It’s a popular perception and a theme common in pop culture and it goes like this:
Hooking up with a stranger leads to hot, no-holds-barred, button-popping, get-out-the-rug-burn-ointment sex…
…Clothes-tearing, furniture-busting, sweaty, walking-funny-the-next-day sex. Sex with a stranger is supposedly waaaay hotter than sex with a long-term partner. You know, sex with a long-term partner: boring, repetitive, now he’s going to do that thing with his tongue again because I said I liked it that one time sex.
This is why the theme is so often paired with the cheating theme. Perhaps the most famous movie example is the ecstatic shagging between Dan (Michael Douglas) and crazy Alex (Glenn Close) in Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction. (Lyne, who also directed Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful, is clearly a student-slash-fan of cheating). That Alex woman could boil a mean rabbit and she was a great lay. What’s not to love?
Cheating isn’t an absolutely necessary part of the equation, though. Stranger-banging is still regarded as wilder than committed-relationship-banging regardless of whether you’re actually in a relationship or not. It’s why we often have the best sex of our lives during the first three months of any relationship, when everything is new and exciting. One way to keep the novelty alive is to do it with new people.
A recent study released by the UK’s Dating Direct found that more than one in three single women confessed to meeting someone for no-strings-attached sex — which is sort of a broader definition of what we mean here.
After all, once you have sex with someone more than once, they’re not technically a “stranger” anymore but can still be wild and new. The line lies somewhere between “That was great. What’s your name anyway?” and “Get your cold feet off my side of the bed. Thanks. G’night.”
Those who don’t quite have the guts to do it can read about it. It’s a subject we have found enticing since Lady Chatterley got down with the gardener. Heck, adultery gets name-checked in the Old Testament. French journalist Catherine Millet caused a scandal with her 2001 memoir, La Vie Sexuelle de Catherine M., an account of her doing it with pretty much everything that moved over the course of 30 years.
More recently, UK memoirist Suzanne Portnoy made a name for herself chronicling her sexual awakening after ending a 10-year marriage in her book The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker. Her newest book, The Not So Invisible Woman, reveals more of Portnoy’s exploits and encounters with “a different man each time, sometimes multiple men.”The entertainment publicist and single mother of two has said that time is one issue. With a career and kids, how is one supposed to cultivate a new relationship? She also says, “I love that first kiss, first touch and first sexual experience with a new partner. I dress up, my body feels heightened and it turns me on. You just don’t get that in a long term relationship.”And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We feel that for something to be “exciting” it has to be “the first” which isn’t necessarily true. Skydivers probably get excited every time they jump. Also, there’s this idea that there are no “firsts” with a long-term partner.Recently I was reading an article in which the author discussed the one-night stand in such a manner, extolling it as a situation in which you can really let go and get wild, because you don’t have to worry about seeing this person again. And I thought, “Yes, that is a pervasive view… but why?”
“When people are in relationships,” says Cory Silverberg, a certified sex educator and founding member of the Toronto-based, co-operatively owned sex shop Come As You Are, “and they say they want the sex to be better or hotter, usually what they mean is they want it to be the way it used to be. One of the hottest things about sex is the unknown, the mystery. It’s either the mystery of what someone is going to be like in bed or, once you’ve had sex with someone, the mystery of what’s going to happen next.”
Silverberg muses that part of the problem is how easy it is to habituate our sexual practices and fall into patterns. “So, people think ‘I would never have anal sex with my partner but maybe if I had sex with a sex trade worker and I was paying I’d want to try that.’ We habituate our behaviors and set boundaries and then treat them as though they aren’t negotiable. And we do it in a way that is unspoken. People don’t talk about this stuff a lot. It’s just established in the beginning of the relationship.”
But people change over time and if you’re going to spend years with the same person you’re going to want different things. You don’t watch the same television shows over and over again for 40 years. You might not have the same taste in books now that you had 10 years ago. You don’t still wear the same ridiculous platform shoes you wore in 1998.So why should we be expected to do the same things in bed over and over again, right? But the problem then is you have to ask for what you want and most of us are simply not comfortable doing that. (Might I recommend drinking? Or maybe finger puppets…)Silverberg says, “With our partners we are often much more worried about judgment. If I’m going to have a one-night stand, what do I care what that person thinks of my fantasy about wearing a dog collar or having sex with my ninth grade math teacher? Whereas exposing those fantasies to my partner who I’m thinking about building a life with and whose family I’ve met might feel like a greater risk.”Interesting. After all, one might think that if you’re going to talk to anyone about your sex life it should be your partner, the person you supposedly share the most with in this area and the one person who would, hopefully, not judge you. It’s the person who has seen you in all sorts of states of vulnerability.
Well one might think that but one would probably be wrong. Silverberg says, “We can assume that most of us feel some shame about our sexual desires. Exposing something that I feel shame about to someone I’ve opened my heart to is a big deal.
“If I expose my fantasies about being dominated and wearing a dress to a total stranger, the worst that can happen is they can say no. But for a partner to say no can feel like a bigger rejection.
“They might just be rejecting the idea of having sex with me while I’m wearing a dress but I can feel that as a rejection of me as a whole person. So, there’s a greater emotional risk and a greater practical risk. So, we don’t do it. Instead when we look for newness, we go out and we cheat.”
We cheat because we’re chickenshits, which makes perfect sense.
“We have this incredibly untapped well of eroticism inside of ourselves,” Silverberg continues. “We have all sorts of fantasies and desires we don’t expose to anyone. And that’s really what we should be doing. But we go the safe route because we’re scared.”
And so we cheat. It’s AMAZING how many people cheat.
One way to avoid this is to have some sort of discourse. If you’re going to be in a monogamous relationship for a long time you’re going to have to check in once in a while.
“Hey, is that thing I do with my tongue still working for you?”
“Actually, I’m glad you asked. Not really. And I was wondering if you’d mind putting on these boxing trunks and this mouth guard…”
See how easy that was?
If you’re NOT in a relationship, there’s no real reason you can’t keep having (SAFER!) sex with random people. But you might eventually find yourself wanting more. After all, sex isn’t the only relationship first. There’s the first time you kick his sorry ass at Trivial Pursuit, the first time you laugh until you pee (just me?), your first vacation, first place together, first kid… life is full of firsts.
You might find that, after a while, random sex gets old, even if it’s always with someone new.