It's totally fine with me if a woman or man or couple decides to pursue aliveness through multiple partners...
But I decided to live my fullest aliveness... and THEN decided Kurt and I would cultivate the "genius" of monogamy Warren Beatty was referring to in the quote above. We were in San Francisco, about to begin my training as a stroking practice teacher. Why had it never occurred to either of us that this training would possibly involve some direct experience of the actual clitoral stroking practice, live in the room? I don’t know.
Denial can be rich and deep at times! But yeah, it seems the stroking practice teacher training DOES involve teaching people how to do the stroking practice, and being supervised doing so. So yes, I did need to be in the room during a whole lot of clitoral stroking during this training.
We were faced with different options:
- I could just watch
- I could participate as a stroker, only: stroking women
- I could participate as a strokee, with only women stroking me (like, is that in some way LESS THREATENING to men than a man stroking their female partner? And why?!?)
- I could leave the room during those segments… Or Kurt could come to the training with me.
He could drop into this totally wacky thing that was totally not what he wanted to pursue with his life (helping other people with their pleasure, sexuality, and relationships), and support my training while drawing a clear line around our monogamy.
I’m not necessarily a total monogamist myself. I don’t think it’s morally superior.
I don’t necessarily believe we’re wired for it - or that all of us are, at any rate. I might’ve, with a different partner, walked down a different path from that choice point there in San Francisco.
But Kurt and I talked through the options. We weren’t coming from fear, or a shut-down place, like ‘nobody touches that p—— but me!’ but we were aware of the Pandora’s Box (dreadful pun perhaps intended) of possibilities we’d open within both of us and with other people if we stepped into the “we stroke with other people” arena.
The people who trained us claim “this practice is NOT sex…” but c’mon!
All the research about orgasm and bonding points to this truth: we fall in love with those who induce orgasm in us. At least a little. And yeah, we can love more people than one. We can navigate multiple sex partners or multiple love relationships. Humans have that capacity. And it can be argued - and is, by some of my friends and colleagues in the sexuality-wisdom arena - that we miss out on something by cloistering our bodies and our hearts inside a monogamous relationship.
But what do we miss out on by NOT?
Kurt and I had been, for a dozen years, discovering the growth that’s possible when you stay with what you desire in love, but simultaneously turn toward your partner and hold empathy for them, even as you’re asking for something new. We’d been claiming the power of having a live-in growth partner and playmate who knows you so deeply, who’s known you so long and through so many iterations. We’d been enjoying the merits of being FAMILY to one another… and to one another’s families. And — on that day in San Francisco — had a little boy in the other room whose family we are. I don’t think it would be bad for a child to grow up with polygamous parents. But I know how much bandwidth mothering and ONE intimate relationship take for me.
If there was any chance of my getting my desires met within that (already quite complex) relatively-simpler construct, as his mother, I’d sure choose such simplicity over the spread-mama-thinner-than-ever adventure of navigating multiple relationships while raising him.
So that day, we drew a cloak around ourselves as a couple.
We said, “his will be the only finger that strokes this clit. Hers will be the only clit his finger strokes.”
And — simultaneously, like the sunrise of a multi-colored supernova, arose this realization:
If we do this: if we really GO FOR a turned-on life, if we really devote ourselves to practicing sensual, emotional, and physical intimacy, in ways we already have and in deeper ways… If we put orgasm at the center of our life and call on it, as we’ve already discovered we reliably can, to ground Michele, to bring us closer, to fill both of us with sensation and awareness… If we let that energy fuel everything else we do: parenting, home-making, community participation, careers, finances, friendships, family connection, philanthropy, activism…. And if we continue to do this as a monogamous couple, an otherwise middle-of-the-road “regular” family, we will be a very rare breed indeed.
The others in the training were single. Or in open relationships. Or divorced.
One guy was married with kids. He had already been stroking with people other than his wife. He didn’t finish the training. And his marriage has ended in the time since.
I do know other people who’re devoted to this practice and who only practice with their partners.
But I don’t know anyone else who is devoted to teaching COUPLES to use the power of orgasm to transform their relationships.
To me, the couples’ stroking practice, as I call the practice - and the distinctions around it that I teach - is not only a way of expanding our capacity for sensation, attention, and truth, but also a way to counteract the numbing, libido-crushing, and resentment-stoking nature of contemporary cohabitation.
Sharing household duties, being committed to staying together, being monogamous, and/or sharing a child: like gravity compressing our spines over the years, these forces - whichever of them are present in a relationship - are pushing down the aliveness and freshness between us. If we don’t deliberately counteract that pressure, sensual delight with your partner starts to sound like something for other people… or at best, a treat for a rare weekend away.
Kurt and I were inspired, that day in San Francisco, to take this work back to “our people” - people who aren’t going to be sexual revolutionaries or pioneers. To help couples who simply want to be close, to raise kids together, to feel fully alive, and to experience emotional and sexual connection that nourishes them both.
In addition to the moms and dads just like us, I work with same-sex couples. And lots of couples who don’t have kids yet, or whose kids are grown, or who aren’t having any. And plenty of people resonate with my approach who are not in a relationship right now or who know themselves to be non-monogamists by nature.
All that is beautiful to me. I love people who love love.
THAT is the filter I use, not whether you’re “married like me” in any particular way.
But I remember that day in San Francisco fondly, because it was the day I realized I could help rewrite what marriage means in the 21st century.
Women aren’t property any more, passed from father to husband. There’s no survival imperative for only being with one partner. We don’t have to stay together for life to survive or to preserve the fabric of our tribe. Many people hold religious beliefs that tell them they must be married before they have sex… But I see many of them get married young and quickly SO they can have “sanctioned” sex and there are plenty of “Christian” infidelities and divorces as well.
In my clients I see and in myself I feel a still-strong cultural pressure - especially for women - to be in a relationship. We’re so “happy for you” when anyone “finds someone,” as if it were predictive of their happiness.
On the contrary, while society tends to hold divorce as a failure, I loved what Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed said recently on the Dear Sugar podcast: Isn’t it quite a failure, too, when a marriage stays legally intact but the partners stay together by just resigning themselves to lukewarm love… or worse?
Let’s stay together: if it’s our delight to grow and learn together, to know and be known, in the ways we can only do over years and decades of connection and collaboration. Orlet’s change the agreement if we’re no longer willing to do our learning, growing, and knowing inside it.
Let’s be monogamous: if it’s nourishing to our sensual selves (and therefore every other aspect of us) to turn toward one partner with all our desires, even those aroused by others. Or let’s not, if not.
Let’s “settle down”: let’s make homes and have babies… if those things are true desires and not just what we think is expected, or an expression of having neglected to imagine the life we’d really like to create. Or - for the love of Earth - let’s not bring anybody new to the planet unless that’s REALLY want we want. And just because we have kids, let’s not necessarily “settle down” and move to the suburbs and fill our closets with high-waisted jeans! Let’s travel with ‘em! And without ‘em! Keep their teeth clean and their faces grubby! Show them how wild we “once” were… and still are!
Now that we’re more free to do so, in so many ways… Let’s love who we choose to love, and in the way we choose to love them.
And let’s find how much passion, aliveness, truth, and freshness we can bring, today, to the relationship we’re in right now, even if that’s simply a relationship with ourselves.