Relationship trends, all the senses, and why I want to tell you about them

A few weeks ago, Kyle and I flew (in his four-seater propeller airplane) to Southern California for a combination sex conference & Disneyland trip.  Because those two things totally go together.

The conference was Catalyst Con, and it was mainly for educators and activists who focus on sex and sexuality issues.  We spent Saturday at the conference, and hit Disneyland on Friday Night and Sunday morning. (Sidebar: The new Cars Land is totally charming. And we found that the single rider line is by far the best — and practically only — way to get onto Radiator Springs Racers.)

But back to the conference.

Shifts in Relationship Models

The first session I hit was “Relationship Models for the 21st Century” by Marcia Baczynski — an SF-based relationship coach who’s been watching trends and the changing norms across U.S. culture. She offered a bunch of factoids and perspectives on how economic and politics changes over the last century have influenced relationship models. Here are just the Cliffs Notes:

  • The modern ideal of the nuclear family became popular after WWII.
  • The notion that your spouse should also be your eternal soul mate, with whom you will be madly in love until you die, became popular in the 1960s, with the upsurge of people seeking personal freedom and fulfillment.
  • The more recent economic downturn has been partially responsible for people now marrying later in life, and having fewer children (other things have contributed to this, too).
  • The economic downturn has also resulted in 20% of people ages 22 – 30 living with their parents, which impacts the sex lives of both the kids and the parents.
  • Immigration law has led to a significant number of marriages of convenience — friends helping friends stay in the country.
  • The current state of health insurance has also resulted in a bunch of marriages of convenience (as well as in couples who can’t afford to get divorced, even if they’re ready to).
  • Over 50% of Americans now want marriage equality, and as a result, cultures are cross-pollinating: queer couples are starting to claim the legal benefits of traditional relationships, and straight couples are becoming more familiar with alternative relationship models.
  • The availability of birth control and no-fault divorce have given people more control over the structure of their families.

It was useful to think of my own relationship decisions in these frames. For example, economic security is a factor in my desire for a life partner (shared retirement seems more responsible than solo retirement), but at the same time, I’m not willing to consider marriage until I’ve met my own standards for financial independence.  Bringing financial security to my relationship is just as important to me as having someone to rely on.

I also know that I’ve been heavily influenced by queer culture. Being able to build a “chosen family” and have negotiable relationship agreements are a part of how I see the world now, and I’ll probably carry those values wherever I go.

So Many Senses

Another session I attended was the “Anatomy of Pleasure“, a lecture by Robert and Carol from the Center for Sex and Culture. Robert has done extensive research on the senses, and shared that the current findings place our actual number of senses at somewhere around 21. Aside from sight, smell, touch, feel, and taste, we also have unique sensory receptors for things like…

  • proprioception – the perception of your own body, and where it is right now
  • acceleration, deceleration, and rotation (there have been reports of people having orgasms from the fast speeds of motorcycles and roller coasters)
  • itch
  • several levels of pain
  • cold and hot
  • vibration

…and probably some other things.  I was off thinking about Disneyland roller coasters by this point in the lecture, so I may have missed a few things.

I hit a few other sessions that day (including a moving one by Allison Moon on Creativity for Radicals). Really, though, I spent most of my free moments upstairs in my hotel room, practicing for the Bawdy Storytelling show that night (which was awesome as usual).

What’s next?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my place in public conversations about sex. I started this blog on a whim, with the faith that I might be interested enough to continue with the topic, not actually knowing what I wanted to say.

(And also to work with Kyle, who is amazing.)

I think there’s something in this, though. In these mismatched pieces we want to share.

I’m not interested in educating people on how the 20th century economy impacted the structures of marriage, or on whether spinning in an office chair activates a different sensory receptor than getting a bear hug from an old friend. I am, however, deeply interested in sharing the fact that there are sex activist conferences, and interesting nerdy things to learn out there, and good people, and hugely varied experiences, and weird subcultures that evolved solely to catch people who were so explosively fabulous that mainstream society couldn’t hold them anymore and they landed with a crash in San Francisco.

Kyle is here to share his culture of crazy adventures, and I’m here to share mine. We hope you’re on board for the ride.