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Jenny Block for yourtango.com I was 17 when my sexual education began. "You are responsible for your own orgasm," my boyfriend told me. He was the guy I lost my virginity to, the guy I had my first orgasm with, and the guy whose words would one day become my mantra: I am responsible for my own orgasm. I believe that literally and figuratively. In bed, I play an active role in getting what I want. But I also take charge of getting what I want throughout my sexual life. Thats why, along with a husband I adore, I have lovers. My husband and I have an open marriage. I know it may sound decadent, or like a throwback to the free love of the 60s. But really, for all the hype, open marriage is just one of many ways to negotiate love and sex and marriage. We havent been doing it that long, but it now seems so obvious. Like, Why on earth didnt we think of this before? I have always liked sex. I mean really, really liked sex. I have been accused, in fact, of thinking like a man. That is, of seeing sex as something wholly separate from love. When my husband and I first started dating, it was obvious even then that our drives were quite different. As much as he enjoyed sex, he didnt need or want it as often as I did. But I fell so madly in love with him, I figured it didnt matter. I was terribly wrong. Three years into our marriage, I began to feel itchy. So I had an affair. She was beautiful, an artist I met through a mutual friend. I deliberately chose to have an affair with a woman, rationalizing that it wasnt as bad as sleeping with another man. (Simply by virtue of his gender, my husband never could be for me what she could be.) She wasnt the first woman Id been with. When my husband and I began dating, I told him that I was bisexual. I dont care who you were with before, he told me. But once its just you and me, its just you and me. And thats whyas lovely and sweet as my affair with Artist Girl wasit was awful, too. I felt sick about lying to my husband, sick about wanting to be with her, sick for not just calling it offor avoiding it in the first place. I thought hard about how I had gotten there. At first, I figured that my being with her really was about my bisexuality, about a part of me that I simply couldnt brush aside. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasnt true: It was about wanting more sex than my husband could offer, and sex different from that which any one person could provide. My relationship with Artist Girl ended very, very badly. One night while in bed with her husband, she told him about us, foolishly thinking it would turn him on. It didnt. He was furious and threatened to tell my husband. I knew I had to tell him myself. When I confessed, he was crushed, more because I had lied to him than because I had slept with her. I cried and cried, wondering if I had destroyed my marriage, if he would leave me, but also wondering if I would ever be happy, ever be sexually satisfied, ever find a way to make this work. We didnt talk about it much for several years. He couldnt. I would ask him once in a while if he was OK, and he would tell me he was fine. Eventually, I believed him. I was keeping my nose clean, and we were bumping alonghitting rough patches, but bumping along. We had an adequate sex life; probably pretty darn good by some standards. Still, there were always things I wanted that I simply couldnt get from him. I want you to talk dirty to me, I told him. To tie me up. To attack me in the middle of the day on the kitchen floor. I cant, baby, hed say, drawing me into his arms. I love you. And slowly I began to figure it out. For my husband, sex with me was about loving me. And loving me was about caring for and respecting me. Although there are people who can manage that duality (or plurality), my husband simply couldnt. And I wasnt sure he should have to. But I also wasnt sure that I should have to go without. One day, on a whim, really, I asked my husband about a longtime friend of mine. She had once been a grad student at the university where I taught. I had helped her get through research papers, exams, and first-time teaching assignments. She spent a lot of long nights and weekend afternoons at our house during those two years, and we became close friends. Even after finishing her degree, she still spent a lot of time at the house. Have you ever thought about sleeping with her? I asked him. No, he said. My husband has no poker face. OK, yes, but ... But what? I asked. Well, first of all, shed never want to sleep with me. Shes 10 years younger than I am. And second, I dont want to be with anyone else. Really? I asked. Well, he said, I mean, I dont need to. But do you want to? I didnt need him to answer me. It was clear that, in his head, he was already there. Shes hot, he said. I know, I laughed. So ... ? So, of course Id like to sleep with her. But what about you? Of course, I replied. Id like to sleep with her too, silly. Thats not what I meant, he said. I know. I know. So ... ? So, bring it on, he teased. Shes dying to sleep with you, you know. It was trueI knew she was interested. Wed joked about it plenty of times before. When are you going to let me at that hot husband of yours? shed ask me. Whenever you like, Id tell her. I started teasing my husband about it every now and then. Sometimes when wed have sex Id talk about her being there. It always was about wanting more sex than my husband could offer, and sex different from that which any one person could provide. pushed him over the edge. Finally, I decided it was time. Lets do it, I said to her one night when we were at my house, watching yet another terrible, made-for-TV movie. She knew exactly what I was talking about. You sure? she asked. Are you? I asked back. Yeah, she said. As long as youre positive it wont mess us up. I dont think it will, I said. But you know I cant promise that. I know, she said. But promise me anyway. OK, I told her. I promise. A few hours later, my husband came home. He slid onto the couch next to me, putting his hand on my right thigh, under the throw blanket. Her hand was already on my left. A few seconds later, I felt their hands accidentally touch, and I saw them look at one another. Im pretty sure that was the exact moment my husband realized what was going on. Im beat, he said a short while later. Im going to bed. Well be up soon, I said. He kissed me, and began to walk away. What about me? she asked. He looked at me, and then kissed her, long and hard. Laughing, he shook his head. You girls, he said, as he headed upstairs. When the movie ended, we followed. We slipped into bed with my husband as if wed done it a hundred times before, one on either side of him. Everything that followed felt equally natural. It was amazing to watch them together. It was hot, but it was also very sweet. She was so lost in him and he in her. I was able to see him as a human being, if you know what I mean. Not as my husband or my daughters father, but as a man, a sexual being, a person who wants to be wanted, who needs to be wanted. And I know that watching her and me together was an incredible experience for him as well. She even taught him how to give me a G-spot orgasm, a feat that he had never managed. It sounds so deviant, I know. But it was charming, really. He held her long hair in his hands and watched her. He also stole looks at me. I love you, he mouthed. I love you, too, I somehow managed. And when I came, I couldnt help but notice the glances the two of them exchanged. Not bad, his seemed to say. See, I could teach you a thing or two, hers seemed to imply. It was weird. But it was also, well, normal. My husband and I had a six-month affair with my close friend. The three of us had sex. He and she had sex. She and I had sex. And, of course, he and I continued to have sex, just the two of us. The arrangement eventually faded out, and we all slipped back into our previous relationships. But my marriage was forever changed. Our experience with her was the catalyst that led us to explore open marriage. Its been interesting and hard and wonderful and confusing. It has led to some terribly sad moments and some incredibly joyful ones. The sad ones always stem from some combination of ego, insecurity, and lack of communication. The wonderful ones result from love and trust and understanding. But really, its blindingly simple. We give each other what we need, including freedom and space. We respect one another. And we are self-aware enough to know that were interested in, and capable of, exploring sex, whatever that means for us and despite what it may mean for anyone else. (That is, of course, anyone not sexually involved with us.) It has brought my husband and me closer than I ever imagined possible. We communicate in ways I never dreamed of, staying up late at night talking about the nature of monogamy, of sexuality, of marriage, and of life in general. I suppose open marriage works for us for precisely that reason: because we talk about it, because it has opened us to one another. The learning curve certainly has been steep. We have absolutely, positively no models for what were doing. Were really just the average couple next door. Really. Weve just found that owning each other sexually doesnt help our marriage. It only hurts it. It is amazing, though, how much trouble people have with open marriage. One person told me how sad he is that I need conquests and need others to find me sexually attractive to be satisfied, and that he hopes that one day Ill find enough success elsewhere to overcome that. Another person told me she thinks Im a lesbian who doesnt want to give up the creature comforts my marriage provides. Still another said shes scared for me and my relationship if I need such fireworks. But each of these statements said more about the speaker than about me. The truth is Im just like everyone else. Im just trying to figure out all of this life stuff. Its hard. Theres this one plan were all supposed to follow, this heterosexual, monogamous, child-rearing, one-size-fits-all model that were all supposed to goose-step into line with. But I cant. In fact, I have a responsibility not to. I am responsible for my own orgasmand my own happiness. And I dont need other people to like me or to approve, and I dont need others to live in the same way I do. I just need to do what I need to do, without hurting myself or others. For right now, at least, that means having sexual relationships outside of my marriage. My husband hasnt pursued anyone since my friend. He says hes too shy to pick up girls, and, really, he doesnt feel the need. I can sometimes tell that the fact that I do hurts him. Intellectually, he explains, I totally get it. But sometimes, emotionally, its hard. I know, I tell him. Do you need me to stop? No, he says. Im not that guy. But you have to bear with me. Im still trying to figure all of this out. Hey, I reply. Me too. And its true. Neither of us really knows how we feel or what will or wont work until we test it out. For example, my husband continues to wrestle with how much he does and does not want to know. If Im with another woman, he wants every gory detail. But when Im with another man, sometimes hed prefer not to know it happened at all. Generally, though, he likes to know who and when. When he asks for specific information, I answer. Sometimes, however, its hard to read whether he really wants that answer, and I feel sad when I get it wrong. Like when I dont tell him something and it comes up later, making him feel out of the loop, something I try desperately to avoid. It all boils down to effective communicationwithout it, no marriage, open or otherwise, stands a chance. Being secretive, lying, or sneaking aroundthose would be surefire ways to destroy our marriage. But the sex itself is not a threat. I think of it as the playpen effect: You keep a kid locked up in one of those things and all she thinks about is how to get out, how much shell love whats in the other room. But let her roam free and check it all out, and odds are shell end up at your feet, playing with a puzzle. Is there a chance shell love another room and stay in there instead? Sure. Just like theres always a chance one of us will fall in love with someone else and decide to end our marriage. But I dont think that having sex outside our marriage increases that risk. In fact, I believe it decreases it, because it removes all the fantasy. I dont pine. If I want someone (and he wants me), then I have him. So far, no one has come even close to making me want to jump ship. But Ill tell you the truth: Before we tried out this open marriage thing, I definitely wondered about the quality of the grass in other lawns. In all, making this work has been much less dramatic than one might imagine. Sex is a happy thing, a good thing. If I can find happiness in something so simple, without hurting anyone, why wouldnt I? Theres no one swinging from our chandeliers. We dont attend parties with fishbowls for keys at the door. And our daughter isnt exposed to any sort of debauched behavior. None of this affects her at all, in fact, because she never sees anything out of the ordinary. When my friend stayed over, she was always back in the guest room before our daughter woke up, and she slept over as much before and after the affair as during. And there have been no other lovers in our home. Putting our needs over our daughters well-being is never an option. My pattern of lovers fluctuates. There have been times when Ive had a steady or two, men I kept in touch with after our initial meeting. There was my Skier Philosopher, who sent me delicious emails and met me for marathon nights in lavish hotels; my Playboy Analyst, who was the best friend of the guy my best friend was dating and who was happy to take me in when I visited her; my Young Romantic, who called me now and again, and would make plans to see me when he was in town. But mostly there have been more anonymous trysts. That seems to be where I am right now. Menor womenI meet when Im out of town, spend a night or two with and then never see or talk to again. Lots of people are basically in open marriages: They have illicit affairs. My husband and I simply decided we were ready to be honest, with ourselves and with each other, about what we want and need. This is in no way a prescription for anyone else. All I know is how I feel, which is loved and cherished and securethanks to my husband. I want that. But I dont see anything wrong with wanting more. And, for me, that more is longing. Mystery. Sexual tension. Cravingand getting tastes ofthings I never wholly possess. Why am I married, then? Many people have asked me that question. So Ill tell you exactly what I tell them. As hot as it makes me when a new conquest whispers something scandalous in my ear, nothing thrills me like the sound of my husbands voice when I hear him say, Hey, baby, Im home. __________________ Shop safe at Tabutoys.com Read our Sex Blog!