Don’t assume ‘the lifestyle’ does not come with a rulebook. Communication is important, and rules can make relationships better.
By Megan HaynesSpecial to the Star
Toronto’s Oasis Aqualounge, at Carleton and Church Sts., is a pretty open environment. The clothing-optional sex club hosts events each week for people to explore their sexual fantasies. But for such a sexually free venue, there are certainly a lot of rules.
No photos. Certain areas are off limits to men unless accompanied by a woman. No touching of any kind unless given permission. No means no, of course, but the club takes it a step further: only yes means yes. That means there are no sexy times until consent is verbalized, says Fatima Mechtab, the marketing and events co-ordinator at Oasis, which had approximately 16,000 members last year.
The clothing-optional space, where sex is allowed, is by its nature vulnerable, she says. The rules are to make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and encourage people to talk. “A big problem with consent is people assume it’s something you don’t have to verbalize,” she says. In fact, when it comes to sex, there’s lots that people don’t talk about — but should.
Mechtab, a queer woman who has explored swinging and polyamorous relationships in the past, says these types of strict rules — don’t make assumptions, ask before touching — are common in “the lifestyle,” a term for consensually nonmonogamous couples. And, she says, rules make relationships better.
Couples and the locations they go to play have to create an environment in which all parties feel not only safe, but also heard. These boundaries take away the grey areas, forcing couples to say what they do or don’t want and what they need from sexual encounters. And there’s a lot non-swingers can learn from them about building a healthy (and satisfied) relationship.
A successful swinging relationship is based on constant communication, says Carol Hunt, founder of VenusCouples, a Montreal-based online forum for “sex-positive” exploration of the lifestyle. She and her husband have been swinging for a decade. Before any party or outing, they agree upon a set of boundaries (such as they’ll always be in the same room during sex) and expectations for the evening (be it sex with another person or a night observing others). Afterwards, they always break their experience down: what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what would they like to try in the future?
While it might seem exhausting to always talk about sex, Hunt says it means both parties feel their needs are being heard. If her husband wants to try something new, but she’s not interested, the decision isn’t shut down entirely. Instead, they discuss both points of view and try and find a happy middle ground in which they can explore. No always means no — but that’s only the start of the conversation.
That consensus building trickles out of the bedroom, says Edward Fernandes, a professor of sexuality specializing in swingers, at Barton University in North Carolina. “I’ve had people say, ‘We used to have trouble with our finances — we couldn’t talk about this,’ and once we went into swinging, that (inability to communicate) went away,’” says the Toronto expat. “Now, they’re able to talk about everything.” If you can talk about a taboo topic like sex freely, there’s nothing to stop you from vocalizing issues with the chores, he says.
One 2014 study from the University of Oklahoma, which compared monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous couples, found those in open relationships rated their happiness and health higher than their counterparts. Another study from 2000, found 90 per cent of couples said their marriage became happier after they started swinging.
“People will often avoid talking about things, because they don’t know how (their partner) is going to respond,” says Fernandes. “So we hide. Swinging tends to pull that curtain, and allows them to have direct communications with each other.”
Write your own sexy rule book
- Hunt suggests couples looking to spice up their bedroom can start small: make it a point to go to a sex shop, for example, to discuss what both parties might enjoy or not. To avoid embarrassment, make it a rule that neither party can wander off on their own: you’re in it together and that can decrease the awkwardness.
- Watching porn can be a great way to get both parties in the mood. But before hitting play, Hunt suggests setting expectations: you’ll only watch for an hour, and collectively pick one act to try and re-create.
- If you’re trying something new and don’t enjoy it the first time, Hunt say don’t shut it down right away. Commit to revisiting the act at least once at a later date, and if you still don’t enjoy it, then it’s OK to take it off the table for the future.
- Great relationships need work, she says. Set aside a couple hours each week just to be with each other. No television, no distractions (and if you want, no clothes).
- Make a relationship rule to do one sexy thing a day — even if it’s just kissing each other deeply for a few minutes, Hunt says. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, but it ensures a daily connection with your partner.