July 14, 2011
For those of you who don’t already know Samantha Fraser, allow me to introduce you to this 30-something, self-proclaimed ethical slut: a woman who is really passionate about discussing sex and relationships, and the video game industry. This multi-faceted woman about town currently wears many hats, including: event producer, author, relationship coach, sex educator, and college professor.
As you can imagine, it was mighty hard to pin her down for a chat. But a few weeks ago I managed to do just that and as jet lagged as she was (having just returned from the UK), Samantha had many thought provoking and insightful things to say about marriage, society’s view of non-monogamy and the importance of communication in maintaining a healthy, lasting relationship…non-monogamous or not.
Skye: Why did you choose to start a blog about your married life/open relationship?
SF: Originally I had a private blog that was about my open relationship, but it was more of a personal diary. I started it because I’ve always been a diary sort of person and I like just recording things for my own personal use. So this blog was very, very detailed and graphic. I would talk about dates and what we got up to, but it was totally anonymous and I found it wasn’t giving me the joy that I now get from connecting with people by being non-anonymous. I started it in 2006 before Twitter and Facebook really took off. So there wasn’t really a means for me to connect with people back then.
I decided to leave that and move to Not Your Mother’s Playground because a friend of mine suggested that I should start a blog where I was actually helping people. He was going through some stuff with his girlfriend where they were considering an open relationship and he said, ‘Why don’t you share your experiences with people?’ That’s when I decided to make the switch from an anonymous blog to one where people knew who I was. And it’s definitely been challenging along the way but the rewards are so worth it.
Skye: You are currently working on your book Not Your Mother’s Playground: Open Relationships for Modern Folk (NYMP) which is based in part on your own experiences in a happy open marriage. What was the impetus for writing it?
SF: When my husband Steph and I first opened up our marriage we looked to two places: online and on the bookshelves. We came across the typical literature like The Ethical Slut, and a few polyamory books. What we found was that the books available were very hippy-dippy…that’s the only way I can describe them. The language in them was a little fluffy, especially in The Ethical Slut, although it is a book I really love and recommend to a lot of people. Still, I found that I couldn’t relate to it. All the books I was reading were saying things like, ‘Hey you’re going to be in this relationship, and things and are going to go good, and then they’re going to go bad: but it will be okay.” But in reality things can really suck – a lot.
So, I realized there needed to be a book out there that talked about non-monogamy from a very straight forward, ‘Hey sometimes things are good, sometimes they’re crap, and here are some things that I’ve gone through that can help you. And hey maybe it won’t, but that’s not the end of the world.” That is really why I want to write it, because when I needed THAT book, I found that it didn’t exist.
Five happy year of open marriage and counting...
Skye: How long have you and Steph been married, and how many years has your marriage been open?
SF: We have been together for 10 and a half years, we’ve been married since September 2004, and we have been open for the last five years… Wow. I didn’t realize that until I said it out loud.
Skye: How has having an open marriage improved your connection to your husband? And would you say it’s had any negative impact on your connection?
SF: I think I’ll answer the negative part first, because I often wonder about the negative impacts. Sometimes we are so open with each other that I can’t keep anything to myself. There are moments that I sort of crave that secret time; though it is such a rare occurrence that I don’t think of it as a bad thing. This is my example of a negative thing that comes up when I’m searching for something bad, but really it’s not the end of the world.
Regarding how it’s improved things, that’s such a loaded question really…It’s taught us how to connect with ourselves as individuals. After six years together we had become very much the same person. We were this standard couple that did everything together. We shared all the same friends, musical interests and interests in movies, decorating – everything. And then suddenly we were introduced to the possibility of things outside of each other – and not just sexually. We were reminded of our own personal tastes in all aspects of life.
Sexually it’s been amazing finding the things we’ve been able to discover about ourselves and our own interests: but more important are the other benefits. Realizing who we are as individuals and how we can come together as really strong team while still having our own unique personalities. That’s something that we had lost before we opened up.
Skye: So you don’t think the discovery of your own unique personalities/individuality would’ve happened if you hadn’t opened up?
SF: Partially that happens with growing older – we all hopefully get a little older and wiser. But when we opened up we noticed it right away. We weren’t open in July and a month and a half later it was different. Suddenly it was, ‘You want to go to a concert with someone else? Go! Have fun!’ That had never come up before. I also started to remember all the things I used to do before we met. I used to like playing piano and other creative endeavours before I was with Steph that I hadn’t allowed myself to do as life became ‘Hey what are WE doing today?’ Everything that we were doing was constantly together.
That’s not to say that our experience is what every couple in an open relationship would go through when choosing non-monogamy. I’m sure there are a lot of couples who were already their own people before they opened up. That just happens to be the way that we worked. We were so much this solid, kind of pathetic unit that went to Ikea and Home Depot – all the time (laughs).
Skye: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about being in an open marriage that you wouldn’t have anticipated when you first chose the non-monogamy route?
SF: What most surprised me was that there is this certain expectation about non-monogamy, and it’s with sex positive community in general. People will say, ‘Hey you’re in a non-monogamous relationship; you must be having sex all the time?’ And that really surprised me. Yes, initially that was happening as the newness of it all was SO exciting, but now we’re just as married as any other couple.
We go through ruts and don’t have sex sometimes for weeks. We just came back from vacation and didn’t have sex the entire time we were there – it was in my mother’s bed and she was in the next room, so that was kind of weird to me. (grins) Even with all my kinks, I can’t get into that!
So the most surprising thing to me over time is that we’re really, really ‘normal’, yet completely not. That’s why we can have friends who are queer or non-monogamous and others that you could define as hetero-normative. It’s something I’ve noticed in other open relationships, so I would say that having a non-monogamous relationship doesn’t make you a sexual deviant. (laughs)
It’s a lot easier for people to accept the fact that you’ve cheated on someone or that you have been cheated on, versus actually choosing to do it on purpose with your partner’s knowledge and consent. – Samantha Fraser
Skye: Although more and more people are choosing to have open relationships and/or other types of ‘alternative’ connections, would you say that those who choose to do so still face a lot of stigma and judgment in society?
SF: Absolutely. I think that that will eventually go away over time, which is the case if we look at any struggle (I hesitate to call my polyamorous/non-monogamous lifestyle a “struggle”, though I know many others face challenges I am not up against). For example the struggle for gay rights and equality is something that we as a city can say we are doing okay with. But you move away from Toronto and go a little bit into the suburbs, and it’s not the same story. Even in many areas of the city there are still massive stigmas.
When we’re talking about open relationships and you say, “I sleep with other people, but my husband’s ok with it”, it’s seen as strange. We can have gay relationships on TV now, but we don’t REALLY talk about open relationships in the media. Slowly that’s changing with movies like Hall Pass, where the main character had a week off from his marriage. Films like Friends With Benefits and the amazingly differently titled No Strings Attached, are starting to confirm what we already know, that people are choosing different relationship styles. Western society is slowly starting to talk more openly about non-monogamous relationships, but it’s not a discussion that is currently being had on a large scale.
I don’t really notice the stigma that I get because I don’t really care about how people feel about me, besides your standard insecurities. I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality and my relationship status, but I do know a lot of people face a lot of judgment because it’s not a ”normal” way of life. It’s a lot easier for people to accept the fact that you’ve cheated on someone or that you have been cheated on, versus actually choosing to do it on purpose with your partner’s knowledge and consent. (laughs) In fact, a lot of people respond to learning about an open relationship by saying or implying that cheating is more acceptable.
Skye: That’s really sad and twisted even.
SF: Yeah it is. But when you look at how much we hear about and see cheating in the media it’s understandable. Cheating has been normalized and as a result has become more acceptable.
Skye: In speaking to people about open relationships many of them cite fears about sexually transmitted diseases. As condoms and other prophylactics don’t protect you from all transmittable diseases during sex, how do you and your partners handle the safer sex issue?
SF: Safer sex is very, very important and it should be important to everybody. I think the porn industry is a really good example. If you look at the really responsible porn performers they’re out there and they’re having sex, but they’re being tested regularly. And that is something that anyone not in a closed relationship needs to do.
Of course you have to be safe. We always use protection with other people. It’s a standard thing for us. Being tested is really important. I mean you can never guarantee that the person you’re with is telling you the truth. But I can be a single person and sleeping with someone and not be able to guarantee that, you know? I would give the same advice to someone that’s single, to someone that is open. Use your gut extinct and be safe. Protect yourself.
Also, I think a lot of people who wonder about safer sex and open relationships are using it to judge non-monogamy. It’s one of the first comments people come up with when you talk to them about it, like a knee-jerk reaction. “Ooh, but what about safe sex?” as if being non-monogamous means that diseases stick to you more than the average person. But again what about single people? It’s pretty much the same situation if they’re dating more than one person.
Skye: You’re on record as saying being with other men brings new emotional and sexual energy to your life. Do you think all that new energy is beneficial to your relationship with your husband?
SF: Absolutely. There are definitely facets to my personality that I’ve discovered, things that I need that Steph cannot provide for me: whether it’s on the kink side or just a different kind of connection. The fact that I’m able to occasionally have those needs met elsewhere, means that I’m not dragging him down by being this needy force in the house that requires something from him that he can’t give me. When I’m with him I am able to just be with him and be content.
On the flipside when I’ve broken up with someone and I’m not getting that, then it can be a challenge. Then he has to deal with the fact that: a) I’m not getting something I was used to from somebody else; b) I’m upset about it; and c) he has to acknowledge the fact that he can’t give it to me, instead of ignoring it and letting me go off and do my thing. So…there’s good sides and bad sides. Ignorance is sometimes definitely bliss.
Folks, be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Samantha Fraser, when she shared her thoughts on effectively handling your insecurities, what equality really means in the bounds of a relationship, the upcoming Playground conference and more.