At a soiree recently, a man I'd just met offered me the opportunity to join him and his wife for a threesome. Having been introduced to him as a sex columnist, the reaction didn't surprise me, though its direct, no-frills approach certainly did him no favors had I been remotely inclined.
“It would be great for research,” he told me jovially.
“Yes, writing about sex is my job, but do I ask web developers I've just met to look over my website?” I asked.
“Oh, but that's not the same thing,” he said laughing. “Sex is enjoyable. You're a sex columnist, you're supposed to enjoy it.”
“I do enjoy it,” I responded. “And a lot of that enjoyment comes from selecting my partners carefully and treating it as a dance and not a haphazard high school science experiment. In any event, I'm in an exclusive relationship.”
The laughter stopped. The man looked at me as I should have probably looked at him when he asked me to have a threesome with him and his wife as a means of introduction.
“You're in an exclusive relationship?” he asked, horrified. “But what about your column?”
“What about my column –- which you've never read?” I replied.
“How do you keep it fresh if you're only with one person?”
The irony is that more people would benefit from a column that addressed keeping things fresh with only one person than one that chronicled the trials and tribulations of playing a perpetual game of musical beds. But for some reason, sex columnists are expected to fit that stereotype. If you're not bedding a handful of people every month, you're seen as having less experience. Never mind that sex columnists are also people who have a right to find someone compatible with whom to share their lives.
It happened to my friend Michael. He was a brilliant relationships columnist until he got engaged. Suddenly, the pressure was on. What are you if not your dating foibles? The question plagued him, half fueled by readers and half fueled by his own doubts, until he called it quits for good. Writing about fucking someone you meet at a Shanghai hotel bar and take upstairs for one night before going back to your home city without exchanging more than a first name is seen as sexier than, say, coming home from work and seeing the woman you've decided to spend your life with.
Why is that? And why, if we hold such views, do we wonder why so many of us are terrified to commit or more than willing to step out for a night, or two, or ten when we finally do?
I've been a single and I've been a mistress and I've been a cheater. And I'll tell you something: It's really nice to have something to call, with certainty, mine. But in order to get here, I had to cut through the fear and the pressure. It wasn't easy. The pressure wouldn't have affected me if I hadn't believed that settling down would kill my career. But for some reason, I did. I didn't write for months, and when I did, it was the same garbled explosion of fear.
The keys failed me every time I opened a document, but the words when I spoke with Rodrigo, didn't. Also, I'd continued to write in a blog I'd made last year to document my little love notes. On that blog, designed to satisfy no one, I was still writing. Most surprising, people had started reading it -– and quoting it.
The relationship between writer and audience is complex, and as repressive and adversarial as it can be at times, the truth is that it's a fuel first and foremost. And when I saw people were reading my little love notes, and when I realized that I, too, was seeking out others with experiences to which I could relate, the writer's block disappeared.
Sex is only a part of the equation. Love is a part of the equation, too. And so is the relationship. Real life doesn't have happily ever afters. Someone has to write about what happens after the wedding. After the children. After the children leave. What happens to the relationship then? Sex doesn't stop in a healthy relationship.
Pair-bonding isn't a myth. Sex columnists are tasked with addressing that as much as they are with addressing the journey of bed-hopping. Open relationships and polyamory are relevant in-between niches in this spectrum, but let us not ignore the vanilla.
Vanilla –- is that a misnomer? It's one of the most complex flavors the human palate could experience and the second most expensive spice due to the intensive labor required to grow their pods. I can't think of a better way to describe a long-term, monogamous relationship: complex and labor-intensive. Yes -- and delicious.
So I looked at the man asking me how I kept things fresh with only one person and responded, “You'll have to read my column to find out.”
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo.
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