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Portrait of an Open Marriage

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I WAS 17 WHEN my sexual education began.

"You are responsible for your own orgasm," my boyfriend told me. He was the guy I lost my virginity to, the guy I had my first orgasm with, and the guy whose words would one day become my mantra: I am responsible for my own orgasm. I believe that literally and figuratively. In bed, I play an active role in getting what I want. But I also take charge of getting what I want throughout my sexual life. That's why, along with a husband I adore, I have lovers. My husband and I have an open marriage. I know it may sound decadent, or like a throwback to the "free love" of the '60s. But really, for all the hype, "open marriage" is just one of many ways to negotiate love and sex and marriage. We haven't been doing it that long, but it now seems so obvious. Like, "Why on earth didn't we think of this before?"

I have always liked sex. I mean really, really liked sex. I have been accused, in fact, of "thinking like a man." That is, of seeing sex as something wholly separate from love. When my husband and I first started dating, it was obvious even then that our drives were quite different. As much as he enjoyed sex, he didn't need or want it as often as I did. But I fell so madly in love with him, I figured it didn't matter.

I was terribly wrong.

Three years into our marriage, I began to feel itchy. So I had an affair. She was beautiful, an artist I met through a mutual friend. I deliberately chose to have an affair with a woman, rationalizing that it wasn't as bad as sleeping with another man. (Simply by virtue of his gender, my husband never could be for me what she could be.)

She wasn't the first woman I'd been with. When my husband and I began dating, I told him that I was bisexual. "I don't care who you were with before," he told me. "But once it's just you and me, it's just you and me." And that's why--as lovely and sweet as my affair with Artist Girl was--it was awful, too. I felt sick about lying to my husband, sick about wanting to be with her, sick for not just calling it off--or avoiding it in the first place.

I thought hard about how I had gotten there. At first, I figured that my being with her really was about my bisexuality, about a part of me that I simply couldn't brush aside. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn't true: It was about wanting more sex than my husband could offer, and sex different from that which any one person could provide.

My relationship with Artist Girl ended very, very badly. One night while in bed with her husband, she told him about us, foolishly thinking it would "turn him on." It didn't. He was furious and threatened to tell my husband. I knew I had to tell him myself. When I confessed, he was crushed, more because I had lied to him than because I had slept with her. I cried and cried, wondering if I had destroyed my marriage, if he would leave me, but also wondering if I would ever be happy, ever be sexually satisfied, ever find a way to make this work.

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