Four Post-Pandemic Fears

Very slowly but surely, we’re starting to emerge from the pandemic. At time of writing, over 30 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is amazing news and all the credit goes to the scientists who developed the vaccines and the amazing healthcare professionals who have been delivering it.

But now that “when all this is over” is starting to look like a real possibility rather than a distant dream, I find myself feeling… scared. Excited, yes. Hopeful, definitely. Relieved in the extreme. But, yes, also scared.

I wanted to share four of my big post-pandemic fears. If you share any of them, or have your own that I haven’t included here, know that you’re not alone. It’s easy to feel as though, among the unbridalled joy at the idea of getting our freedom back, you’re the only one feeling apprehensive. I promise you’re not.

So here’s what I’m afraid of.

Getting COVID

Yes, I’m still going to be nervous about getting COVID (or, worse, passing it to someone more vulnerable.) We know that the vaccines are highly effective but do not provide 100% immunity. Therefore it is still at least theoretically possible to contract the virus.

I know it’s unlikely and that this is largely irrational. The huge drop in infection rates has already proven that the vaccines work. But yeah, I’m still going to be afraid of contracting the virus for a while.

Not Knowing How to People Any More

Lengthy social isolation takes a toll, and it is going to take some time for us to relearn how to be around one another in physical space again. I find myself wondering if I’ll remember how to socialise in a way that doesn’t happen through a screen. If I’ll still know how to chat, how to read body-language, how to flirt.

I’ve got pretty good at being insular over the last year. I think many of us have had to, in order to get through this without losing our minds. But how hard is it going to be to unlearn that again, to become the social butterfly I used to be? I fear it might be very hard.

Touch Remaining Taboo

I’m a tactile person. I like to hug, snuggle, kiss, and share easy physical affection with my loved ones. I’m afraid that casual touch is going to remain taboo in the post-COVID world.

Will I be able to throw my arms around friends when I see them again? Will I be able to dance with strangers, kiss people I’ve just met, hold hands or cuddle casually? Are we ever going to get back to the point where “may I hug you?” is a simple request for consent, not something with potentially life-and-death consequences to consider.

I think it’s going to be some time before we stop flinching at the idea of a person not in our “bubble” getting too close. I just hope we can collectively move past it with time.

My Communities Being Scapegoated

I’m furious at the people who have held large kink events and swing gatherings during COVID. The recklessness, selfishness, and sheer stupidity takes my breath away.

But I’m also afraid that once the restrictions are over, non-monogamous communities are going to become scapegoats when surges in infections inevitably pop up again.

If people go to a regular nightclub, a gig, or the theatre and get infected, that’s unfortunate but ultimately no-one will be scandalised. If someone goes to a swing club or sex party and spreads the virus, though? That’s a fucking Daily Mail headline waiting to happen. Every attendee and community organiser will probably have this reality sitting in the backs of their minds for at least the next couple of years.

What are you afraid of when it comes to life after the pandemic? There are no easy answers to any of this, but at least we can be there for one another and remind ourselves that we are not alone.

[Guest Post] 5 Questions to Ask Before You Open Your Marriage by Minda Lane

I’m thrilled to have another new-to-C&K writer for you today! Minda Lane (she/her) is telling us about what she learned when she first explored consensual non monogamy, and 5 questions you should consider asking yourself before you open your marriage. I found Minda’s story profoundly relatable. I hope it resonates with you, too – whether you’re polyam, monogamous, or somewhere in the middle.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Open Your Marriage by Minda Lane

The prospect of opening a monogamous marriage is, for many people, titillating. If you’re like I was, the potential is so thrilling you might not be thinking with your—ahem—brain. 

Before my husband, Jack, and I opened up, I thought about it privately for months. Marriage and family life had begun to feel too predictable. I started to feel desperate for a break from the routine, from the known. I wanted to feel young and vibrant like I once had, before I started storing Kleenexes in my shirtsleeves and worrying about things like health savings accounts and whether my kid was having too much screen time. 

When I brought up opening our marriage, the conversation went better than I hoped. We quickly ordered every related book we could find: Dating in Captivity by Esther Perel, The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton, and various others. But the information was too hypothetical. I needed to dip my toe in the pool before I could relate to what I was reading. 

We decided to go for it. Never mind wading in—sexting, playing with others nearby, or a soft swap (where no penetrative sex occurs.) Jack and I did a cannonball, dating independently, with condom use as our only hard and fast requirement. 

I’ll summarize our experience for you: it didn’t go well.    

To save you the trouble we went through, I’ve prepared a list of questions to consider before you try to open your marriage.

Do you still want to be with your partner?

Plenty of people have an affair because they lack the self-awareness, skill, or courage to tell their partner that they want out of the relationship. There are also plenty of people that seek to have an open relationship for the same reasons. 

You might think you’re sparing their feelings by avoiding the truth, or maybe you want to open your marriage to preserve your options because you’re not sure. Whatever your motives, it’s best to be forthcoming. Tell your partner how you’re feeling. Set them free. You’ll save time, spare yourselves a lot of drama, and maybe even preserve your friendship.

Are you and your partner mutually interested in opening?

It’s not uncommon for couples to disagree about opening up, or about the what’s “allowed” under their new agreements. Perhaps one partner wants to be able to have sex with other people but the other is only comfortable with light flirting or trading photos.

In this instance there are four potential outcomes, and two of them will be determined by the partner that wants more: they can either give up on their desire, or cheat. Or you can break up.

The only way forward together is to continue to talk and work at it. Reading and discussing the material or working with a therapist who is experienced with consensually nonmonogamous relationships are useful ways to ensure the conversation stays positive and productive. If there isn’t full agreement around the new arrangement, trying to open your marriage is going to cause a lot more problems than it can fix.

Have you done your own personal work? 

I had no idea until I started dating again that I had an insecure anxious attachment style, which I learned about in the book Attached, by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A. Insecure anxious attachment is characterized by preoccupation with a love interest, insecurity, need for reassurance, and sometimes consuming worry.

You can imagine the problems that ensue from this dynamic, which I repeated over and over until I finally figured it out. If I’d had this awareness earlier, not to mention processing early childhood trauma to a greater extent, I would have saved myself and Jack a lot of heartache. 

Do you and your partner communicate well?

I always thought Jack and I had great communication. I talked a lot and he listened. What I didn’t realize is that he had a more passive style. His cues were more subtle. Instead of telling me outright something hurt his feelings, he showed it in a facial expression, or by withdrawing.

The first time I hit it off with a lover, I didn’t want to acknowledge that I sensed Jack was struggling with it, because it would have meant slowing down, and I didn’t want to spoil my fun. He did his best to endure the hard feelings and give me space, but it was costly to us both. We couldn’t address the issues that remained unnamed.  

What I know now is: unless you are willing to tell the compassionate truth and give grace to your partner as they share their desires and experience, it will be very difficult to proceed with the kind of transparency needed to prevent issues from cropping up later. 

Practice saying the hard truths before you open your marriage for real (I want you to touch me this way, sometimes I fantasize about so and so, I am afraid that…) and make space for one another’s experience. Consensual nonmonogamy has great potential to nourish your primary or anchor relationship and learning to communicate with more empathy and clarity is one way it can do that. 

Are you in it for the long haul?

Relationships, like people, change over time. New lovers or partners will likely come and go, and when they do, it can cause ripples in the original partnership. But it would be a mistake to reorient your existing relationship for an affair that may fizzle inside of three months. I learned this the hard way—Jack and I had considerable struggles over a connection I shared with a lover. When that relationship ended I was left with a sinking feeling of “what for?”

Ideally, when the inevitable waves of New Relationship Energy, fear, and envy come, you can ride the waves together, knowing that difficult emotions can exist without requiring action. Jealousy, frustration, sadness, grief… consensual nonmonogamy is likely to trigger a host of feelings between you. In those times you have to lean into the love, tenderness, humor, passion, and friendship that drew you together in the first place. Honor one another, be true to yourself, and remember that lust is fickle, but love is enduring.

About the author

Minda Lane is a freelance writer based in Seattle who has recently completed a memoir relating her experience of nonmonogamy. Follow her on Instagram @monogamishbook or @mynameisminda.

If you enjoyed this piece, supporting the blog via the Tip Jar helps me keep bringing in awesome guest writers to share their wisdom with you all!

Can Masturbation Ever Be Cheating?

Short answer: no.

I’ve heard/read this question dozens if not hundreds of times in the years I’ve been writing about sex. People are desperate to know, it seems, if masturbating while you’re in a relationship can ever be classed as cheating.

In order for me to rip this notion apart, let’s examine what “cheating” is. To many people, it is probably broadly defined as “doing sexual or romantic things with someone who isn’t your partner.” That’s sort of fine, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Lots of us do sexual and/or romantic things with people other than our primary partners all the time, but with their knowledge and consent. That’s kinda what consensual non-monogamy is! And yet it is still possible to cheat in an open or polyamorous relationship.

I propose the working definition that cheating is willfully and knowingly breaking the rules of your relationship in order to engage sexually or romatically with another person without your partner’s knowledge and/or consent.

“Yourself” does not count as “another person.”

You cannot cheat on your partner with yourself. You simply cannot. Doing anything with your own body, and only your own body, is a universe away from doing something with another person behind your partner’s back.

In my view, saying that touching your own body sexually is cheating makes about as much sense as saying that going to a coffee shop or restaurant by yourself counts as cheating.

You cannot cheat on your partner with yourself!

But it’s even more fundamental than that. Your body is yours.

You have an absolute, inalienable and irrefutable right to your own body. It belongs to you, and nobody else. Always.

Look, even if you think you’re the most absolute subby sub who ever subbed and you’ve given complete control over your body to your Dominant… you can still take that back at any time. You get to say “nope” (or “red” or “canary” or whatever means no according to your agreements) and have everything stop. Period, the end, done.

You have the right to do what you like with your own body. And that includes to engage in a sexual relationship with yourself.

You may have mutual agreements with your partner around sexual activity with others outside your relationship, and you should absolutely stick to those (or if you can’t, renegotiate the rules or end the relationship.) But your partner does not own your sexuality. They do not have a right to have any and all of your sexual activity and feelings directed at them exclusively forever more. (Nor is this realistic. Show me a sexual person in a relationship who has never had even a fleeting sexual thought about someone other than their partner, and I’ll show you a liar.)

What if my partner is masturbating all the time instead of having sex with me?

If you’re dissatisfied with the sexual relationship you have with your partner, that’s a conversation the two of you need to have.

“We’re not having as much sex as I would like, can we talk about that?” is a really valid thing to raise. Being able to talk frankly about sex is important to a strong and healthy relationship. And in a good relationship, your partner will be willing to have the conversation and work to solve the problem so that you’re both happy and satisfied. But “forbid masturbation” isn’t the answer. This is just likely to lead to resentment, hurt feelings, and sneaking around and dishonesty.

So no. Masturbation is not and cannot ever be cheating.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit. Also, trying to control what you do with your own body is a red flag for abuse.

Wank away guilt-free. And walk away from anyone who thinks that being in a relationship means they can take away your bodily autonomy.

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Masturbation Monday: “Small Hands”

Content warning: this story contains fisting

This is not the first time I’ve fucked my husband’s girlfriend. She and I aren’t dating, and mostly their relationship is separate – but the three of us tumble into bed together from time to time, when the urge strikes us.

Whenever I hold hands with someone new, they notice how small my hands are compared to theirs. Usually at this point I crack a joke about fisting, just to assess if they’re enough of a pervert to be worth dating. But until now, no-one has taken me up on the idea. Until last week, when my husband approached me with an idea for our next polycule date night.

“Anna wants to try being fisted, but she’s scared to let me do it because my hands are too big. So I came up with a creative solution. You’re going to do it for me. I’m going to use you and your small hands to fuck her.”

I gave this idea a second to sink in, and then felt a wide smile spread across my face. It was just the kind of deliciously filthy idea Scott is always coming up with. I gave my enthusiastic approval to this idea, and he went off to sound Anna out about it.

So that’s how I find myself kneeling between Anna’s long, spread legs now, watching her writhe as my husband holds the Magic Wand against her cunt, warming her up. He bends to kiss her lips, murmuring that she’s a good girl, asking her if she’s ready to take my hand inside of her. She nods so emphatically I can’t help but giggle.

The wand is switched off and laid to one side. Scott positions himself at Anna’s side, holding her hand. It’s only as I reach for the supplies – latex gloves, lube – that we stashed nearby before playtime started that I realise I’m actually nervous. Giving someone their first taste of a new experience is a big responsibility.

I take a breath and make a show of confidence as I slip a latex glove over my hand and cover my index and middle finger in lube. I slide my slick fingers over Anna’s vulva, the lube mixing with her own wetness. When I push those two fingers into her, she moans and arches her hips off the bed to meet them. Even through the glove, I can feel her warmth. I press my fingers against her G-spot, which is swollen, and stroke it.

Encouraged by her reactions, a third finger joins the two already inside her. I glance at Scott for approval. The look on his face, as he watches his wife fingering his girlfriend, is pure lust tinged with awe. I return my attention to Anna’s cunt, slowly sliding my three fingers in and out of her, warming her up and stretching her open. When I experimentally try adding a fourth finger, she welcomes it eagerly. I hold my hand still, allowing her to accustom to the sensation. She bucks against my hand, using my fingers to fuck herself.

“Are you ready for more?” I ask her. She nods, eyes closed, a blissful smile on her face. I curl my thumb under, remembering the instructions in the “how to” video I dutifully watched in preparation for tonight, and add another slather of lube to my hand before pushing very slowly back into her. To the first knuckle, then the second. Her cunt seems to be trying to swallow my hand whole.

“Breathe,” I instruct her. “We’re at the widest part of my hand now. I won’t go any further until you tell me you’re ready.” I watch her chest rise and fall as she takes one, two, three deep breaths.

“Okay,” she says, “go on.” I take her free hand with mine, hoping she can feel the love and affection that I’m radiating towards her. She takes another breath and as she exhales, the widest part of my hand

“One more little push and my whole hand will be in,” I tell her. “Do you want to take it for me?” Her nod is emphatic. I mentally thank the universe for my small hands.

Another slick of lube and another gentle push, and my entire hand is inside her up to the wrist. The sound that comes from her is somewhere between a moan and a growl. I experiment with gently moving my fingers inside her, and then slowly turning my wrist 180 degrees, feeling her vaginal walls enveloping my hand.

I meet Scott’s gaze, and my eyes flick to the Magic Wand and then back to him. He grins, understanding my meaning, and grabs the toy. He turns it to full power and presses it into Anna’s vulva. The way she squirms, the sounds coming from her, make me so fucking wet that I can feel myself soaking my knickers.

“I’m really close…” Anna gasps, her cunt clenching around my hand.

“Come for us, darling,” Scott tells her. I feel her gush, fluid leaking around my hand and pooling on the bed beneath her arse. A flush creeps across her skin and her breathing slowly returns to normal.

“That was… fucking incredible,” she gasps.

It’s only when I withdraw my hand and peel off the glove that I realise I’m still wearing my wedding ring. I smirk to myself. Fisting my husband’s girlfriend on his instructions might be one of the hottest and filthiest things I’ve ever done.

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WWAD? (What Would Amy Do?)

I’ll be honest with you, dear readers. I’m having a really hard time with a lot of things right now. This is for a variety of reasons, not least that my body image is at its lowest level ever (even lower than when I wrote this,) my day job is…. challenging, and I’m currently working through intense childhood trauma as well as the abuse from my ex with my therapist. Basically, I don’t like the person I am at the moment. I’m a sluggish, grumpy, emotionally unavailable shell of myself.

And one of the things I’m finding particularly hard right now is polyamory. Jealousy is biting me hard. Compersion has fucked off somewhere and ghosted me. And I’m forgetting everything I supposedly know about how to handle this shit.

I don’t want to be like this.

In my “real” life (air quotes because this world feels more real to me than my day-to-day life), I have a different persona. Another person I have to be. Let’s call her… Sarah. Sarah is significantly less cool than Amy. She works in an office instead of writing about her vagina on the internet, she wears comfy sweaters and jeans instead of corsets and lingerie, and she plays the role of a straight, monogamous “good girl” in a play called “Small Conservative Town And Judgemental Job”. She’s the person I was for most of the twenty six years of life before I started this blog, found “Amy,” and learned how to be the person I always wanted to be.

Sarah is also many of the traumatised, fucked up, broken pieces of me.

Something that frustrates me is how often I forget how to do the things that I advise other people on all the time. I know how to handle a jealousy flare-up. I know how to own my own shit. And I know how to talk to my partner about a problem without it escalating into a fight. People come to me for advice on this stuff. I run classes on it. And write a fucking column on it! I. Know. This. Shit.

Or at least Amy does.

But Sarah finds it so very hard to tap into this knowledge when I am neck deep in brutal insecurities, non-existent self-esteem and the sense that all I want is for these feelings to STOP.

Sometimes, when I’m struggling with a situation and so deep in panic that I don’t know what to do, I try to ask myself a question: What Would Amy Do? That is, I try to step outside of the immediacy and the pain of the situation, and think: if a reader came to me with this question, what would I tell her to do? What would my advice be? Usually, when I look at it like that, the way forward is much clearer (if still equally difficult to enact in practice.)

So what would Amy do? She’d probably start by apologising to her partner for being an insufferable shit and get her ass back to therapy.

Hey, maybe buy me a coffee to help me keep paying for books and vibrators therapy.

[Guest Blog] The Thirst of “Femmes d’un Certain Age” by Evelyn Archer

When I started out on this quest to publish a select few guest bloggers on my site (and pay them for it, of course!) part of my mission was to share the stories I cannot tell. The experiences I have not had. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited by this piece by Evelyn Archer. Here, we’re talking Sex After 40! I’m in my late 20s. The myths about sex stopping is one of the things I’m very afraid of about growing older. But here, Evelyn tells us that not only can sex after 40 be amazing – it might just be the best ever. She’s also sharing some wisdom she’s learned along the way. Over to her…

Amy x

The Thirst of “Femmes d’un Certain Age” by Evelyn Archer

Some doctors call it “The Surge”. I call it “The Going Out of Business Sale”.

Here’s the truth: in my late 30s through mid-40s, I’d done without sex for a long time. In a long, otherwise happy marriage – between medication side effects, interpersonal issues and plain old fear – we’d been Not Having Sex for longer than I like to admit. I told myself that everyone gets to define these things for themselves (still true), but there was also another message that I was getting and internalizing without really realizing it. A woman over 40 with a sex drive is a joke. A grotesque joke. Either played for laughs or an object of scorn and pity – we’re Stifler’s Mom from American Pie, Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company (Google it, my sweet babies).

I had no model for what my sex life after 40 was “supposed” to look like. It was “supposed” to Go Away. In fact, cursory Googling revealed a stark, depressing story of “sexless marriages”, of couples living with resentment and disappointment, or at best as friendly roommates, co-owners in the Business of Our Life. A sexual life was something I used to have, someone I used to be, and it looked like I would have to find a way to live without it.

But through hard work in therapy and a bunch of other stuff we came together again.

And now we can’t stop boning each other. But as an essentially cishet (I mean, het-ish, but that’s another post) monogamous couple, in order to truly get back on track, we had to take our cues from outside the cishet community (which is unsurprisingly UNHELPFUL in terms of sex positive information). Instead we turned to queer folks and trans folks and polyamorous folks.

If my partner and I were struggling, for whatever reason, with penetrative P-in-V sex, why was this the “end of sex” for us? Would we say that what our queer friends, our trans pals did in bed wasn’t “really sex”? Of course not! That doesn’t even make sense! So why did it have to be that way for us? Once we stopped putting P-in-V sex at the center of our sex lives, once we stopped seeing “everything else” (oral and manual and toys and everything) as a “lead up to the main event” our entire sex lives transformed. All of a sudden, “fucking” was whatever we decided it was.

So we started fucking all the time.

We can’t seem to stop. He comes home early from work just for banging. We send dirty gifs to each other. We keep a Sex Toy Wish List on Lovehoney. And we haven’t seen our friends on a Saturday night in months because we’re so tired from banging all afternoon, all we can do is eat spaghetti and watch cartoons.

And it was from polyamorous folks writing about relationships and intimacy that we learned that we have to TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME. We have to find ways to talk about stuff we don’t want to talk about. How to sit in uncomfortable feelings like disappointment and jealousy, and still hold space for each other.

It never occurred to us to actually have a conversation about what we WANTED to do specifically, only what we DIDN’T want to do. From the BDSM community that we learned that we can just talk out whatever is “on the table” for fucky stuff and instead of all that talking “ruining the moment” (or whatever) it leads to a more fun and satisfying play-time.

The power of just listening

But let me be clear: all these terrific queer, trans, poly sex positive folks (bloggers, Twitterers, Instagram folks) are not giving this information to US. Their work is not necessarily FOR us, it’s for themselves and for each other. But by shutting up, and by watching and listening closely, I learned a new way to look at and talk about sex. As these folks process and manage their own sex positive liberation, it shows me a different way of inhabiting my own sexuality, shows me ways to question and ways to talk. It’s not one person in particular, but this chorus of voices, and quietly immersing myself in what they have to say has utterly changed my marriage, my relationship to sex, and the way I see myself.

But still, my high levels of desire seemed to be out of sync with public opinion and popular culture. There’s still the Google-able stuff about The End of Sex, but dig a little deeper and there’s something called “The Surge”. The way I understand it (and I am a writer not a doctor, so do your own research!) is that here at the End of my Childbearing Years my body knows that each egg it releases could be its last. So it releases a surge of hormones telling me “YOU BETTER BANG EVERYTHING BECAUSE THIS COULD BE YOUR LAST CHANCE”. But there’s SO little information on this (and most of it anecdotal) it reminds me of how monstrous our culture sees Femmes d’un Certain Age whose sex drives are still strong. We’re still a joke, still grotesque. Still Mrs. Roper, still Stifler’s mom.

Dawn Sera and Tristan Taoromino have talked about it on their podcasts a couple of times, but there’s little in popular culture for me to look to. Even looking for women over forty in romance novels came up thin, even thinner if you want something a little hotter than “sweet” and “tender”.

So…where ARE we?

WHY is no one talking about this? Why is the only talk of women and
middle age and desire about our thinning hair, our drying and atrophying vaginas, our hormone therapy, our inevitable march to a dry and sexless grave?

Well, I’m not having it. I’ve decided to embrace my monstrousness (if indeed that’s what it is). And I’m leaving you with some resources that really helped me. (These may Old News to you Sex Positive Veterans, but they were news to me).

Additional Resources:

  • Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price.
  • The Ultimate Guide to Sex After Fifty by Joan Price.
  • Tristan Taoromino’s podcast “Sex Out Loud” (available wherever fine podcasts are uploaded). She has more talk of kink and gender and queer politics so this was right up my alley.
  • Dawn Serra’s “Sex Gets Real” (available wherever fine podcasts are uploaded). She has a softer, more relationship-focused slant. There’s also lots of good stuff about the intersection of fat positivity and sex positivity. (Be prepared to hear the word “yummy” a lot.)
  • Oh Joy, Sex Toy is a web comic by husband and wife team Erika Moen and Matt Nolan. I went there just for sex toy reviews and what I got was SO much more. The illustrations are really sweet, with lots and lots of body diversity (which I don’t see everywhere).
  • Come As You Are: the Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life, by Emily Nagoski. The research here on how desire can work for some folks was a revelation to me. (Also Erika Moen does the illustrations!) Not so science-y that it’s dry, yet doesn’t read like a self-help manual. She is a scientist and a sex educator and this book is great.

Author photo of Evelyn ArcherEvelyn Archer is an author living in New England. You can find her books here and you can sign up for her super fun newsletter, “The Strange Files” here. She also writes erotic shorts as “Madeline Moon”. You can find them here, or here.

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I’m Suffocating in This Closet!

I’m going to break an unwritten rule – one that I set for myself when I started blogging. I’m going to talk about something that happened at my Day Job.

Now, I love a lot of things about my day job. I work with nice people at an organisation whose mission I care about. I am paid fairly and generally treated respectfully. But Day Job and this life, the life I live when I’m writing this blog, are separate. There is DayName, and there is Amy Norton, and never the two shall meet. I never even tweet as Amy while on work time, though my office is chill about reasonable personal phone and social media use. I am that careful.

At work I am quiet. I keep my head down and I don’t say much. I am friendly, of course, but in that enigmatic way where no-one really knows an awful lot about me. The superficial stuff, sure, but nothing real.

Today my co-worker said they’d watched the new Louis Theroux documentary about polyamory. (Though they called it “polygamy”.) My ears pricked up and I listened to the ensuing conversation, though added nothing to it myself except that it is forbidden to be legally married to more than one person in the vast majority of the world and therefore it was not really “polygamy” in the true sense. Sadly, the ensuing conversation was dripping with judgement. Words like “gross” and “freaky” abounded. Vomiting noises were made at the idea of group sex. I believe somebody even made a comment along the lines of “there’s something really wrong with you if you can’t be satisfied with one person.”

What I felt, in that moment, was shame. I felt that wave of doubt that comes from hearing that something is wrong with me. You’d think by now I would be good at batting away shaming comments about how I choose to love, but every one still hurts.

Of course, no-one knew they were talking about me. No-one knew that the quiet girl across the desk from them is going to see her secondary partner after work tonight, or that she had a threesome with her partner and an amazing woman they both adore at the weekend, or that the thought of the sex party she’s going to in a couple of weeks is getting her though as much as her incessant supply of coffee.

I guess what I’m saying is… be careful in your judgement. When you throw around blanket condemnation of something you do not understand, there might be someone across the desk from you who now feels a little less safe to be themselves, a little more sure they’ll never come out. If my self-protective closet had physical walls, they’d have grown an extra few inches thick today.

Would they have reacted differently if they’d known they were talking about the lifestyle of someone who sat four feet away? Am I actually causing more harm than good by choosing to stay in the closet? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. Would it humanise the concept if I’d said “hey, actually I’m polyam and it’s really not all that freaky! We go on ice-cream dates and have sex and do laundry and walk the dog and argue about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, just like you!“? Should I have put myself out there, taken the personal risk in the name of sex positivity and fighting the good fight? Maybe. But I didn’t. I felt shame, and I said nothing. I felt judged, and I did not feel able to defend myself because they didn’t know it was me they were judging.  And I felt like a failure to the cause for not speaking up. This is what the closet does to you.

Not being out is a choice I make to protect myself from (at best) intrusive questions and weird judgements, and (at worst) from ridicule, loss of professional respect and possibly risking my job. Today I burrowed a little deeper into my closet.

Did you enjoy this or do you just want to help me get through this week? Buy me a coffee! Oh, and please – no advice. Thank you. 

All the Things “You, Me, Her” Got Wrong About Polyamory

SPOILER ALERT! This post will contain spoilers for You, Me, Her seasons 1-3, so if you care and haven’t watched yet, click off this post now.

You may remember my ridiculous quest to recap every episode of this stupid show, which fizzled out somewhere in the middle of Season 1 because I ran out of time, energy and fucks to give? If not, go read them. It’s snarktastic, I promise you.

In case you haven’t seen it, You, Me, Her is an American comedy-drama series following suburban married couple Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) as they enter into a polyamorous triad relationship with 25-year-old college student and escort, Izzy (Priscilla Faia).

Instead of reviewing this mess one episode at a time, I thought I’d bring you all the things I think it got wrong about polyamory – so far – in one easy post.

1. Izzy would never date these two idiots.

Izzy is a beautiful, 25-year-old college student who is escorting her way through university for the money. When Jack hires her for a date and then Emma later (having found out) does the same thing, she inexplicably decides she’s super duper into both of them for some fucking reason. That would never happen. Any sex worker in Izzy’s place would do her job, take the damn money, and leave this pair to work out their shit in suburban hell by themselves.

2. It’s PORTLAND, not the Bible Belt.

This show is set in Portland, Oregon – a city famous for being super-duper liberal and where I know for a fact there’s a huge polyamorous community. Sure, there are some conservative people there (they’re everywhere, sadly) but the idea that being out as non-monogamous – or even bisexual – in fucking Portland would totally destroy Emma’s life is patently unrealistic. If they wanted that narrative to work, they should have set it in rural Alabama or something.

3. Being bisexual is apparently a worse crime than cheating.

There’s a scene in their therapist’s office where Jack shames the hell out of Emma for telling her bisexual origin story and having slept with women before they met. Seemingly forgetting he cheated on her with an escort about, ooh, a week before. (Also, Emma later declares that her bisexuality “wasn’t a thing,” despite having relationships with four – FOUR – women! That is definitely “a thing”.)

4. Partners are not commodities that you have to share out equally.

Jack and Emma agree that they each get “two nights with her… I mean you” per week. They then have a debate about who “gets” her first. This is gross beyond belief. She’s a human being, not a pie that you both want equal numbers of slices of. Ugh.

5. Dating someone new isn’t how you inject sexual spark back into your ailing marriage.

Jack and Emma’s idea is that they’ll each go on dates with Izzy, then come back fired up and ready to ravish the hell out of each other. That’s not how polyamory works. That’s not even how feelings or sex drives work! And it’s, once again, objectifying as all hell. They’re basically using her as a human sex toy. Also, Jack gets mad when Emma comes back from a date and isn’t up for fucking him right there and then. Your partner doesn’t owe you sex just because they just went on a date with someone else!

6. Jealousy IS inevitable. That doesn’t mean courting it is good for your relationship.

Jealousy is normal and fine, as long as you deal with it in a healthy way. Trying to make your partner jealous deliberately in order to… what, make them want you more? is a REALLY bad idea. And half the time seems to be these idiots’ entire game. Jack and Emma use Izzy to make each other jealous. Izzy uses Andy (who is a dick but seems really into her) to make Jack and Emma jealous.

7. Treating someone like crap then chasing them through an airport isn’t romantic!

Jack and Emma treat Izzy like total crap for the entire show. One romantic gesture (chasing her through an airport to “bring her home”) isn’t going to make up for that or for doing any of the actual hard, complicated, difficult work of making a relationship between three people work.

8. Polyamory isn’t just for rich white people!

Jack and Emma are the classic middle-aged, upper-middle-class, professional married pair I’d expect to see at a swingers’ club. Nothing wrong with that, except that the polyamorous community is actually hugely diverse. Trust me, we’re all bored as hell of seeing every representation of polyamory reduced down to “rich white people who don’t enjoy sex with their spouses any more”.

9. Even in polyamory you can’t expect someone to fall for two people in the same way, at the same rate, at the same time.

And that’s EXACTLY what Jack and Emma expect of Izzy. At one point, it becomes apparent that Izzy’s connection with Emma is growing stronger while her connection with Jack is developing at a slower pace, and Jack throws a hissy fit to the point of fucking off for several days. This is exactly the kind of expectation inexperienced unicorn hunters put on new partners, and it’s grossly unfair.

10. Sex doesn’t solve your problems. Communication does.

Whenever these three have a problem, they just fuck and it all goes away… until next time. Sex is great but it’s not how you fix your problems. Only actual, honest, open and respectful communication can do that.

11. You don’t have to live with all your partners!

Jack, Emma and Izzy move in together almost the moment they’ve decided to give a triad relationship a go. Not only is this the mother of all bad ideas, it’s just… not realistic. Just as most monogamous people wouldn’t give a new date the keys to their house before things were pretty stable and established, neither do polyamorous people. And regardless of relationship set-up, the “three people sharing a double bed every night” trope is… sweet but unrealistic. Trust me. I can only manage it even in my King bed for a night or two. You can still be polyamorous if you don’t want to live with all your partners, now or ever.

12. Extremely conservative, homophobic parents don’t come around in three seconds flat.

Emma’s parents go from hyper-conservative, openly-homophobic bigots who only care about her having babies, to being totally chill with the accidental dropping of the polyamory bomb in… yeah, less than five minutes of screen time? (Which equates to about an hour in plot-time). People can come around, of course. People question their assumptions when they are directly confronted with them by someone they love. But it usually takes more time than this. Sometimes much more.

13. And finally… NOT ALL POLYAMORY IS A FUCKING MFF TRIAD.

Are we all sick of this very specific picture being painted yet? Good, me too. Let’s move on to something more representative and less relentlessly cishet-male-gazey. Please.

So what’s next? This show has been renewed for seasons 4 and 5. I hate this about myself, but I already know I’ll watch them all. Maybe I’ll even live-tweet them.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please buy me a coffee!

Five Books That Changed My (Sex) Life

You will be unsurprised to know that, as a writer, books hold an extremely important place in my life. There are many things I am grateful to my mother for (she’s a pretty awesome lady) but one of the biggest is instilling a love of books in me when I was very young. Through the toughest points in my life, I’ve turned to reading for information, for comfort, for that priceless feeling of not being alone.

But this is, after all, a sex blog. So today I want to tell you a little about five of the books that profoundly impacted my sex life.

Come As You Are – Emily Nagoski

I read this one on a flight to Italy. Goddess knows what the people around us thought, when I kept reading out interesting snippets to Mr CK!

Nagoski’s message is, in brief, that we are all normal and we are all fine exactly as we are. She explores concepts such as spontaneous vs responsive desire, and the congruence gap between reported mental desire and genital response. (If you haven’t watched her recent TED talk on this very thing, please do so, it’s fucking brilliant).

Come As You Are taught me how to stop worrying so much about being “normal”. It taught me how to stop saying “I should feel X,” and start saying “I feel Y, and that’s okay”. And perhaps most important, it approaches these concepts through actual, hard science that cannot be argued with. It’s a warmfuzzy affirmation of your deepest desires wrapped up in a blanketof irrefutable evidence, and it’s perfection.

“Even if you don’t yet feel that way, you are already sexually whole and healthy. The science says so. I can prove it.”

Get your copy now.

The New Topping Book & The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy

Okay, I’ve cheated here because these are actually two books. But I kind of conceptualise them as two halves of one whole, so they’re getting a shared entry.

These were the first two books I ever read about BDSM, when I was barely nineteen and only just coming to the realisation that I wasn’t the only person in the world who got aroused from being spanked and verbally degraded.

As a new submissive, I devoured The Bottoming Book. I absorbed all its lessons on how to get horrible things done to me by wonderful people in a safe and respectful way. I credit it, in large part, with quelling the rising sub-frenzy and preventing me from spiraling too quickly down a path I was ill-equipped to handle. Even now, I throw it at new and young submissives frequently. I’ve lost count of how many people have borrowed my copy.

I’ve actually read The Topping Book twice. Firstly, from a purely academic perspective – as a submissive, I wanted to understand the Dominant perspective better. It fascinated me, but I didn’t feel any pull to do those things. Much later, when I started exploring my switchy side, I read it again with a more practical application in mind.

These books are, even all these years after their initial release, still the best 101 guides on the market, bar none.

“We bottom in order to go to places within ourselves and with our partners that we cannot get to without a top. To explore these spaces, we need someone to push us over the edge in the right ways, and to keep us safe while we’re out there flying.”

Get The New Topping Book.
Get The New Bottoming Book.

Trauma and Recovery – Dr Judith Herman

I debated long and hard about including this one. It is not actually a book about sex, kink or any of that good stuff. But actually, it had such a profound impact I couldn’t not include it.

I first approached this book, a dense academic text, at twenty-one and barely out of my first long term abusive relationship. I’ve since referred back to it countless times, especially over the last three years as I try to recover from the worst abusive dynamic of my life.

What this book taught me is that my response to the trauma I’ve suffered is normal. It reassured me that I’m *allowed* to struggle with PTSD even though I’m not a military veteran or childhood sexual abuse survivor. It spoke so profoundly to what was going on in my head, and in my life, that I was frequently reduced to sobbing reading it. I usually couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time. Through Dr Herman’s words, I learned that I could recover with time and the proper support… but that it was and is 100% okay to not be fully “there” yet.

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”

Get your copy.

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino

There are a lot of how-to books on polyamory on the market now. However, amidst all of them, Opening Up stands out to me as the most rational, sane, compassionate and balanced of them all.

What I love about this book, which I read when I was relearning how to do polyamory after escaping an abusive situation, was how many options Taormino presents the reader with. She doesn’t dictate, as so many how-to books do, that Relationship Anarchy and The Church Of No Rules is the only way to do things right. Instead, she treats relationships as a create-your-own-adventure story, and offers us a smorgasbord of possibilities to pick and choose from. Amidst all this, there are practical tips on time management, communication skills, jealousy busting, and more.

This book came into my life at the perfect time. What it taught me is that I do not have to live up to anyone else’s idea of The Perfect Poly Person, no matter how many books they’ve sold or how many events they’ve spoken at. Instead, all I need to do is collaborate with my partners to create something that works for us.

“Nonmonogamous folks are constantly engaged in their relationships: they negotiate and establish boundaries, respect them, test them, and, yes, even violate them. But the limits are not assumed or set by society; they are consciously chosen.”

Get it here.

The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Ah, virginity. Has there ever been a topic to provoke so much judgement and angst and stigma? A long time ago, the man who I first had PIV sex with (I don’t believe “losing one’s virginity” is a meaningful concept) made it clear that my value was in my “purity”. I was precious to him because no-one else had touched me, like an expensive work of art you keep behind a glass case lest anyone else get their dirty fingerprints on it. A while later, the second man I had PIV sex with berated me for not having “waited for him,” because – being the youngest woman he’d ever fucked – I represented the closest he’d ever come to “taking a girl’s virginity”. A right, he believed, that I had denied him by shagging someone else three years before I met him.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve dealt with a lot of shame around my level of sexual experience. I fuck a lot of people, and have a lot of casual sex, and 90% of the time I’m more experienced than my sexual partners regardless of their gender. This book showed me how the “cult of virginity” has been manufactured by the patriarchy in order to control women’s bodies, and by extension women’s lives. It showed me that virginity is a medically meaningless concept, and that the only value it has is that imbued by sex-negative, patriarchal, anti-woman culture.

Valenti’s book gave me the permission to go “yeah purity is a bullshit concept”. It helped me to fully embrace my sexual experiences, past and present, as part of the rich tapestry that make me who I am. As a feature, if you like, not a bug.

“The idea at play here is that of “morality.” When young women are taught about morality, there’s not often talk of compassion, kindness, courage, or integrity. There is, however, a lot of talk about hymens.”

Get it here.

What books had a profound impact on YOUR sex lives, friends?

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Ask Amy #6: “The Care and Feeding of Your Unicorn”

Whew, it’s been a while since I had an advice question from a lovely reader. This one, I must confess, has been sitting in my inbox for a while. Thanks to the person who sent it in, both for the excellent question and for waiting so patiently for an answer.

An artistic drawing of a sitting unicornNOTE: For those who don’t know, a “unicorn” is a person (usually a woman or AFAB person, though not always) who gets into some kind of relationship with an existing couple. So called because this type of person is almost as rare, precious and highly sought-after as the mythical horned horse. “Unicorn hunter” couples get a bad rep because so many of them approach this type of relationship from a fantasy-fulfillment perspective without due regard for the third person’s feelings, needs or, well, humanity.

Let’s dive in…

Hey Amy,

So my primary and I have suddenly and quite unexpectedly acquired a unicorn! We love them so much (we’ve been friends with them for years). So far we are all three having a delightful time. We are, as much as possible, using our polyamory skills to continue this state of affairs.

But I am nervous. Obviously being a unicorn is a terribly vulnerable position and so many unicorns end up really hurt. So: can you give me some tips from your own experience on making sure we keep our unicorn as gloriously happy and safe and secure as they deserve, while also making sure that we look after our own needs too? Because, my goodness, they deserve all that is good and wonderful.

Dear Nervous Unicorn Handler,

Okay, first of all, I LOVE this one. Not only because you say you are all having a wonderful time in your newfound triad, but because you are obviously as invested in your new partner’s happiness as you are in your own and your Primary’s. So, yay for you! You’re already way ahead of the curve here.

You’re also doing the right thing in realising that being a unicorn is a vulnerable position. Your unicorn has a certain level of advantage in that they’ve been your friend for a long time, but you and your Primary will still have tonnes of shared history, intimacy and knowledge that your unicorn has not been privy to.

I find myself wondering if you’ve talked to them explicitly about this? Even something as simple as “hey, we understand that being a unicorn can be a really vulnerable position, and we want you to know that we love and value you so much and are really invested in your happiness in this relationship. Please don’t be afraid to tell us what you need and let us know if something doesn’t work for you” can go a really long way. Then, obviously, follow through on that with actions such as listening actively, consulting them on things that affect them, and not getting upset with them for expressing needs or emotions.

Balancing multiple people’s needs is tricky in any relationship. It does, of course, become somewhat more difficult the more people are involved. However, there’s no reason you can’t keep all of you safe, secure and happy for a long time to come!

Communication, as ever, is key. It sounds like you’re well aware of that and all making efforts to communicate well. Keep doing that!

I also advise, in so far as it’s possible, each of you having one-on-one time with your third partner sometimes as well. Just as the two of you need alone time together in order for your relationship to flourish, your relationship with your unicorn and your partner’s relationship with them needs the same to a certain extent. But, of course, lots of lovely all-three time is also really important to schedule and prioritise.

Looking after your own needs is vital in any relationship. So, try to keep a good handle on where you’re at internally. Ask your partners to look out for themselves similarly. Have you considered a periodic check-in meeting for all three of you? This can be by Skype or phone if you live far apart, or around the kitchen table over coffee, or even snuggled up in bed together. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can just be, “how are we all doing? Anyone got any issues they want to raise?”  Then if anything comes up, you talk about it. If it doesn’t, you carry on doing the snuggling/coffee drinking/kinky fuckery. Obviously, you can react to things as they arise. But don’t underestimate how useful it is to have a designated time to check in with everyone and focus on your three-way relationship.

Beyond this, the things that spring to mind seem obvious and I’m sure you’re doing them/not doing them already:

  • Don’t try to control/limit who your unicorn can date. Having a secondary relationship with them while being in a primary relationship with your existing partner is A-okay, but don’t try to make them be exclusive to you or make it difficult/impossible for them to date others.
  • Discuss, with your Primary AND all three of you together, what will happen if someone feels jealous or left out. “We’ll close down the relationship and kick the unicorn out” is not a valid answer to this.
  • Keep your promises and honour your commitments. Emergencies happen, of course, and a degree of flexibility is important. But your partner should feel that the two of you are reliable and will do what you say you’ll do.
  • Related to the above, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
  • Never, ever, for the love of all that is sexy and good in the world, throw your unicorn in the middle when you and your Primary have a disagreement.
  • Try not to set rules on who is supposed to feel what for whom. This is a recipe for disaster because the heart doesn’t obey rules. Expecting your new partner to feel exactly the same way about each of you, for example, is unrealistic at best and straight-up coercive at worst.

I just want to finish by saying this seems like a really positive, healthy relationship. I’m not getting any of the red flags I so often see in a couple+unicorn situation. You’re doing everything write, Letter Writer, and I wish you all the best for a long, loving and wonderful relationship.

Again, please submit your questions to me for an anonymous answer on the blog.