Rules and non-monogamy

CN: This question and column has explicit discussion of sexual acts.

My husband and I have started doing soft swaps recently. We’re about two years into the LS.. Once he tried kissing another woman. It upset me at the time. (I believe it is the meaning I attribute to kissing and how intimate of an act I feel it is). I didn’t stop it during but talked about it afterwards and he’s OK with a no kissing rule.
The funny thing is… the kissing doesn’t bother me and neither do the other acts when we’re all doing whatever act in a big mushy pile together. It is when he is engaging on his own and I feel like I’m observing on the outside. (Like I’m giving her oral and he’s got his dick in her mouth that bothers me. If I look over during play and see him caressing another woman that bothers me. It doesn’t bother me when he’s touching erogenous areas though… When we play with others if I’m not directly involved I get really bad after. (I replay the things that I feel are intimate in my head… kissing/caressing and I start thinking thoughts like my husband love is not just for me but it’s a shared love, my relationship is not safe for me to be vulnerable, it’s only a matter of time before he chooses that over me… )
We had our first orgy. This woman kissed me and her mouth was amazing… the same woman started giving him head without me… and I had a small panic attack, I got down there to help out which usually helps, but the thoughts in my head got me so worked up… (I started thinking what if she’s better at it then me and then I’ll never be able to meet his needs and not be able to please him in the future)… About 20 minutes into playing my anxiety was so high I kept pulling my husband close to me… which usually helps… but it got so bad
I had to take a break to get a drink to relax and then came back… yes this has happened before in group play…taking a break helps… yes my husband leaves play with me to comfort me… it helps… I know that my husband does not attribute the same meaning to sexual play as I do… I’m working on it… it means nothing to him… just a new toy out of the drawer…Is there anyone that Has experienced this? How did you get past it????????
I want my husband to feel free to enjoy himself and have a good time. I don’t want to constrict/restrict his play. But I also want to be comfortable during play. He’s tried to keep me engaged with him with whatever he’s doing and I’ve kept myself engaged also and that helps. When I distract myself with another playmate that helps. I would rather not watch because it hurts to think he’s choosing them over me… yes I am possessive of his cum and where it goes. I’m that girl… sorry… we’re both bi so he can do whatever wants with a guy, it doesn’t bug me at all including sex if he wanted. Why do I feel so different about gender.
Yes… I feel like women are competition to me. Yes my last two husbands cheated on me, yes I am afraid they will be better than me in some way even though I’m a very experienced lover… then I’ll never be able to compete and yes I have a religious background that I no longer live. Yes I have anxiety… yes my husband is thoughtful loving and kind… and we talk a lot… there is no problem we can’t solve together… no everything has not gone smoothly.
The first time he kissed a girl he changed our no kissing rules up at the club and asked me if it was OK in front of the girl. I said ok. But felt pressure to do so… he apologized later and we went back to the no kissing rule. I often cannot get the big O when we play. We have done lots of FFM…..and yes I was originally doing swinging for him… I found myself getting resentful at not getting my needs met… and so I have started playing with men.
Although I do enjoy playing more so if I play with a man. I will often have blue balls by the time we get home. I know my O is my responsibility. I’ve asked my partner on many occasions if we can end play early to take care of me and reconnect in a private room prior to going out and play. I do not push for it when we get to the club… he is always willing to take care me when we get home but has already spent his energy on playing with other women and will fall asleep 5 min in without me getting an O. We get back late.
His response to my request to take care of my needs at the club was not great… he said “I take care of you all the rest of the time we are together. Why can’t I just go and enjoy myself when we go… that’s why we go to play with others… we only have a small amount of time that we get to actually play. If we end early that will cut that time even shorter…it’s not my fault you’re not coming to the group play we are doing. I’m spending a lot if time taking care of and touching you while we play”… and he does…
I know he wants me to cum during play and is disappointed also that I’m not. I have only climaxed once during play… it feels good but for some reason I hit a plateau and can’t get there with others. I think it because I’m anxious about what my partner is and is not doing… He cares about me. Doesn’t want to hurt me. And has suggested at times when I get the afters that we just stop. He is definitely a swinger, I’d be afraid of the long term effects that stopping would have on our relationship because later when I’m doing better he says he doesn’t want to stop… he just doesn’t want to see me hurting.
We recently reached out to find a male to play with because I haven’t really found a bi-male playmate at the club we attend that I would want to engage with because we have a unicorn and sometimes I feel left out… even though they are both trying very hard to include me! I’ve suggested playing in separate rooms because I don’t like watching… he only wants to do it together as it leaves no question as to what’s going on or not. I value that… I enjoy playing with women and am into women. I don’t want to stop but I want to enjoy it also.

This column is usually designed for people who are in non-monogamous/polyamorous types of setups, rather than just swinging, but I’m happy to give advice in this case. And there are a few issues I can speak on here.

  • What if someone is better
  • Rules, anxiety and group sex
  • Negotiation and gender based fears

What if someone is better

Since you said you were okay with bluntness, OP, let me tell you something which is 100% true: There absolutely is someone out there who is better than you at every single possible thing you can think of. There are six billion people on this planet, and that means that it is very, very likely that any given person you and your partner come across will be “better” at any given human activity than you are.

Sometimes these will be things you can control, like a skill you can build. Sometimes it may be something you can’t control like smells or the way your body is formed. But there is almost definitely someone out there who is better at something than you are. But equally, there are definitely people out there that are “better” than your current partner. But ask yourself, lets say you met someone at now of these swinging events that could make you orgasm very easily, for example… would you abandon your partner for them?

You’re focusing all of your energy and your partner is trying to help you focus on the idea that you’re experienced, you’re good, no one is better than you, etc. and that totally makes sense, but I don’t think it’s actually going to make your anxiety go away. Because the hard and cold facts are that there’s always going to be someone out there who is better than us at anything. But relationships are not, despite what capitalism might have us think, trophies and rewards for being the -best- at anything. People don’t end up in partnerships or fall in love with people because they are amazing at everything.

Because most people, in addition to being great at some things absolutely suck at other things. Most relationships involve some amount of understanding that a person has real benefits and also massive flaws. But so long as the people in the relationship are contributing positively to one another’s life and making folks happy… that’s why we’re in relationships.

The other thing you need to realise and accept is that you have absolutely no control over whether your partner decides to stay with you or not. And I know that’s hard to believe because anxiety is this little thing that sees ourselves living in this massive world of chaos and it goes, “but no, there are ways to fight this chaos” and it convinces you that if you could just be x, y, or z, then everything will be fine, but it’s really just a mirage. People fall in love with people and break up with their partners all of the time. And you, having experienced cheating, are going to feel all the more pressure to keep your partner because there might be some parts of your mind that are blaming yourself for being cheated on.

And we see this type phenomena in so many things. When our minds are faced with the existential and debilitating fact that we live in a world where there are so many things we can’t control about our lives, we don’t want to feel powerless. In a way, your anxiety is trying to help by convincing you that if you do something or be something then nothing bad will happen. But I’ve found that the more I’ve believed that, the more I’ve tried to control everything, the less in control and subject to anxiety I felt. When I embraced the idea that I cannot control what my partners do or how they feel, it was actually much easier to cope with the anxiety that they might leave me.

So what you need to do is, rather than fighting this never-ending battle, pushing this boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again, is for you to try and accept some very hard truths which is that your partner could very well meet someone and leave you. Stopping him kissing them is not going to change that. Stopping him having sex with others is not going to change that. Short of locking him inside of your house (and I’d even argue that, no, that won’t work either) you fundamentally cannot control who your partner fancies or falls for. Once you accept that, you relieve yourself of the burden of making sure you always have his attention. Which brings me to the next issue.

Rules, anxiety and group sex

I’m a strong believer that rules can and do work, but they have to put in place for the right reason. Your ‘no kissing’ rule is a classic case of rules put in place that are meant to control emotions — and that just doesn’t work. Because essentially with this rule you are treating the symptom and not the disease. When you give your anxiety an inch, it will take a mile. if you give the space to grow, it will. And even though making a rule sounds like you’re fighting your anxiety, you’re actually giving up more and more freedom to it.

Now this doesn’t mean that you throw yourself off of the precipice. You’ve clearly got anxiety around watching your partner have sex with others. What you could do is slowly try and wean yourself off of this anxiety by, instead of throwing yourself into orgies, doing some light play and working your way up and sort of doing exposure therapy on yourself. You can experience the anxiety, realise over time that your partner is not going anywhere, and then eventually you might not be so threatened by him focusing on other people… but one thing is… do you have to do that?

I’m all for people facing their fears, but I also don’t see a point in facing a fear that you don’t actually have to. Because sometimes what you have is anxiety that stems from it being a new situation and your connection with your partner not feeling solid enough for you to not be anxious when you see them with other people. But other times… it’s just that you don’t like it, and you know what? That’s okay too.

The biggest problem I see here is that you are both making and enforcing rules based on anxiety. You mention that you don’t like to watch… and it’s clear you don’t. You aren’t going to force yourself to like it. You might eventually lessen your anxiety over it… but you can’t force yourself to like it. In response, your partner has said he wants you there because it “leaves no question as to what's going on or not”. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and am assuming he’s worried about cheating on you or you feeling like you’ve been cheated on… but this isn’t the way to solve it. What this suggests is an inherent lack of trust between both of you. And a relationship that isn’t built on trust just isn’t going to work.

There really isn’t a good reason you both have to be in the same room all of the time. He might feel anxious about what you’re doing with other people and you might feel the same, but forcing yourself into sexual situations just because you feel anxious clearly isn’t working either. You have to begin from a basis of trusting one another. Rules you can use that work are rules around the use of barriers and safer sex rules. If you want to start playing separately and do it slowly, perhaps you can say that the first couple of times you play, you only do X activities. But these rules aren’t designed to forever prevent anxiety from happening, but to slowly introduce you into situations which may cause you some anxiety, allow you to manage it, and then eventually go away as the level of anxiety decreases.

Personally, I don’t like being involved with partners as a couple with other people on the whole. For me, just the anxiety that I might be jealous makes me feel so on edge that it completely defeats the purpose. I didn’t realise also until much later that some of my feelings around watching/being watched come from surviving sexual abuse. But at first, I assumed that my feelings around this was ‘jealousy’ that I needed to conquer. I forced myself into a lot of uncomfortable situations that were completely unnecessary and it just ended up making me feel terrible and my anxiety didn’t go away, mostly because I just don’t enjoy these situations.

You need to think about the rules you’re trying to make in your life to prevent your anxiety and understand that trying to prevent your anxiety by making rules is almost always doomed to failure. Sometimes in order to overcome anxiety you have to experience it, live through it, and come out of the other end and see that you’re okay. You don’t have to participate in swinging together. And to be honest… it doesn’t really sound like you’re having that much fun anyway.

Because it sounds like you spend most of what little time you have to explore fun with other people either watching what your partner is doing or doing your own thing and then getting dive-bombed with emotions when you notice your partner with another person. And it sounds like your partner has to constantly spend time coming around and making sure that things are okay. Wouldn’t you both rather be at an event where you can relax and enjoy yourself without having to constantly worry about something else? Wouldn’t you rather be in a situation where you’re not going to feel obligated to participate in a sex act just to stop anxiety from happening? It’s not surprising you’ve not been able to orgasm if you’re spending the entire time walking on eggshells around your anxiety. Which brings me to the next issue.

Negotiation and gender based fears

Part of what anxiety does is has you hyper focus on details. It tricks you into thinking that small things matter because it wants you to think you can control these things. That’s why you’re more anxious about your partner having sex with certain people. Your letter is a little cis-centric and doesn’t really state what it would be about women that would make you nervous, and maybe you don’t really know, but it does make sense to me that you would feel like people who look like you or are more like you are ‘competition’. It might be that a man is so far out of the spectrum of what you could provide, that it’s difficult for you to focus on a detail of where you might ‘compete’.

Likewise, you obsessing about where ejaculate goes is the same thing. It’s your brain trying to make you think that all these little things matter — when the truth is they don’t. I know how this feels though. I have very similar hangups, albeit for different reasons. Sometimes I worry when my partner sleeps with cis women that they will realise how much of a fake I am and then leave me for someone who is ‘real’. I know this makes no logical sense, but my brain is still more fearful that I’ll be replaced in this way. I have to actively remind myself though that I can be replaced by anyone regardless of what’s going on in their pants.

These are operating almost like rules in trying to make you think that if you could control some of these things, then you wouldn’t lose your partner. They’re trying to help, but like I’ve said, they’re not helping. What you need to embrace is that you do not have control over whether or not your partner replaces you, cheats on you or leaves you. Deciding what gender he can/can’t play with or where his ejaculate goes or who he kisses will not change any of that. Forcing yourselves to always have sex together is not going to prevent anyone from cheating or hurting someone else. And while that may seem terrifying… it also means that those people who cheated on you did so of their own accord and choosing, not because you failed at providing something they could find elsewhere.

When you are under so much stress and anxiety, it’s going to be very difficult for you to orgasm, and I see the issue with your partner from both sides. He is already focusing a lot on trying to soothe you and I can understand that this is a limited time he gets to play with other people. The point of having sex with other people is to… have sex with other people and not the person who is at home who you see all of the time. I can’t really blame him for wanting to do that. But I also can’t blame you for being angry if he’s promised to sort you out and… hasn’t done so. And that sucks so much because it can be hard knowing how to navigate complaining about a lack of sexual satisfaction without also feeling like you’re having to beg for sex or manipulate someone into having sex with you… it’s not fun.

But… it also seems like you’re doing all of the sacrificing to try to make yourself okay with this situation but you playing separately is not something you’re pushing for, and you should push for it much harder. It might make him feel anxious but… that’s kind of part of life and part of the road that this will take you on. I don’t see any reason why you should be the only one battling your anxiety. I do think it’s worth confronting some of these ideas and embracing your anxiety, but if you don’t enjoy watching, the very simplest solution that is that you should not watch.

I’m assuming you’ve only been together for two years. That seems like awhile, but sometimes it takes longer, especially depending on when and how long you were with your previous partners when they cheated on you, for you to feel secure in your relationship. All new relationships have periods of insecurity that is natural because you’re getting to know and trust one another. Already you’re starting from the standpoint that all sex acts have to be witnessed by each other… and that’s just a foundation of mistrust. You’re building your house on a sand foundation instead of a stone foundation and no wonder it’s not standing.

And I see you trying to give your all to make him comfortable… and the result that you’re not getting your needs met is unsurprising. No one wants to be the wet blanket. No one wants to be the one to poop the party. One of the things I try to remind my partners about is to not put me in situations where I have to “okay” or give permission because, like you described, I am almost always going to feel pressure to pretend like I am okay with everything just because I want to be. But sometimes I am not and I can’t help that. By being constantly forced into these situations where you’ve already said you’re not interested and are clearly uncomfortable in, you’re continually feeling like you’re not cool enough to hack the Shortbus and it’s giving your self esteem a one two punch. Why should you be the one to be in the emotional Gladiator pit? Negotiations need to happen that keep your needs in mind too. You’ve tried being there. You’ve tried watching. It doesn’t work. Now it’s time to try something else.

In summation

Embrace the fact that you’re going to be scared and anxious about swinging or your partner sleeping with other people — and he needs to embrace that too. It’s not your emotions running wild, jealousy or something terrible — it’s a perfectly logical conclusion and fear, especially given the fact that you have been cheated on in the past. It might be that you can eventually do group sex and all of this stuff just fine in the future but… do you have to do it right now? There is no reason to force yourself. And you need to not be put in a position where you are the one who is facing the anxiety and he gets to have everything he wants about the situation because it makes him feel better. That’s hardly fair.

Confront your fears by accepting them and asking what if this happens and this is where you both need to have discussions and reassure one another. What if your partner did love someone as well as you? What would that mean? Maybe you need to talk with each other about where you see swinging working in your relationship. Think about some of the worse case scenarios and talk about what you would do if those things happened. Shining a light on some of these fears and examining them with a reality check might make you feel less inclined to speculate about what ifs, because you’ll have those answers.

But most of all trust one another. And you have to start with trust. Embracing your anxiety and facing your fear is one part of this, but it won’t mean a thing if someone doesn’t trust you, especially because someone not trusting you is almost always going to make you wonder whether or not you should be trusting them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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