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May 21, 2008

Extra-marital Sex (after Kids)

Okay, technically it's not extra-marital sex, since Kevin and I aren't legally married. But we own a home together, have been living together for sixteen years, and now have a child together (our one-year-old daughter, Kavya). To the casual observer we sure look married, and I don't even bother correcting people most of the time when they refer to Kevin as my 'husband.' Most people we meet assume that we're married and monogamous.

But the truth is that we've chosen not to marry (for a variety of political reasons), and we're not monogamous. We've had an open relationship (which we usually refer to as polyamorous) since we started sixteen years ago, and while it's not always been easy, and we've had our share of jealousies and insecurities, in the end, it's what works best for us. We've had to answer a lot of questions about it over the years, from curious friends (and strangers), but most people, at least in our liberal urban academic circles, seem willing to shrug it off with a 'hey, I could never do it, but whatever makes you happy.' Which is all well and good, except for one thing. Now we have a kid.

So far, we haven't had to deal with much criticism on the subject -- in part because Kevin isn't seeing anyone else right now, and the only other person I'm involved with is Jed, who lives in California, thousands of miles away. Jed and I have been involved for a little over ten years; it's a very stable low-key sort of relationship. And yes, Kevin's just fine with it. But I don't see Jed nearly as often as I'd like, and when I do, it's often in a social situation with lots of other people around, and no opportunity to slip away for some private time. My sex drive also crashed pretty hard with the pregnancy and birth of Kavi, so even when I had time and opportunity for sex (with either of my guys), I mostly wasn't interested. But my daughter's a year old now, and I've been getting fairly regular sleep for a few months, finally, and I can feel the old sex drive starting to creep back. Jed came out recently for our tenth anniversary, and Kevin kindly volunteered to watch Kavi for a few days so Jed and I could go away to a B&B to celebrate. We honestly weren't sure if we would even have sex (see diminished sex drive above), but the possibility was certainly there. And I admit, I thought about posting about the whole experience on the Chicago Moms Blog then, but didn't, because I was worried about what you guys would think.

I don't know how y'all will react to this post. I'm out about our poly status on my own site, in my journal, with my friends. It would feel tremendously unfair to Jed not to be, like I was trying to hide our relationship, as if I were ashamed of it, of him. Which I'm not, and have no reason to be -- we're all adults, and everyone involved is happy with the situation. But being out in my own comfortable circles is very different from posting about my complex love life to a mommy blog, where I'm guessing most of the people reading this will be in monogamous relationships themselves, and not used to people who aren't. Also, in current American culture, most kids get so sheltered from their parents' sex lives (unlike, say, the village culture in so much of the world where parents and kids all sleep in the same room and kids grow up knowing that their folks have sex -- and even what it looks and sounds like), that I'm guessing that a lot of you find the very idea of kids even knowing that you have a sex life to be somewhat disturbing. (How would you react if your kid walked into the room while you were having sex with your spouse? Would you worry that the child would be traumatized?)

If you're in a monogamous marriage in a house with doors that lock, maybe you can pretend that your kids don't know you have sex. Right now, I can pretend that too -- but only because Kavi's so young. Eventually, she's going to figure out that Uncle Jed is more than just another of her parents' friends. We don't know yet how we're going to explain it to her -- or if we'll even need to. Maybe she'll just figure it out from reading my blog, or from the nights that mommy goes away while Uncle Jed is visiting town. We're feeling our way through this. I'm not really worried about us, or about her -- but I am worried about the rest of world. What they'll say to us, what they'll say to her.

It's never easy, dealing with people who disapprove of the way you choose to live your life -- especially your sex life. When your choices reflect the norm, you have the luxury of not talking about your sex life; once you step outside the boundaries, you don't have that option anymore. If you want to go to a movie with your partner, hold hands outside the theatre, kiss them on the cheek -- people notice. And talk. And ask you questions. And sometimes get very angry with you. I've been through it a few times -- from my parents, who didn't want me dating white boys, to the people on the street who stared when I walked past, holding my girlfriend's hand. I've been through this before, with interracial issues, queer issues. But somehow, poly seems harder.

People, even very liberal people, often get a lot more upset about it, as if our choice not to be monogamous somehow threatens their monogamous relationships. I'd argue that it's the opposite, in fact -- monogamous women are safer hanging out with me, since I have absolutely no interest in cheating with anyone's husband. I always have the legitimate option of finding someone who's actually free and available -- and the only way poly works is if everyone involved is seriously committed to openness and honesty. But it's hard for some monogamous people (especially women) to believe that. More than one woman has told me that if I don't demand faithfulness from my husband, that it makes it harder for them to demand it from theirs. Some women get pretty hostile.

I don't know how our having a kid is going to complicate that interaction. Right now, we're just going to have to wait and see.


Original post of Chicago Moms Blog.

Mary Anne Mohanraj is the author of Bodies in Motion, a collection of Sri Lankan-American immigrant stories.  She also blogs at An Ongoing, Erratic Diary about her life as a fiction writer, literature professor, and new mother. She's been blogging since 1995.

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