Get Off My Chest! Episode 2: Sex! We’re Not Having It!

San Franciscan Diane Karagienakos and Seattleite Paul Pearson are the consummate online friends. They have never met in person. They’ve never Skyped or even spoken on the phone. In fact, if not for their mutual connection to exactly two people, they might not have ever known of each other’s existence. But they instant-message each other with a rapport like they’ve been doing this internet thing for a hundred years.

In this episode, Diane and Paul exchange vital bodily conversation about sex. Specifically, the reasonability of monogamy, the curious philosophy of polyamory, alternative lifestyles, and their profound, deep-seeded inconsolability over the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson breakup.

Paul: Yo dude, I'm prompt! As Prompt As He Wanna Be.

Diane: I'm here! I was reading Dan Savage in preparation of our conversation.

Paul: Ah, yes. Mr. Savage. Hometown boy. We're proud.

Diane: I'm a little hungover. Hope I can bring it. But yes, I love Dan Savage. His whole definition of marriage speech gets me every time.

Paul: We are in a heat advisory here in the Northwest where it's a scalding 85 degrees. (This conversation happened in August -- Ed.) So my computer is susceptible to just turning off at whim. If I disappear for a long time it's not because I'm a prude and you have offended my delicate sensibilities. It's because my computer is a jerk. Anyway. Sex and monotony! I mean monogamy.

robert-pattinson-kristen-stewart-1209-05-deDiane: Where shall we start? We have the Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattison -- I guess that's our one and only scandal related to the topic at the moment. Thoughts? Heh heh heh -- let's go for the "In Touch" audience!

Paul: I was at the store this morning and all the tabloids were talking about Kristen & Robert.

Diane: I say he was smart to kick her out.

Paul: I find the whole thing amusing on so many levels. First off, these kids are, like, 12. Give or take. And Kristen felt the need to write a letter of public apology to Robert... as if she'd ripped the guts out of the whole Twilight Nation by cheating on her boyfriend. It was a weird assumption of responsibility for an entire fan base's perception of sexual mores.

Diane: It's amusing that people get so invested. But it's easier to judge others’ actions than one’s own. But I have a very, very low tolerance of cheating under such conditions. I get it if a couple's been married for a L-O-N-G time and sex is long dead, or the libido is long dead, and then POW! You meet someone who makes you feel alive again, when you thought you never could. But cheating within a new relationship? Unacceptable. Walk away.

Paul: I agree. Tell-tale sign.

Diane: You mentioned the Twilight Nation -- I sort-of wonder if she damaged the franchise in a way, thus costing them all billions of dollars. They (the producers) could practically sue her if the fans retaliate because they no longer "believe in" Bella & whatever his name is. I can't believe i'm even talking about this! Back to sex...

Paul: Still, I also thought, you know, these kids have a lifetime in front of them. But yes. Let's get back to sex. I liked that story you told me about the guy with three wives, who apparently formed a sisterhood of the polyamorous pants.
polygamists 1 
Diane: There was a recent interview on NPR with a polyamorous family: 1 man, 3 wives (2 of whom were sisters). I don't recall how many children. And what struck me about this was, I actually felt sort of sorry for the guy. The women clearly had a strong bond among themselves; a support system, an emotional family. And while the man was definitely a part of it, in a way he wasn't. They seemed to share something he could never understand or fully be a member. And I really thought about it. People usually think it's the women who are short-changed in these situations, but I'm not so sure. Think about it. This guy's got three times the "can you lift this?" three times the "The car won't start..." Three times the "The pilot light went out..." I don't think he's having sex willy-nilly if you will; not any more at least with the numerous children in this household.

Paul: My guess -- never having been in that situation, at least not external of my dream life -- is that someone in that kind of setup will always feel left out. In that case the guy's their common denominator, and the wives are using him as their reference point for bonding. And the guy's hung out to dry. What do you do in that situation - get another one?

Diane: Them get another husband or he get another wife?

Paul: Him getting another wife. Like some guys collect old cars.

Diane: Til the magic wears off, and she'd rather go shopping with the other wives than watch him watch football on TV!

Paul: Exactly. So, do you think the polyamorous guy used sexual desire as his springboard for marriage? Or was there some sort of orthodoxy -- religious or something -- driving him?

Diane: It didn't sound like it had much to do with sex; more about family. They may have been Mormon. I think they were, but not certain. And actually it was one of the sisters who suggested that her sister be his next wife! He just said, "Okay, I guess!"

Paul: Ha! Man, he's so whipped.

Diane: More sex in the news: There's an awful lot of talk right now about monogamy. That perhaps it's not a natural thing for us to do. And at the very least for the sake of argument, I'll agree with that. But let me say that I don't think sitting still indoors at a desk for 6 hours is a natural thing for a 6-year-old to do. It's not natural to fly in planes, or go on the Master Cleanse. But we do these things for a reason. The reason is hopefully they will make for a life for us, either short or long term.

Paul: I'm uncertain from a biological standpoint what the polygamy "defense" is. I do know as a younger man I didn't want to be committed. There was one year in particular when I played that out to maximum effect. But you know what? I think it was more a reaction to being in disappointing relationships. And I think I used it as an excuse to not get too deep.

Diane: We're supposed to want to have sex with others, I think that's perfectly natural. And when you're young, that's the time to do it (and usually when we have the most options in terms of desirable partners). However, I suspect there will always be a very different societal opinion of a promiscuous man and a promiscuous woman.

Paul: That's true. I don't know if you saw Shame, which was a brilliant movie, but I wonder how it wouldshame have been different if the main character was a woman. To Shame's credit they did not present promiscuity as a joyride. More of an affliction.

Diane: Didn't see Shame. It was out around the time of the end of a relationship I was in -- one in which the subject of sex was a big factor (for many reasons – one being he cheated from early on a lot, and I chose to forgive; which I would never do again). So I was sort of turned off by the thought of a movie about a promiscuous man. You understand.

Paul: I do. During The Year That Won't Be Named, one of the people I got to know described herself as polyamorous. I thought, "Well, that's nice." She was a very attractive person. It just seemed weird that she was eager to pronounce herself. But in evaluating whether to take it deeper, I wasn't sure what I sensed. That's why I'm fascinated with the idea of polyamory as defense mechanism. I'm not really against it morally, as long as everyone is on the same page.

Diane: All this talk has made it convenient for those who want sex with whomever they want -- yet still want to the benefits of being in one relationship -- to say "See, it's not natural -- but it doesn't mean I love you less." In a polyamorous relationship, I think that with rare exception, there's one person who wants it more than the other.

Paul: That is always the case. Whether it was me or the other.

Diane: Dan Savage had a great note on this. He's been to many polyamorous marriage ceremonies. He's been to zero polyamorous third anniversary parties. A 1-on-1 relationship is complicated enough, thankyouverymuch!

Paul: Well, it's possible they couldn't decide who would make arrangements for the anniversary parties. Power struggle. But that's a great point. The thing about polyamorous cultures is they have to exist as a hidden subset in society. Which, I admit, kind of makes me feel sorry for them. On the other hand, joining mainstream society isn't all it's cooked up to be.

Diane: I agree, it's odd they must be hidden as you say. But what's the etiquette, say if you're inviting someone to thanksgiving? "Please bring only one husband, as seating is limited."

Paul: “Please Bring Only One Husband.” There's our title.
Diane: Ultimately, the impetus for sex with others will always be there. But agreeing to be okay with it in advance, or making allowances... I don't know. It's a slippery slope. It seems like it was easier in the past, when roles were more clearly defined. Men provided. Women raised children/kept the home. A blind eye was turned to the possibility of a man cheating because he was providing. Today, some men want the privileges of an open relationship, yet they're not providing in the traditional sense. So for a woman, what would be the point of agreeing to be in an open relationship with a man if he's not entirely there for you emotionally (since there would be others) and you’re paying your own way on many dates? Yes, there are some women who want multiple sex partners. But I don’t believe they’re the majority.

Paul: Interestingly enough, that's exactly the set-up I have right now. I didn't expect 10 years ago that I would be in a traditional family. But that's exactly how it is - I provide, wife stays home with kids. Not really out of necessity, it's just what Kate likes best. Well -- "likes" perhaps is not quite the word, but we all realize how lucky we are.

Diane: I liked your comment in an earlier email about the book Sex At Dawn, "It’s really interesting what he says about agriculture necessitating a drive towards monogamy." I think you can find research that'll support just about any thesis if you like. And are creative at interpretation. I don't say that to poo poo the book. Just sayin...

Paul: It is! Could monogamy mainly just be good for business? What subset of the American economy benefits from cheating and polyamory? Divorce lawyers, I guess. And chemical manufacturers. It's the sexual-industrial complex!

Diane: Cable television, and all its goddamn reality TV shows! No one would watch if people weren't so stupid and horny and indiscreet! Duh! But I think we sort of need to have certain guidelines to keep life simple, or it can careen all over the place.

Paul: I agree. Yet there are some people who love the careening, regardless of its impact on other people.

Diane: And there are other people who don't like the careening but seem powerless to stop it. Or claim powerlessness, at least. Some play the victim card to great advantage.

Paul: I think for someone living a life informed by hedonism, it can be a real effort to re-align themselves towards a relationship with meaning and depth. I think I might have had that struggle as well, although I would never have described myself as an outright hedonist. But it took some time. You're talking an entire foundational change, and it gets bumpy. However, very worth it. But then again, I could just be brainwashed by agri-business.

Diane: Tru dat! I think polyamory is a legitimate alternative to a relationship with meaning and depth. One where you're accountable.

Paul: Excellent backhanded compliment! That's one for the Condescending Wonka meme: "So you're polyamorous? You must know so many attractive people!" I mean, look. I'm not saying polyamorous people are charlatans, or ill-informed, or even emotional blocks. I'm really not. I'm just saying it's harder to manage. And being kind of resistant to new-age rationalization that I am, sometimes I just think the "philosophies" associated with it are flimsy.

Diane: Moving on from unconventional relationships, Let's talk about unconventional sex. Like BDSM. That stuff (“play”, if you will) can be fun, while also get into some deep psychological places. But... ultimately, when someone is so immersed in it... I just wonder if its indicative of some unhealthy history. To entangle sex with some childhood dynamics...

Paul: I'm honestly removed from the motives for BDSM. The last thing I want to dredge up when having sex is childhood memories. The physical aspect of it, the pain as pleasure, I suppose I understand that from a sensual/sensory point of view.
Diane: Agreed. And I hate labeling in general, and that includes in sex. BDSMers calling “other” sex Vanilla. As in boring bland. That’s just one example.

Paul: I've never heard that. Vanilla sex. That's great! I've been assured that it's not boring. It suppose it can be pleasureable, but when someone NEEDS to humiliate another, or be humiliated -- during sex yet -- I think there's something else that needs to be addressed.

Diane: And good vanilla is just as good as good chocolate!

Paul: I have a hard enough time with the voices from my frequently humiliating youth as it is. I don't want them showing up. So is it fair to use sex like that to work out psychological issues?

Diane: If it's getting worked out, then yes. But I don't think it's getting worked out. If that were the case, you'd have your spanky or whatever and forgive daddy. But when it's a repeated regular part of your sex life or sexual identity. Then no. If you just do it because it gets you and your partner off, that's one thing. I don’t claim to be an expert. I guess my very limited experience has been that it's possibly symptomatic of an unhealthy relationship with sex itself.

Paul: I mean, personally speaking, if everything's mutually consented to, it's fair game.

Diane: Absolutely. My only rules: No children, animals, pee pee or poo poo.

Paul: Ah, no pee pee? Dammit!

Diane: Have you?

Paul: Oh, Lord, no. I mean, that's a whole area where... no.
Diane: I can imagine it's another form of pleasurable release. But to pee on another -- again the humiliation thing. And some people want that humiliation.

Paul: I'm gonna ask my wife something… (pause…) She didn't really have an answer.

Diane: I'm dying to know the question now! Wait, did you ask... you didn't, did you!?!

Paul: I explained how the things that we're discussing, which I have little or no experience in, might be means to work out our childhood issues, or that people may have a psychological imperative when they enter into certain forms of sexual congress. She said "Interesting." And walked off.

Diane: Does she have a psychology background?

Paul: No, she has a theatre background. Sort of like psychology, except the pay's worse and the lighting's better.

Diane: Like bartending!

Paul: Right! And she writes a lot. A lot more than me these days. So my final question -

Diane: (interrupting) And then there's American Society's views on sex vs. Europe. What is our fucking (so to speak) problem?

Paul: Oh, man, that's a huge part of it. We can get so sanctimonious about this shit. Truly free societies don't fear sex the way we do, or act out against it. Frankly that kind of repression or activism against it only fuels sexual crimes. Not to say that a pedophile can blame society for his deeds. But it doesn't help.
Diane: I was in Greece. A kiosk filled with postcards, bare-breasted (natural, not porn style) women reclining on the beach). A group of French schoolboys (10-12 years), pointing and giggling at one particular postcard. I get closer to see which one, which set of knockers really got the attention of these kids. Turns out it was a postcard with the picture of the kitten doing a chin-up. That sums up the difference between US & Europe (where women – and not just the porn star type -- sunbathe topless) to me. These boys couldn’t care less.

Paul: Well, cats basically rule the world of humor right now. But point absolutely taken.

Diane: So what was that final question?

Paul: I forgot. It's those damn cats! Well, we started talking about monogamy. I don't think we have any disagreement about it. I think our profiles change as we get older. Values are learned, not assumed. And sex is at best a risky, possibly damaging means to work out psychological issues. And hygiene, kids. Don't forget to maintain excellent hygiene. And also, as complete as a discussion I feel this has been, I will never be as good as Dan Savage about these issues.

Diane: I wonder if it's complicated only for humans...

Paul: Yeah, I'm not sure koala bears are dealing with daddy issues or fear of commitment. Maybe drug abuse.

Diane: Has a chimp ever appropriated a found object as a sex toy?

Paul: Only bananas, I'll bet. And of course his own feces. I gotta run. I'm late for the orgy. They get cranky if they don't start on time, and I'm supposed to bring a covered dish.

Diane: And scene!
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