Open Marriage

To write this book, I reviewed journal entries as far back as I could retrieve them. I was shocked to have one remind me of something I’d forgotten: there used to be another way I got turned on, besides fantasizing being forced: relationships with men who turned me on — a group that did not include Jesse.

This is hard to write, because I don’t remember how I felt then. How could I forget? For one thing, I don’t feel that way anymore (probably both from lack of opportunity and from ebbing of testosterone.) But in addition, it suddenly seems clear that some part of me doesn’t want to remember. It is painful, remembering. It brings up the unresolved problems of how to be turned on by other men and maintain a good relationship with Jesse.

When I married Jesse, I wasn’t physically attracted to him or in love with him. He was a friend I wanted to be with. In many ways this has turned out to be the foundation of a satisfying marriage. But by marrying for an unpopular kind of love, I felt pressed by the culture to wonder whether I’d sold myself out. What was I missing?

Jesse and I were virgins when we got engaged, although I’d done a lot more than he, of what was then called “petting” — sexplay that didn’t include intercourse. Then “going all the way” with Jesse was exciting and fun, but not the earth-shattering satisfaction I’d thought it was supposed to be. After several years, I found myself troubled by attraction to other men.

Moreover I felt traditional marriage was a form of slavery for a woman. It outraged something deep in me. Likewise, I didn’t feel any ownership of Jesse, any possessiveness. That has never felt untrue to myself, but in fact true to a deeper honesty, a deeper comittment.

We decided to try an Open Marriage. We would have relationships with other people, being honest and considerate with each other about them.

I began experimenting with other relationships, exploring my sexuality. I read “The Myth of Vaginal Orgasm,”[1] and books about current research on female sexuality, and thought about my experience of sex.

A few things seemed clear to me about the experience called orgasm. It required a certain kind of excitement. And I’d never had it happen to me during intercourse. Although I didn’t need to have it every time I made love, I felt a lot happier and physically alive if I had one every so often.

In sex with Jesse it didn’t happen very often, and I wanted it more. The main problem seemed to be feeling the required excitement. I just didn’t feel turned on. So my affairs with other men were a process of exploring what turned me on.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this system was that I could get turned on and satisfied with other men, and then keep riding that energy to play with Jesse. Reminiscing didn’t get me off; I had to bring the energy straight home from an encounter with another man… or better yet, bring him home to play with me and Jesse, who enjoyed these occasions.

This became my main method of achieving orgasm: the high I got from being with other men.

It was certainly less disturbing than fantasies of being forced.

The attention these men focused on me said they delighted in me, in being with me, in playing with me. They were interested in me, they listened to me, they danced with me, they talked to me of myth and magic and all the important things I couldn’t share with Jesse. I was discovering parts of myself I had neglected, parts connected to my sexuality. I felt excited, just being with them.

I threw myself into these relationships adventurously, passionately. Sometimes Jesse and I and the other man managed to create a group relationship. Other times Jesse felt ignored and rejected. He wanted me to be gentler with his feelings, more considerate. But often I was too distracted, unable to pay attention to him. I felt I had to learn how to do romantic love properly, in a way that worked, that didn’t just self-destruct. I felt it was essential for my own sexuality; I was driven.

Eventually the depth of Jesse ’s distress got through to me. I felt it as blame, and it bewildered me. Couldn’t he have empathy for how critical to me it was to find out how to do sex authentically? There were certainly times he enjoyed my newfound sexuality. But I couldn’t figure out how to nurture our relationship and my own healing at the same time.

Finally, in frustration, I got more cautious about getting involved with other men. At the same time, other life events claimed my attention, and I didn’t have energy for adventures.

[1] Koedt,”Myth of Vaginal Orgasm” in Notes from the Second Year, (New York: New York Radical Women, 1970) here republished from Chicago, Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory Project Archive, 2022.