Sleeping Around

August 7, 2009

Lovers embraceMany guys think it’s OK have numerous sexual relationships at the same time. Most girls don’t. Recently in the Washington Post, advice columnist Carolyn Hax weighed in on this question:

Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,

I am having sex with three people right now. (Not literally right now, but you get the idea.) Two of them have no idea there is anyone else and the third one might or might not. My friends say I’m being deceptive but I say it’s fair game as long as I don’t pretend I’m being exclusive and we always use protection. Who’s right?

Carolyn Hax: My evil twin hopes you fall hard for someone who treats you the same way you’re treating these three people.

The answer to your specific question is that you’re telling a lie of omission. Certainly if your sex partners are telling themselves they’re in an exclusive relationship, then they need to take better care of themselves. However, I equate their mistake to letting an insurance policy lapse. That makes you the natural disaster for which they failed to prepare.

It gnaws at me, the whole attitude of regarding something as okay because of some imagined technicality. What that really means in translation is that you are going out of your way to justify treating other people like crap.

No, it’s not okay — especially not with something so trust-dependent as sex, but also not even with something petty, like zooming up the breakdown lane to get farther ahead in a traffic jam. Stop seeing your needs as special and others’ needs as mere obstacles to getting what you want. It doesn’t get you ahead, it makes you a jerk.

In the London Evening Standard, a pair of sexperts tackles the same issue: Is it OK to sleep with several people at once without telling them?

I’m single and dating. Is it OK to sleep with several people at once without telling them? I can’t see I’m doing any harm but my monogamous friends say otherwise?

Nirpal, the guy expert, offered this advice:

  • There’s nothing immoral about sleeping with several people at once, provided none of them has been given the impression they’re in a monogamous situation.
  • You don’t have to tell them that you’re handing it out like candy, either.┬áIn fact, you shouldn’t, because it will only make the people you’re dating feel worthless – especially if they’re not getting as much action as you are.
  • The unspoken rule of modern dating is that until you’ve had that conversation in which you’ve both explicitly agreed to be exclusive, you are perfectly free to date and sleep with other people. It is a strictly don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.
  • Sleeping around gives you added confidence in your dating life: you know that you’re desirable and that there are plenty of fish in the sea

He does acknowledge that being promiscuous can make you jaded:

  • No one has a palate for gourmet cuisine if they’ve been gorging on junk beforehand.

Not surprisingly, Esther sees it differently:

  • Of course it’s not OK. These are people with feelings, they’re not shoes.
  • I’d say something about chlamydia and angry ex-lovers, but I can only assume you’ve already got an STD clinic and a solicitor on speed dial.
  • If you think you’re going to come out of this mess with a meaningful relationship, then you are wrong. So wrong.
  • If you end up with one of these people, you’ll spend your life breaking out into cold sweats whenever they come close to discovering what a dog you were.
  • Anyway, you know what you’re doing is wrong. The very fact that you want to keep it all a secret shows that you know perfectly well that if you were honest, your blissful circle of ignorant lovers would disappear in disgust.

BHE (Before Hookup Era), having sex with more than one person at the same time was called cheating. Couples generally “went steady” before they had sex. During the Swinging 60s, there was the Summer of Love, Woodstock and all the rest, with lots of rampant casual sex. That didn’t become the norm, though, until much later. In the 70s and 80s, it was fine to have consecutive one-night stands, but no one really thought it was legit to have ongoing sexual involvements with more than one person at a time. An ongoing sexual involvement meant de facto that you were involved in a relationship.

In the HE, people who are attracted to one another often have sex before they are in a relationship. They may have sex before even discussing being exclusive, though I advise women against it. Sexual relationships can thrive for a very long time with no commitment. That creates a dilemma: if there’s no commitment, you’re both free agents. And yet. Few people can remain entirely emotionally detached in a sexual relationship, especially if they’re female. So what are the appropriate groundrules?

I think everyone knows the difference between banging and making love. It’s everything in-between that gets tricky.

  • If you’re banging someone, even on a regular basis, you MUST explicitly state your expectations around the question of monogamy. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your partner.
  • If you’re having sex with someone that feels special, and intimate, and emotionally powerful, you will probably not want to have sex with someone else. But you can’t be sure of what the other person wants unless you discuss it openly.
  • If you really like someone, and you’re having sex, and you feel like things are going really well, and you don’t want to rock the boat, you will hesitate to initiate THE TALK. You must get past that.

You gotta have THE TALK. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown Relationship Discussion. You can simply ask, “Are you doing this with anyone else?” Because you’re essentially having sex with everyone your partner is having sex with. Even if you use condoms, there are still real risks for contracting an STD. Unless you’re that one woman giving a BJ with a condom, or slapping a dental dam between your vajayjay and your guy’s tongue.

You deserve to know. You need to know. Your physical and emotional health depend on it.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sucks. It sucks in the military, and it sucks in relationships. Don’t be a party to it.