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My Parents Were Sex-Positive & Polyamorous Before It Was Cool

I was in third grade when I first heard my parents having sex. We’d just moved, and my room was on the other side of the small house. I had trouble sleeping, so sometimes I’d lay down in the living room on our tiny couch at night, eventually nodding off only to be awoken a short while later by animalistic sounds coming from my parents’ bedroom. I don’t know how I knew what the sounds were, but my reaction was one of disgust, fascination, and a little bit of shame. This continued for years.
I grew up in a very sex-positive household, and my parents were always very matter-of-fact about sex. My mom told me how babies were made when I asked at age five. We had a copy of the book A Child Is Born, which I would flip through with devout interest. When my dad got his vasectomy, I immediately told several friends that my dad had a surgery so that he could have sex without getting anyone pregnant. 
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I was in second grade when my parents began practicing polyamory. I don’t think they ever sat my siblings and I down and told us what they were doing, but they also didn’t hide that they were having romantic relationships with other people. In fifth grade, I had a friend over and my mom was having very loud sex with one of her boyfriends. When my friend asked what the noise was, I told her someone was watching TV, to which she responded: “Wow, that’s really loud TV. It sounds like somebody’s crying.” 
My friends all knew my family was weird: I was once told by a friend that my parents being polyamorous was “worse than being gay,” and that they should have the cops called on them. From this point on I swore I would never be like my parents. I wanted to follow a path toward normalcy to the best of my ability. 
Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
By the time I got to high school, I longed to have sex. It seemed as though all the cool kids were doing it — and I was competitive. In ninth grade, I went to a dance where one of my friends was fingered on the dance floor and another gave a boy a blowjob in the back of his car. Only one guy danced with me the whole night, so I left feeling sad and defeated. (I wouldn’t realize how gay I was for years to come.) 
I gave my first-ever blowjob to a boy named Andrew when I was 16 years old. I giggled the entire 45 minutes and used cinnamon lube that heated with friction — my reasoning was that I didn’t want to know what penis tastes like. The result was a chemical burn in my mouth, and on Andrew’s dick, which didn’t go away for at least a week. He never came from that blowjob or any of the (lube-less) ones that followed. He always said this was because he’d jacked off earlier in the day. Andrew ended things with me after a few short weeks, because he saw me “like a sister” and said it seemed like I “couldn’t take sex seriously.”
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I didn’t have another sexual encounter for several years, until I finally “lost” my “virginity” in college to a boy who vaguely resembled Vladimir Putin and tried to do it without a condom because he said the condom was causing excruciating pain. I had a few more years of dry spells until I graduated college.
Photographed by Lula Hyers.
By the time I turned 23, I had fully entered my slutty era. I felt like a late bloomer, but it had taken me the duration of my time in college to come to terms with the fact that I was gay and non-binary as opposed to bi and a girl who was “mostly really only interested in men.” As I had more and more sex with people I was actually attracted to, I grew even more confused. I liked sex okay, but more than anything, I longed to be romantically loved. My mother was almost as concerned as I was. Sometimes I’d joke with her that it was likely due to my very anxious attachment style, and because my overt exposure to sex as a child left me comically scarred. 
Despite my light-hearted jokes, it felt like I was to be stuck in singledom for perpetuity. I had one-night-stands with Tinder dates. Sometimes we’d see each other again, but usually we didn’t. I was terrified to have sex sober, so I seldom did. I needed to be at least a little tipsy, which I figured was fine as long as the other person was the same amount of drunk as I was. Alcohol helped temper my anxiety, drowning out the smell of the other person’s breath, the feel of their skin, the taste of their mouth. I rarely had sex with the same person more than a few times. 
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Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
To this day, I’ve never had a serious romantic relationship. I’ve dated casually, and I’ve been in very fraught romantic situationships. Despite the disdain I felt for polyamory in my childhood, I no longer see polyamory as a bad thing. There was never any one event that changed my feelings — I suppose I just needed to grow up a little bit, and bear witness to relationships outside of my parents’. I think it’s really cool that polyamory has become so much more common, and that there are so many more resources for people who are interested in it. I wish my parents would have had more resources available to them when I was a kid; it probably would have made things a lot easier for everyone involved. 
When I asked my mom what she would have done differently, her response was fairly simple: She said she wishes she would have dug deeper into what it means to co-parent in a polyamorous relationship. She wishes she would have read as many books on polyamorous parenting as possible, and would have talked to other people raising children while living a polyamorous lifestyle. To her credit, I don’t know if there were any books about polyamorous parenting when I was growing up, and if there were, I suspect that they were more difficult to come by in the early aughts, when “polyamory” was still a foreign word to most people.
At 28, I’m still single. I don’t think I have a real answer as to why, but I’m a lot more okay with it now than I used to be. I have healthy and fulfilling relationships with friends and family members, many of whom are also perpetually single. When it comes down to it, sex just isn’t that important to me. Would I like to be in a serious romantic relationship? Yes, and I really hope it happens for me eventually. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay. After years of failed not-quite-relationships, I’ve found that I am no longer longing for romantic love like I used to. I don’t consider myself to be polyamorous — I definitely lean more toward monogamy than anything else — but if I'm ever in a relationship where being polyamorous feels right for both me and my partner, I'll be open to that conversation.
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