About a year ago, I read an article written by Nina Lorez Collins, founder of the website and author of the book What Would Virginia Woolf Do (WWVWD), about her experience with her husband in the Orgy Dome at Burning Man Festival.
The Orgy Dome is a large, air-conditioned, sex-positive tent that provides a consensual space for couples and moresomes to explore sexual play. You can watch others, be watched and experiment with group encounters, if you desire.
As I read, fascinated, I found myself wondering, "Is that normal?"
"Normal is relevant," explained Nisha McKenzie PA-C, IF, CSC, NCMP. Founder and Owner Women’s Health Collective."Something you find abnormal, I guarantee, is normal to someone else! In fact, I'd love to remove the words 'normal' and 'should' from sexual play and sexual encounters. They put too much pressure on us, which inevitably negates pleasure."
Sexual preference may even differ for one person, at different times in life. You might enjoy bondage at one stage and decide it's not for you at another.
Other sexual behaviors that can be considered normal, depending on factors we'll discuss in a moment: oral, anal and vaginal sex; using sex toys like vibrators, feathers and bondage; power or vulnerability plays including blindfolds, whips, and handcuffs; trying various positions; having sex at different times of the day; partnered masturbation; sex outside of the bedroom; sharing fantasies ... And none of this. Straightforward "vanilla" sex is perfectly normal, too.
What's not OK: anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, scares you, puts you in danger or shames you.
Sexual play that's painful or makes you feel demeaned is off-limits, too, unless you enjoy those sensations as part of sexual play. "The key is whether it's desired and consensual by both partners," said Sharon Depcinski, LMSW, Grand Rapids Specialty Therapy.
For some women, spanking is off limits. Others wear panties demanding "Spank Me" and mean it. Both are normal.
If something not part of your typical sexual repertoire piques your interest, what's a curious woman to do? Start a dialogue. "It may feel awkward," said Depcinski. "In this country, most people feel more comfortable doing it than talking about it."
Depcinski suggests calling attention to an interesting sexual experience you see on TV or in the movies as a way to ease into the conversation. "It's a good way to test the waters."
"Depending on the response," she added, "you could say, 'I'd love to talk more about what turns us on. Would you be comfortable with that?' It's important to find that sexual vocabulary."
If your partner doesn't respond enthusiastically, respect that they've been vulnerable in their honesty. Consider a compromise. "You might suggest having sex in the living room instead of the bedroom."
"If it's important enough for you to pursue it further, consider speaking with an AASECT certified sex therapist who can help sort out your wants, needs and communication styles," McKenzie said.
The other big "normal" question is about frequency.
How often should we be doing it?
It's not the frequency of sex that's important, Depcinski explained. What's important is whether both partners are satisfied.
"I have patients who have sex once a year, or less, and are so happy in their relationship that neither partner would change a thing," McKenzie said. "I have other patients who have sex three times a week and one partner would prefer to increase that frequency."
A desire discrepancy between partners is not unusual or necessarily a red flag. The "watch out," McKenzie notes, is if that discrepancy causes unpleasant tension. "In that case, a sex therapist can be very helpful."
Sexual preferences regarding frequency and acts are obviously highly personal. In his recent book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, Justin J. Lehmiller, Ph.D., identified seven of the most common fantasies men and women have. Passion, romance and intimacy made the list. So did BDSM. What does that mean?
If you're not into bondage, that's not weird. If you are, that's not weird either. Stop worrying about normal, which doesn't really exist. Desire. Consent. Honesty. Mutual pleasure. Focus on those things and you'll be far more satisfied.
Now, go get busy. Or not.
Totally your call.
Podcast: Esther Perel's Where Should We Begin
App: Gottman Card Deck
Google: Doug Braun-Harvey's 6 Principals of Sexual Health
Fantasy is fantasy, not a wish for reality. You can enjoy sexy talk about having a threesome without actually wanting to have one.
Paraphilic disorders: Sexual behavior that causes an individual significant distress or causes harm to the nonconsenting party is not OK and sometimes illegal.
Kirsetin Morello is a Michigan-based author, speaker, writer, travel-lover, wife and grateful mom of three boys. Read more about her at www.KirsetinMorello.com.
This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.