It's three days before I head off to the Catskills for a gathering of people who seek to find ways to reunite their spiritual and sexual selves -- and I'm sure the red marks all over my body must be scabies. I've heard all the stories of the "extracurricular" sex that goes on at this gathering. If I go with scabies I won't be able to participate in this excitement. In fact, I won't be able to go at all.
What a disappointment! What a relief! I can't wait till Monday to find out, so I phone a service that sends doctors on house calls and start isolating my bedding into garbage bags.
It turns out I've got spider bites -- nothing contagious. Now that I realize how anxious I really am, I can start calming myself down.
I arrive at the retreat centre late Wednesday afternoon. After dinner, the 60 or so of us gather. One by one, each of us promises to remain present emotionally and physically for the entire time, to intend good will and unconditional love toward everyone present, to maintain confidentiality about each other's experiences, and to respect one another's boundaries.
Above the altar set up in the room is a sign that speaks to our vision of the future, one that will "honour all choices in consenting adult relationships, including bisexual, gay, lesbian, monogamous, multicultural, polyamorous, racially diverse and single."
The covenant creates a feeling of safety for me within this roomful of mostly strangers. I can sense the sincerity in the promises. It's the perfect foundation for the slow spiral dance we do next, set up to give each of us the chance to gaze into the other participants' eyes for a moment or two.
The attractions that have been simmering under the surface begin zinging around the room, and before I know it, I'm invited to spend the night.
I check with my intuition to see whether this is an invitation I want to accept. It is. There are no social conventions to inhibit or oversee my behaviour here. We've all dived into a big practice session together -- we're trying to express love to each other in whatever way the people involved determine is best.
Depending on who I'm with, I end up having sex, singing belly to belly, hugging and kissing, taking a shower, hanging in the hot tub, sharing sexy dances or talking and hanging out. Clothing and how much of it I want to wear is entirely optional.
The deal is that, as much as possible, there are no assumptions here, only agreements. People who come with a partner might be monogamous or negotiate group sex or separate "dates" with others. The bottom line? The consent of everyone involved. Negotiations and agreements are out in the open, and there are designated support people around in case of emotional meltdown.
It's four days of revelation for me. Hey, there are people who have kept open marriages and polyamorous networks functioning for decades.
There are guys on this planet who "sleep around" and are respectful and affectionate -- no one offers me anything even approaching "casual" emotionally distant sex. And isn't it interesting how when that older guy with all the liver spots kisses me I can forget his age (and my ageism) -- he's a sweetheart and quite attractive.
Wow, walking around topless feels great -- why'd I wait so long to join in on the no-clothes option? And yes, I really didn't know that making love to three people over three days could feel normal to me -- because I've never been anywhere before where I felt safe enough to try it.
It feels equally normal and natural to leave the workshop with two new lovers, who know about each other's involvement with me and are friends.
Not that everything is sweetness and light. The occasional conflict erupts. And throughout, people express their struggles with fear, shame, disgust, feeling unwanted or unconfident. It can be tough to deal with so much intimacy, so fast. The reassuring thing to me is that there's acceptance and affection for everybody.
Leavening our intimate individual explorations are group gatherings and rituals every morning and evening. We create healing circles, do tantric breath-work together, connect to the earth by dancing covered with mud and tell one another the intimate secrets we've been holding back.
One morning those who desire do a group unveiling. We move around the room connecting with others and remove a piece of one another's clothing at each stop.
My underwear finally comes off in the midst of a threesome. The woman I'm with turns to our aroused male partner and invites him to slide his cock between our two bellies. I consent to try it. Mmmm. Then we begin kissing. It's the breathtaking moment when our three tongues meet in a trillium of desire that encapsulates the wonder of the whole experience. How astonishing is the beauty we humans can create when we choose to choose! Sarah Pines is a pseudonym.