I remember the first time it happened. My adventurous lover started talking dirty and somehow this spilled into a “scene.” He was my teacher. I was his student — his failing student, desperately in need of a passing grade and willing to do almost anything to get that A.
I became wildly turned on. My lover had always been great at playing my erogenous zones — but the added mental element of a forbidden scenario rocked me in a surprising and powerful way. My orgasm came fast and hard.
In the next few weeks, we acted out fantasies that I’d masturbated over for years. I was thrilled yet also felt like a sexual schizophrenic: This was too good not to be wrong. I imagined the knock at my front door, Gloria Steinem flanked by her feminist cohorts, demanding to see my lifetime feminist membership card. I imagined Gloria’s sneer as she tore my card in half, indicting me for my politically incorrect sex play. But then I wondered — how could something that so enlivened me really be that wrong?
Many sex-positive feminists are coming to the fore to address the issue of eroticism and long-term relationships — can the two be, for lack of a better word, bedfellows? Can raucous sex play with your partner continue after the honeymoon period? After having children? After your 10th or 20th anniversary? Should it?
When we scrutinize the estimate that infidelity occurs in 30 to 60 percent of all marriages, we have to consider that myriad motivations might be to blame. It might be a need to escape the monotony of domestic life, to have a fresh sexual experience with someone who won’t ask you whether you fixed the toilet or when you should start worrying about preschool interviews. Adding a secret sexual partner on the side might be exciting for a time, but it does nothing for the primary relationship — and instead can permanently sever trust and further damage bonds.
There is an undertow of thought in American married life that says eventually, you need to “settle down.” In my memoir, Wide Open, I write about how this attitude often contributes to a slow sexual decline: “Erotic energy is a precious elixir that risks evaporation in the onslaught of domestic life. Nobody supports your attempts at raucous, uninhibited passion. Everyone wants you to be at work, pounding out a 12- to 15-hour workday chock-full of responsibility, and to devote yourself to parenthood. It’s one uphill slog until you might be lucky enough to have your life cut short by cancer or heart disease. After which you’ll get a glowing eulogy about what a great sport you were.”
There is also a prevalent, destructive belief that “married sex” should be vanilla and politically correct. This is another likely reason infidelity rates are high. We're operating within a Puritanical framework, feeling lousy about ourselves and our partners, and then feel the need to go against the “rules” in secret, having sex outside of the marriage for some excitement and release.
But that isn't the only answer. You're missing a step in between. Role play.
Role-playing allows you and your partner, who is likely on the same path to sexual boredom, to try on different personas without engaging in an affair. One of my favorite “games” is to meet my husband at a bar — as strangers. One evening I dressed in a new outfit he’d never seen and actually put on a wig. I arrived at the bar first and was flattered when a few guys tried their best to buy me a drink and interest me in conversation, which I declined. A while later my husband arrived and sat at the barstool by my side. Within 10 minutes we were making out and requesting the bill. On the sidewalk, exhilarated, we giggled at the bewilderment of the two men at the bar who had struck out.
But what was more intriguing was the magnetic pull and liberation we both felt. Preening in front of the mirror while preparing for our date brought back a seduction ritual that should never be lost, even in long-term committed love. Watching my husband work hard to “pick me up” was deeply flattering. Getting to “meet my husband” again for the first time brought a freshness and thrill to our lovemaking that night.
According to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, people in the BDSM scene reported higher levels of well-being than people outside it. When tested on indicators of mental health they scored higher than the “vanilla” test group. They also had less anxiety and fear of rejection and felt more bonded with their partners. People into kinky sex might be psychologically healthier. Although you might not be into ropes and domination, the creativity and attention given to planning scenes and dates might be beneficial practices to adopt.
Role-playing works best when there’s forethought to your “games”. Bringing sensitivity and intelligence into your planning increases the trust and possibility of having safe, yet wildly erotically sex play.
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1. Attractions to other people are normal.
I know this sounds scary, but if we snuff out our attraction to others, eventually we will snuff out the eroticism in our primary relationship — and interactions will likely become dull. Is it possible to open the door to attractions to others people? Discuss fantasies and allow your carnal energy to fuel your connection to your partner.
2. Eroticism is important and needs to be nurtured.
Take some time to explore what are the turn-ons, triggers, and boundaries for you and your lover. Describe people, events, scenarios. The more you talk and plan before you actually get in bed, the better success of your scenes.
Your sexuality may be contrary to who you are out of bed — and that’s okay
Upstanding feminist husbands may want to spank their wives, and shy, quiet women might turn into lions — be open to the ridiculous and the startling. And when that happens...
3. Don’t laugh or judge each other.
Revealing sexual proclivities is often the ultimate in vulnerable revelations. A misplaced word or offhand quip can shut down the whole party. So have a “safe zone” where you get to talk and explore possible scenes without judgment.
4. Don’t discuss specific people.
Until you figure out each other’s comfort zones, maybe don’t mention the fact that you’ve always wanted to bed your wife’s sister or your husband’s business partner. This information can be incendiary and lead you away from feeling securely attached. Discuss types of people but not people you both know.
5. Have a safe word.
If a scene feels suddenly off, give yourself permission to stop and/or shift gears. Use a word or phrase that will signal to your partner where you are emotionally. Many people use the universal “red, yellow, and green” to mean full stop, slow down, and keep it coming, respectively! Come up with something that works for you.
6. Sex can be emotionally healing, if the environment is supportive.
Some people assume kinky fantasies are the result of childhood trauma. Perhaps we are all responding in some way to how our childhoods shaped us. Trauma survivors sometimes do reenact their past in an unconscious or self-destructive way. Unexamined trauma in role-playing could be an unhealthy expression.
But conscious explorations can elicit positive inner growth and may be one reason BDSM practitioners rate high in wellbeing and mental health. Conscious sex-play is transformative, given the proper preparations and support. Having the agency and control to “revisit” past abuse on your own terms, where you control how the scene progresses and ends can be cathartic.
7. Make time for a post-coital check-in.
Set aside time for after the scene is over to hold each other and talk openly about what felt good, scary, exciting, or uncomfortable. This closing ritual will build better scenes in the future and more intimate satisfying bonding. And, of course, have fun!
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You can e-mail Gracie X at GracieX.com.
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