I’m recovering from ankle-replacement surgery* and watching far too much TV and far too many films. Why is it that mainstream TV shows and films never show ethical, consensual non-monogamy as a relationship choice that works for many? We only see sexual exclusivity as the gold star of relationships, and when someone strays from the monogamy agreement, love turns into hurt and hate — almost never into a renegotiation of what the couple wants the relationship to be going forward. (Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” is the only exception that I can think of, and it’s not mainstream.)Don’t get me started on how rarely we see older-age relationships portrayed in any way other than traditional, if they’re portrayed at all! Even the new Netflix series “Grace and Frankie”  made me cringe at the stereotypical portrayal of older people and relationships. Yes, the men came out as gay and in love with each other instead of their long-time wives, but even they lapsed into spats and pain when it came out that one of them had either a past one-night stand or a last-night tryst with his ex-wife. Why not just say, “Yeah, these things happen and will happen and because I love you, I’ll work to understand and accept — let’s talk”?And the sweet, vulnerable, free-spirited, hippie Frankie played by Lily Tomlin?  Why isn’t one of those cute, ex-convict artists emerging from her bedroom from time to time? (I have to say that as much as I’m dumping on this series, Frank Waterston is wonderful and adorable and the sexiest person on the show. He’d be welcome in my house anytime.)

Back to reality: sex therapists, researchers, and educators know that the sexual exclusivity model works for some but not for all. For others, ethical and consensual non-monogamy (which isn’t cheating, because both partners agree to it) keeps many relationships strong. Pioneers like Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence and TED talk speaker on “Rethinking Infidelity,” and Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, authors of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, have done brilliant work demystifying the causes and effects of infidelity and whether human beings are monogamous creatures.

My favorite podcaster, Dan Savage, talks about this often. He coined the term “monogamish” to describe couples who are committed, intimately bonded, and who sometimes have sex with others. The partner might want to know all the details or might not want to know anything, depending on the couple’s agreement. Savage also says that when a couple has a monogamy agreement — no sex with anyone else — and one of them strays once in a while, the strayer is doing “a pretty good job at monogamy.”

Please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not “promoting” non-monogamy or any sexual lifestyle. I’m just saying that I know many couples who stay together happily and intimately because they acknowledge that sexual exclusivity is not right for them. Let’s not judge them or say (as I’ve heard some people righteously insist) that they “don’t know how to be committed to another person.”

Those of you who are in consensually non-exclusive relationships, especially after age 50, I invite your thoughts here. Was this always the kind of relationship you wanted? Or did you come to it because you tried to embrace monogamy and it didn’t work? I hope you’ll share your views and experiences. (If you have trouble posting a comment, please email me and I’ll post it for you.)

 

* In case you’re curious about my surgery:I was in a near-fatal auto accident in 1979, which, among many other injuries, shattered my right heel and crushed my ankle. For the past 36 years, I’ve walked and danced on an ankle that barely moved and often caused pain. I sometimes described my foot as “a block of wood with nerve endings.” I am extremely fortunate that now a reliable procedure is available that replaces a damaged ankle with a new, mobile one! I had the surgery in November, and I expect to be back on the dance floor in February! 

Dec. 12, 2015: I am moving this post from July 2015 to the top, because I have many new readers and some of you might need holiday tips for sure-to-please sex toy gifts for a lover or for yourself. Enjoy! 


And if you don’t have my latest book yet, The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50 is a gift that will give you information and resources after the holidays are just a memory.  — Joan

I had the pleasure of recording a guest segment on Dan Savage’s Savage Love podcast, answering two caller questions.  It’s live here: Episode 456. I’m on the Micro (free) version for 10 minutes and on the Magnum (paid subscription) for more than 20 minutes.

At the end of our Magnum segment, Dan asked me for some quick vibrator recommendations for the over-50 crowd. Here are the ones I mentioned, with links to my reviews so that you can learn more about them:

Magic Wand

Magic Wand (rechargeable): It has everything we loved about the Original Magic Wand plus new attributes that make it the ideal sex tool for those of us who need really strong vibrations.

Sybian

 Sybian: Can I call a 22-pound, vibrating, mountable, power tool a “vibrator”? That’s like calling the Sydney Opera House a music device. Straddle the Sybian, turn the dial to control the sensations, and enjoy.

The Pulse

The Pulse: A pulsing, oscillating, amazing vibrator for penises that does not require an erection for his pleasure!

Here are some more favorites that I would have added if we had more time:

Eroscillator

Eroscillator: Especially fabulous for clitoral stimulation during partner sex because it doesn’t get in the way of two bodies.

Private Gym

Private Gym: A penis workout for stronger erections — including weights. This is no gimmick!

Womanizer

Womanizer: A sex toy that sucks your clitoris — and that’s a rock-your-world sensation!

Palm Power

Palm Power:  A lightweight, travel-friendly, ergonomically designed vibrator that packs incredible power into a small, silicone topped sex toy.

If you’re new to my blog, it isn’t just sex toys all the time, but yes, I do review sex toys a lot, and always from a “senior perspective.”

What’s a “senior perspective” and why do we need it?

  • Our need for long, slow arousal requires a vibrator that doesn’t overheat, run out of battery charge, or burst into flames if we need to use it for a long time. 
  • We want sex toys that don’t strain arthritic wrists. 
  • They must be made of body safe materials, especially with our thinning genital tissues.
  • We want to be able to see the controls without having to put on our reading glasses. 
  • Above all, we need intensity: strong vibrations. We’re battling our (lack of) hormones. And we’re winning!

If you’re new to Dan Savage, he’s super smart and sex-savvy. Check out the free mini-version of his weekly Savage Lovecast. Even better, in my opinion, is the paid Magnum version that’s twice as long and ad-free. If you don’t yet subscribe to the Magnum version, it’s well worth the small amount of money to hear the longer version each week. Plus when you subscribe, you get to listen to ALL the past episodes — years of them! You can read Dan’s sex advice columns here. Dan is over 50 now — welcome to our world, Dan!

Joan and Dan, showing actual height difference

8/19/14 update: I originally wrote this post on June 25. I’m moving it to the top of my blog because I’m a guest on the Savage Lovecast episode 408 that airs today, and I expect many Dan Savage fans to visit this blog for the first time out of curiosity. In the 8/19 podcast, Dan refers to a scolding that I gave him. This blog post is the scolding/ spanking he’s talking about. Enjoy! 

“Joan?
Too far outside your wheelhouse?” began Dan Savage‘s message to me. He sent me an email from a reader who wanted advice. Because the reader was 70 years old, Dan thought I’d be the right person to help him respond.

Here’s my interpretation of what I read:

A 70-year-old woman has been crazy with lust over her female cousin for the past 50 years! It turns out, the cousins discover now, that they both feel the same way! Bring it on! But since they’re both inexperienced in the ways of lesbian sex, they decide it would be cool to get a third woman in on this, to guide the experience so that the first time is stellar. Their fantasy is that Cousin #1 would watch Cousin #2 and their #3 at first, then join in.Their question: How to find this third? 

What did I actually read? This:

I’m a bit out of your demographic, agewise (I’m 70), but I am still an avid reader. This is true, not a Penthouse letter. My cousin and I have flirted and joked about getting it on together for about 50 years or more. Now, she’s divorced and having the time of her life. She told me the other day, what she’d really like is to have a “lesbian experience” with me watching and then joining. I’m so crazed with lust that I’m having a hard time thinking straight. This is a kinky dream come true. I love oral sex and with two pussies to eat, etc., the whole thing sounds just great. What I don’t know is how to contact someone to do this. I don’t want someone who’s got a disease, or someone with a boyfriend just waiting to break in and rob everyone. Or someone truly horrific for any number of reasons. How do I contact, and then arrange such a thing? How would I ensure that my concerns are dealt with? Is using an escort services any guarantee of any degree of safety? Boy, I would just love some good advice. Got any for me? If you answer, you can call me… Old But Alive.

What’s wrong with this picture? Just the gender of the letter writer, that’s all. Turns out that my assumption that Cousin #1 (C#1) is female was wrong, wrong, wrong. C#1 is a man.

Dan knew that. I didn’t. It never occurred to me that I had the gender wrong. He didn’t realize that I didn’t know.

So I sent my advice, which included:

  1. “I hope you’re indulging that lust with plenty of hot talk, make-out sessions, and role-playing as you figure out how to make your fantasy a reality.” (Good advice.)
  2. “Start hanging out at lesbian bars and other social venues. Don’t go in aiming to pick someone up right off the bat—you don’t want to come across as predatory and creepy. Instead, go on a date with your cousin, dance, chat up women who are friendly. You could make great connections if you’re open and take your time.” (Good advice if C#1 is a woman. Horrible, clueless, shudder-worthy advice since he’s a man. No, no, no.)
  3. “Another way to go, as you suggested, is to hire someone. The advantage of a paid escort is that you can choose the woman and spell out exactly what fantasy you want her to provide. She’ll be experienced, creative, and totally focused on your pleasure.” (The best advice of all.)

Dan sent me back a quick email that he disagreed with some of what I said, but he didn’t tell me what. I was puzzled — what could he possibly disagree with?

The column posted today — you can read it here. To my shock, Dan broke into my lesbian bar advice with “About the only thing lesbians hate more than opposite-sex couples prowling for ‘thirds’ in their bars are sharp fingernails digging for clams in their pants.” 
Huh? Where did he get the idea this was an “opposite-sex couple”?
Later in the post, talking about safer sex, Dan says, “Use condoms, Gramps.” Who’s he calling “Gramps,” and where would these lesbians put the condoms (unless they’re sharing sex toys)?
So it all comes out. C#1 is indeed a man*, and I’ve just gone from respected sex educator to clueless in the eyes of all the Dan Savage fans and Dan himself.
* (But Dan, don’t call him “Gramps” anyway — that’s ageist and condescending. Whether or not he has grandchildren has nothing to do with his sex life.)
Once Dan and I realized what had happened, he apologized profusely, both to me for not clarifying the gender of C#1 and to his readers via a “Dear Readers” update. 
He told me later:

I thought it was obvious the letter writer was male — his cousin wanted a lesbian experience, which he couldn’t provide. That’s why they needed a third and he would watch while the cousin had her lesbian experience, then join in. And he mentioned having two pussies to play with… not three.

So, that’s the story, and now I can breathe more easily and sleep tonight. Now that I see it all in perspective, it’s pretty funny that I jumped to the conclusion that the letter writer was female. I can laugh about it now. 

While I’m on the subject, finding a paid escort is less problematic than you’d think via the Internet or referrals – these women have found ways to advertise their availability, or they wouldn’t be in business. Kendra Holliday, who describes herself as a sex worker from St Louis, tells me, “You can track down sex workers in your area online and run your scenario by them. If the sex worker is not into that kind of thing, she can float it by her network. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool in the sex worker realm.” 

Thank you, Dan Savage, for all you do to create a sex-positive world! (See my review of Dan’s book, American Savage, along with a gratuitous photo of his husband Terry in a swimsuit, here.) While you’re at it, do subscribe to the paid version of his Savage Lovecast — it’s well worth the small subscription fee to get almost 1.5 hours of Dan every week.

Dan Savage is an outspoken, irreverent, gay sex columnist who gives sex advice to all genders and orientations at Savage Love and on his podcast. With his husband Terry*, he started the “It Gets Better” video project, designed to help kids who are bullied realize that it does get better.

Now he is the author of American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics, a book about sex, love, and marriage in our contemporary culture and how politics, religion, and sexuality get mixed together — and badly mixed up.
I admit it — I’m a Dan Savage geek. I find his sex advice smart, witty, usually right on the mark. I read his column, I subscribe to the long version of his podcast, I go around quoting him. When Dan had me on his podcast giving senior sex advice, I felt that I had achieved star status.

So I was prepared to like Dan’s new book. I had no idea that I would love it, highlight it, bookmark it, rave about it. I had no idea that Dan could write so eloquently, and from the heart. For example:

  • “Sex education in America is a lot like a driver’s-ed course that covers the internal combustion but not steering or brakes…so long as we skip past pleasure, desire, and negotiating a romantic or sexual relationship … we aren’t really teaching young adults about sex.”
  • “Fighting your sexuality is like holding your breath: It can be done, yes, but not for long (when it comes to your breath) and not forever (when it comes to your sexuality).”

Politically, Dan is razor-sharp. His one-hour, dinner table debate with Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, about gay marriage is worth watching on YouTube — but what you don’t know about what happened before and after the debate is here in American Savage, such as the one question Terry asked after the debate was over:

“Do you think our son should be taken away from us?”

 “You shouldn’t ask me a question when you know you won’t like the answer,” Brown said.

“Get the fuck out of my house,” Terry said.

Dan’s personal stories are moving, especially when he writes about his mother’s death, his husband, or his son. Each time he speaks from his heart with a story from his own life, it is to illustrate or lead us to an important point.

Dan Savage makes you think about things you thought you knew. For example, when is/isn’t it okay to cheat?

“We are socially monogamous — we pair bond; we couple up… but we are not sexually monogamous… The fact that your partner is willing to ‘forsake all others’ only means something is your partner doesn’t, on some level, want to forsake all others. and your partner doesn’t.”

How can you help laughing when he writes about Rick Santorum (“then the third most powerful person in the United States Senate [who] equated gay people to child rapists and dogfuckers”) and Dan’s campaign to launch a new meaning for the word “santorum”: “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex” in our culture and in Google searches.

I could go on for another hour, but here’s the bottom line: I recommend American Savage to everyone, straight or gay, who cares about how confused our culture is about sexuality and religion and politics. Please read this book and share it with people in your life who agree with you — and those who don’t.

*Okay, since I’m being honest here — I drool over the photo of Dan’s husband Terry posing in underwear, which I’ll share here with you, at the risk of undermining the intellectual nature of this book review.

Terry posing in underwear