I wish I could have afforded a therapist at the time—the exorbitantly expensive insurance I got through the marketplace as a freelance writer didn’t cover therapy (and mine still doesn’t). I would have attempted to overcome this mental block with professional help. At the time, I understood clearly why I couldn't get hard our first attempt at sex, but it really wasn't that big of a deal. When I told Simon that this sometimes happens when I have a crush on someone, he was flattered. He didn't make me feel bad, and he wasn't worried that it had to do with a lack of physical attraction. That's why it was particularly baffling that the mental block remained.
Looking back at it, a part of me wonders if I avoided becoming even more intimate with Simon out of fear of getting hurt. The thing is, we were in a polyamorous relationship, my first one, and Simon had a wife of nine years. While I knew he cared and loved me just as much as his wife, I think deep down, I feared I’d come second. If something happened, some conflict—or maybe even something less dramatic, like his wife getting a life-changing job in another city—I’d be “left behind.” I feared giving my heart to a man where there was little chance of living happily ever after.
Still, there were times when our sex was fabulous, and it was when we were having sex with other people. We had threesomes, foursomes, and group sex often; after those experiences, I felt closer with Simon—both intimately and romantically.
There’s something about kissing your partner or looking into their eyes while they're having sex with another person that’s incredibly intimate. Maybe it has something to do with trust. It’s knowing that even though they’re having this special moment with someone else, they still love you. They still want to be with you. Compersion likely played a role, too. I was happy he was having good sex, and since I loved him, that made me happy.
The bond I felt with Simon after having sex with other people together might have less to do with the act of sex, and more to do with the buildup to sex. The most fun I had with Simon was flirting with other people/couples as a unit. The two of us had a flirty banter where we talk up one another—highlighting our strengths and the things we love about each other. In a way, it validated our relationship. It showed how good we are together when we work as a team. We also felt affirmed when others would say things like, “You two guys truly make the perfect couple.” In many ways, we did.
The first night I sad I love you to Simon, we were on date with another couple. We’d finished dinner at a gay bar, then Simon and I drove back in our car to the other couple’s house for “dessert.” We parked the car outside their apartment, and before I heading in, I turned to Simon and said, “You know I love you.” This was the first time I had said those three words. He said, “I love you, too.” Then we went inside and both bottomed for these hung daddies. The two of us made eye contact and kissed when positions allowed.
I look back at the evening as one of the best, most intimate moments of my entire life. Again, I couldn't tell you exactly why. All I know is how close I felt with Simon after we both got fucked by these other men. And when the night finished, and we headed back to our apartment, we snuggled up together, cuddling harder than we ever had before.
That feeling of compersion I got from us having sex with other people helped break down the mental block I had with Simon. It allowed us to be intimate sexually without the two of us having penetrative sex. I'm aware it was potentially a stopgap solution. I wish I didn't just rely on this to elevate our sex life, and I put in the work to further break down my mental block. But I am grateful that for the year we dated, it did work.
Simon and I have been broken up for three years now. We broke up in part because of our sex life and in part for other non-sex related issues. Since Simon, I and the people I've dated still have sex with other people as a unit, and it's brought me and my new partners closer together, too. However, now I don't use it as the only method to bond with my partner—I also make sure we have a fulfilling sex life one-on-one.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health