of grief and loss. That was a very hard and trying week for me.

It wasn’t my fault that my bike was stolen; the responsibility for that laid entirely in the lap of the asshat who cut the cable lock and rode away with my bike. At the same time, I came to learn my actions had made the malfeasance significantly easier. I had exercised some lousy judgement; I had used a cable lock to “secure” something valuable to me, and some cretin acted fast to take advantage of my ignorance and naiveté. I firmly resolved that my next bike would be protected by a sturdy U-lock. I knew that was no guarantee against a repeat theft, but I knew it would greatly reduce the odds of it happening again. I wasn’t to blame, but I could help lower the chance of a repeat occurrence.

This is everything I have to say about the topic of victim blaming.

I’ve gotten involved in a local sex positive community, attending workshops, classes, socials, and events. At a class about consent and boundaries, I learned a technique for when you make a request of someone and they say “No”, you reply with “Thank you for taking care of yourself.” The idea is to help assure the recipient that their boundaries have been heard and respected, with no recriminations, no bargaining, no pleading.

When I first heard the phrase, it sounded artificial and forced and I had a hard time imagining using the expression “in real life”. Trying to be a good sport and give it a fair shake, I made a solid effort at using it a few times. Gradually it felt less weird, and eventually it became something that my girlfriend and I would say to each other in a mundane day-to-day context, often with a wry smile, but still sincerely.

“I’m going to the grocery; want to come with me?”
“No thanks, I’m gonna finish this chore.”
“Okay. Thank you for taking care of yourself.”

Lately, I’ve begun to feel like this expression was also fulfilling a different need, and I’ve spent some time meditating on what that’s about.

If I’m feeling an attraction to someone, it can take some effort and nerve to get around to asking the person if they would like to act on that attraction, whether it’s “Would you like to get coffee?”, or “After the party, feel like coming back to my place?” or “May I give you a hug?”

If the response is a flat “No”, that can be rough to hear. It’s obviously not the response I hope for, and tends to leave me feeling awkward and deflated. I’ve heard a lot of people attempt to handle that challenging moment, often with a lack of grace and decency. “Aww, c’mon, you’ll have a great time! You know you want to!” or “Oh. Well, fuck.” (slink away) or “Fine. I wouldn’t want to fool around with your fat ass anyway.” (stomp away)

In that awkward and vulnerable moment, I am finding great comfort in having a scripted response immediately at the ready. It’s a response that acknowledges that the “No” is more about the other person than it is about me, it’s a response that respects the person’s boundaries, and I leave the encounter on a positive (or at least not negative) note. It has become an expression I enjoy using for my own emotional state, as much or more than for the recipient’s benefit. For me, that’s a significant win.

A brief coda: I was talking about this with two female friends last night and they both expressed surprise at my new perspective on the phrase. It hadn’t occurred to them at all, and we discussed it a bit. It turned out they simply had far less experience with asking and being told “No” than I had. Their experience was that they were much more often in the position of being propositioned, not making a proposition themselves. On the occasions when they did extend an offer, “No” was an infrequent enough response that they didn’t see it as being a significant issue. So it’s possible my new-found appreciation for this phrase will resonate with some genders more than others.

I first ventured into open relationships back in the dark ages, pre-internet (!), prior to the invention of the word “polyamory”, before the publication of “Getting The Love You Want” or “The Ethical Slut”. In short, my partners and I had absolutely zero resources or role models for what we were attempting. There were a lot of mistakes made and a number of hard lessons to endure (some of them over and over again). In hindsight, there is a long list of things I wish someone had explained to me at the outset. Following is my attempt to capture a few of those items.



This may be very hard. Emotions and relationships are challenging enough as it is. Relationships with more than two people are harder still. Think about it; in a triad you have at least four relationships to manage: the relationship between persons A and B, between B and C, between A and C, and the relationship between all three at once, A, B and C. Try it with four people, you have eleven relationships to juggle. Combinations, permutations, oh my!

On top of that, you are attempting relationship models that are outside the mainstream, cultural norm. You may feel compelled to hide aspects of your relationships from family members, you may face disapproval from friends and community members. You may have challenges finding advice, community and sympathy.



You’re going to have to talk about this with your partners. A lot. More than you know. On occasion, you’re going to talk about the same topic so many times, over and over, until you can’t possibly fathom there’s another word to say about it. Then talk about it again. I’m unaware of any shortcut to this. Keep doing it. If the lines of communication seem to break down for an interval, get nervous; talking is the lifeline of your relationship.

Listen far more than you talk. Learn to ask questions. Learn to ask questions that require more than a yes/no answer. After you ask a question, take the time to listen to the answer. Do not silently compose your own rebuttal when you should be listening.

Be wary of large labels. A term like “polyamory” can mean something different to virtually every person who embraces it. Ask people to define their labels. Ask again until you are pretty sure you get what they mean. Try to rephrase it back to them, to make sure they agree you understood them. Then try to define your own labels. Double-check your assumptions.

In my more cynical moments, I have been known to snarl, “Communication is a myth. If you think you’ve communicated with someone, that just means you haven’t yet realized how badly you’ve been misunderstood.” There are entire books dedicated to improving your communication skills. Read several of them. Practice.

Another phrase I’ve heard for open relationships or polyamory is “responsible non-monogamy”. The “responsible” part comes from a vast amount of open, honest communication.



There are a dozen ways to lie. Outright untruths, misleading implications, exaggerations, conveniently omitted details. No matter how you try to convince yourself otherwise, they still all amount to lies. Don’t do it. Be scrupulously honest. Be at least as honest as you would want your partners to be with you. You will always regret telling a lie; even if it appears you’re going to “get away with it”, even if you think you’re sparing a person’s feelings, even if you think you’re just avoiding a bit of unnecessary drama, you will regret every single one of them. Save yourself the hassle and just be open and honest in the first place.

And learn how to be honest with yourself as well. Humans have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-deceit and outright bullshit. Encourage your partners to call you on your bullshit. Listen to them when they do.



In all of this communicating you’re doing, some gnarly emotions are going to come up. Intentionally or not, someone will say something that pushes your buttons in just the right way to send you into a tailspin of anger (or jealousy, or sadness, or frustration, or …) It’s gonna happen, guaranteed. Let’s talk about strategies for what to do (and what not to do) when emotions flare up.

Almost by definition, emotions are illogical. Emotions just are. They happen on their own schedule, often without rhyme or reason. I’ve begun to embrace a model that emotions are just the body’s response to a flood of hormones washing through the brain. Sometimes the hormones come in response to a specific event in your life, and sometimes the hormones start for some unknown reason and your brain looks for any excuse to hang the emotion on. I’ve woken up from a hard sleep, furiously mad at someone for something they did in a dream. Sheesh. Talk about irrational.

You’re not going to argue someone into letting go of an emotional reaction. Don’t try. And don’t let anyone get away with telling you that your emotional response is not allowed. You can’t push back an emotion any more than you can hold back the tide. The best you can expect is to develop a strategy for how to handle them when they come.

Don’t try to swallow or smother an emotional response; denying an emotion will only make it flare up hotter and stronger, usually at the worst possible time. It’s like telling a teenager they aren’t allowed to do something; it only makes them want it all the more.

Neither should you immediately try to react on an emotion right away. Reacting to an emotion is akin to punching a cloud. It’s unsatisfying, and ineffective. Focus instead on simply trying to understand it.

You are not responsible for fixing another person’s emotional response. This is a tough. If a loved one is in pain (even emotional pain), there is an overwhelming urge to do whatever you can to make that pain stop. Resist that urge. At the very least, don’t do it without a lot of discussion with the person. Attempting to fix someone else’s emotions will almost certainly end in frustration for both of you. And don’t ask or allow someone else to “fix” your emotions either. Embrace the phrase “You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness.”

Okay, so that’s a lot of what not to do. So what do you do with emotions? Your goal, the ideal, is simply to be able to recognize an emotional reaction when it occurs. If you can catch yourself in the moment and say “Ahh, I’m having a really angry reaction. Interesting.”, that is over half the battle. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you can spend your whole life working on this ability. And it’s worth working on. Once you can recognize an emotion, you can start examining it a little more closely. Where is it coming from? What is it about a situation that pushed your buttons in that way? Why did that make you angry? What are you so scared of? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Not because you’re trying to argue yourself out of the emotion, but because you’re trying to get at the root of the response. “Oh, I was furious that you kissed that person because at a certain level it made me scared that you didn’t love me any more.”

Once you’ve identified something as an emotional reaction, and you feel like you’ve figured out what the root issue behind it all is, then you’re finally in a position to figure out what the most productive solution might be. Most often, the best response is to simply sit with the emotion, to “own it”, as they say. The more you understand the root cause and the more you can talk about it with someone in a calm fashion, the less power and control it will have over you.

Be prepared to spend some time wrestling with emotional responses. It’s really hard to talk in a cool, calm manner about an emotionally hot topic. Take breaks, as often as you need to, for as long as you need to. I know a girl whose emotional hurt can often be addressed with a very sincere apology, and poof, she’s fine. By contrast, when I’m going through an emotional wringer, sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks to sort it out. Everyone is different. And that’s okay.

You will grow to understand and appreciate the expression, “Yet another fucking opportunity for growth.”

For what it’s worth, starting a practice in meditation helped me greatly with understanding and coping with emotions.


Jealousy and Compersion

Speaking of emotions, here’s a buzz word you’re likely to run into. “Compersion” is the feeling of joy and happiness you experience when one of your partners is experiencing euphoria in a relationship outside your own. You might think of it as the opposite of jealousy. Some people experience compersion pretty easily and naturally. Other people really have to work to get there.

While I know some people who claim to just not be jealous at all, most people have to wrestle with this. It can be a bitch. In my experience, “jealousy” is just “fear” dressed up a little. Saying you’re jealous that your boyfriend kissed that girl is another way of saying you’re scared. Scared that he likes her more than you, scared that he’ll dump you for her, scared that he won’t enjoy kissing you any more. In case this isn’t clear enough, I’m saying jealousy is an emotional response. Scroll back up and re-read everything I just said about emotions. Go ahead, I’ll wait. 🙂

That said, I have a couple of additional strategies I can offer for trying to handle jealousy:

Try to picture the situation with the roles reversed. Okay, so you’re jealous because you saw your boyfriend kiss another girl. And really, if you think about it, what you really mean is you’re scared he won’t be interested in you any more. Fair enough, I’ve felt that feeling too. I hear you. But try to picture the roles reversed. Look around the bar. Find someone you find attractive, someone you’re really like to lay a long, lingering, smoldering kiss on. Picture it. Take some time to really wallow in that image and feeling. And then think about breaking the kiss and wandering back over to your boyfriend with a big damn grin on your face. Are you happy? In a good mood? Euphoric even? And do you still want to lay a big kiss on your boyfriend? If anything, I expect you might find that the first kiss only makes the second kiss feel even hotter and steamier. Yeah? (And if not… err, umm… maybe this is the time to consider whether an open relationship really, truly works for you.) But let’s assume you can imagine that bit of role playing. Okay, back to reality. That’s how your boyfriend feels too. That kiss he shared with another person (almost certainly) did not dampen his enthusiasm for you. If anything, it probably heightened it! If you can really wrap your head around it, this is the heart of compersion. If you love someone, you want them to be happy. And the happier they are, the more readily they will share that happiness and joy with you. I’m not saying it’s easy. People tend to need a hell of a long time to work on this.

Resist the urge to construct new relationship rules to eliminate jealousy. Again, I encourage you to re-read the above passage on emotions. Trying to have someone else change their behavior to eliminate your jealousy almost certainly won’t work. Nor is it someone else’s job to “fix” your jealousy. Your partners should react to your jealousy with kindness, sympathy, understanding and heaping buckets of reassurance and love. But they should also respect you enough to let you own the emotion and try to work through it the best you can. In the end, that’s the only way to ever grow past it.



Here’s another buzzword you’ll likely encounter in various forums about open relationships and polyamory, “NRE”. It stands for “new relationship energy”. When I was a kid, it was called “puppy love”. It’s that stage that tends to happen early in new relationships, where you are just head over heels crazy about another person. They are the most fascinating person you’ve ever met, you want to spend every bit of free time with them, often to the exclusion of other activities and relationships. You’re ready to uproot your life, quit your job, move across the country, all for this person you’ve known for two weeks over Facebook. May I gently suggest you resist that urge, at least for a bit? 🙂

NRE is a drug. I mean that metaphorically, but also somewhat literally. NRE is a rush of hormones surging through your brain. It’s a really good drug. It’s a crazy fun drug! But like most drugs, it can impair your judgement. Don’t make major life decisions while on drugs. When you’re on drugs, it is especially wise to trust the advice of your closest friends and loved ones. Lean on them for perspective and guidance. Recognize NRE for what it is when it happens. Savor the rush; it usually doesn’t last terribly long and you should enjoy it while you can. But don’t let it goad you into ignoring the rest of your life and relationships and making some dreadful mistakes.


Most people who venture into some form of open relationships attempt to construct some set of rules about what is and isn’t allowed. “You can’t sleep with any of my friends.” “Not in our bed.” “No overnight stays.” “You can fool around, but you can’t put your dick in her.” I don’t think there’s any one set of rules that’s perfect for everybody. We all have our own unique wants and needs. But here are some suggestions for how to figure out what the right set of rules are for your relationship(s).

Try to make sure any rules are the joint effort of all parties involved; don’t let one person dictate the rules. Give this a try: Have everyone attempt to write out a list of the rules they think would be useful. Then come together and read the rules to each other. Discuss them. Ask questions. “I can kiss someone, but only if we’re standing? What’s that about? What are you trying to accomplish with this one?” The goal isn’t to attack or critique, but just trying to make sure you understand. Once you understand where each person is coming from, you can start investigating whether there’s a common ground that will work for all parties involved.

There’s nothing that says the rules have to be symmetrical. You might be inclined to say, “Well if I can’t date your co-workers, then you can’t date mine!” Don’t be that way. Only insist on rules that are really important to you. And if that leads to an asymmetrical rule, that’s just fine.

There can be a temptation to push right up against the edge of a rule and grind against it so hard you break the skin. Don’t. Do. It. Don’t be the kind of jerk that says, “You said he couldn’t fuck me, so he didn’t. All I let him do was slide his cock against my open pussy lips, but he didn’t put it in!” When in doubt, err generously on the side of doing too little.

Always go as slow as the slowest partner. If they aren’t there yet, they just aren’t and you’re better off being patient.

Rules will quite likely evolve over time. That’s perfectly natural and even expected. Just make sure that you talk about them, a lot, and before it is a critical issue. Most people who manage to make open relationships work over the long haul start with fairly lengthy and explicit rules, and over time the rules get shorter and simpler. Start where you need to in order to find a level of security and comfort. Don’t feel any pressure to make your relationship rules look identical to someone who has been doing this for twenty years.



It seems like there are as many different forms of open relationships or polyamory as there are people doing it. I know people who live as a closed fidelity group with no relationships with “outside” people, I’ve heard of folk who practice a “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy, there are relationships where the partners are allowed to fool around but only with other women (sometimes called a “one-penis policy”). While I have opinions about the wisdom of some models versus others, I try to say “Well, if it works for them… their kink is okay.” As long as the arrangement was reached in an open, honest fashion, who am I to say they’re doing it wrong.

Here’s what I’m leading to; don’t spend a lot of effort trying to make your relationship fit someone else’s example. There’s no real substitute for talking this all out with your partner(s), repeatedly. Figure out what their priorities and needs are. Figure out what yours are. See if they can fit together in a workable fashion. Wash, rinse, repeat.


Sometimes, relationships end. It’s sad, but true.

Resist those doubters who will snort derisively, “Well of course it didn’t last! That’s what you get for trying such an unnatural relationship!” Oh, twaddle. Even completely mainstream, vanilla, monogamous relationships end. Looking at the divorce rates, they fail much more often than they succeed. The cost of playing the game is that you might not win. It’s still worth trying.

And for that matter, not every relationship that ends is a “failure”. Did you behave honestly, openly, ethically? Did you grow as a person? Did you learn more about yourself, about life, about how to love? If you can say “yes” to those questions, I consider that relationship a success, no matter how brief it might have been!


Almost every single one of these paragraphs could have been concluded with the lines “I know this is hard. Do it anyway.”

When a new acquaintance tells me they are “vegetarian“, I can’t help but wince. Not because I begrudge them their food choices, not even a little! I wince because there’s just not a lot of information I can glean from that label. Do they eat eggs? How about fish? Dairy? Really, all I know for sure is that this person has some dietary preferences, mostly (but not necessarily exclusively!) around meat.

The reason I bring this up on this blog is that I have much the same feeling around the labels “polyamory” and “open relationship”. The spectrum of options and possibilities under that label is so impossibly broad as to carry almost no data at all. About the most I can assume is you’re doing something that is not quite the same as (and maybe completely, totally different from) traditional monogamy.

While the subtle details and implications may be far more than your parents care to know, if I’m considering getting involved with you I want to know all the juicy details of what you mean by “open relationship“. For instance, does your partner(s) know? (Yikes! I hate that this question even needs to be asked! How do I know your partner(s) are really on-board?) Is this a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” arrangement, or do you discuss every little detail with your partner(s)? What rules of engagement do you practice? Are you in a closed polyfidelitous structure, or do your partner(s) have other partners? How long have you been doing this? Is this a decision you made at a rave last weekend, or is this something you’ve been doing for years?

Worse yet, there’s the risk that I might assume your definition and understanding of the label is identical to my own. (Red flag word, assume.) This is an area where I want to make sure there is a minimum of accidental misunderstandings before things progress too far.

Bottom line, a label as broad as those is not an answer; at most it is a starting point for a more involved and pointed discussion. Beware of big labels and when in doubt, ask lots of questions!

10. July 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: theory · Tags:

In my initial blog post, I made an off-hand comment about “videos of MRI scans of people having sex”. I couldn’t just let that go without a citation, now could I? Without further ado, here it is:

10. July 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: theory · Tags: ,

Let’s talk about cheating.

It seems like I see a lot of questions on various forums (fora, if your’e a Latin geek) that all amount to, “When I do [fill in the blank], is that considered cheating?”

Of course, this isn’t a new question. But I think the internet has opened up all sorts of novel variations on the question. “If I’m having sexy online text chats with a stranger, is that cheating?” “If I’m having naked chats on omega with a friend, is that cheating?” “If I’m role playing sex on Second Life, is that cheating?” “If I’m masturbating to internet porn, is that cheating?”

To my mind, there are too many possible scenarios to create special case rules for each one. So I’ve got one general rule of thumb:

If I feel as though I need to hide some behavior from a sex partner, that’s cheating.

Of course, this means that deciding if something counts as cheating will vary hugely from relationship to relationship. There are some relationships where simply looking at a hot person sashaying down the street would count as cheating. And there are other relationships where you could have unprotected sex with a total stranger and that wouldn’t be consider cheating. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where either of those extremes applied, but you get the idea.

The criteria I’m aiming towards is honesty. I think everyone deserves to know what risks they are accepting and embracing when they enter into a relationship. No one deserves to be blindsided by an unexpected STD, or a jealous, vindictive “other man/woman”. I firmly believe a relationship should be a thing of trust, safety and security.

What this all leads to is a need for open discussion, at multiple stages of a relationship. Own your sexuality, be proud of it, don’t hide it. If your kink involves cross-country skyping with your ex-boyfriend from high school, more power to you. But don’t hide it from your partner and then feign surprise at their hurt, and don’t try to claim, “Of course this doesn’t count as cheating!” You wouldn’t have felt the need to hide it if you didn’t know it was cheating.

10. July 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: theory · Tags:

It took me a while to find the words for it, but I’m a sex geek.

Some people are baseball geeks. They can recite the batting order for their favorite team, rattle off statistics, and are there on opening day of the pre-season.

Some people are computer geeks. They read assembly code, contribute to open source projects, and install linux distros for fun.

I’m a sex geek. I like reading papers about the anatomy of sex, including videos of MRI scans of people having sex. I know the difference between the Kinsey Scale and the Klein Grid. I enjoy arguing about the usage of the terms “gender” and “sex”. I like watching sex, I like writing about sex, I like having sex. As with pizza, I believe even bad sex is pretty good.

As hobbies go, sex doesn’t suck. *snort* Done properly, sex isn’t illegal, immoral, or fattening. It can be done indoors or out. Sex is an option regardless of the weather. It doesn’t necessarily require special equipment or tools. Sex is just plain, good fun!

I’m starting this blog to write about sex. Sometimes I’ll be sharing news and information about sex that I’ve found interesting. Sometimes I’ll be sharing sexy, salacious links that have caught my eye. And mostly I’ll be writing about my own experiences with sex. I hope you enjoy it!

And as if it needed to be said… this blog is Not Safe For Work!