A decade ago, Kendra Holliday, 40, was your everyday Midwestern mom and wife. Now, she's a sex-positive activist who blogs about her less-than-typical life with her primary partner… and the men and women she dates. She explains. As told to Anna Davies, REDBOOK.
As a teenager, I was a cheater. I wasn't proud of it, but it always ended up happening. I thought it was a maturity issue--that when I grew up and got into a serious relationship, my behavior would change. And it did… for a while. I got married in my early 20s and spent the next 10 years focusing on my marriage, career, and motherhood. I didn't cheat. But I nonetheless got divorced at 30.
I thought that since my marriage didn't work out, perhaps I wasn't relationship material, and that I'd be better off playing the field forever. As soon as I became single, I made a list of all the people I wanted to sleep with. And I had a lot of fun going on dates and exploring different sides of my sexuality. At the top of that list was someone I had a crush on in high school but never dated. I reached out to him, and we paired up. He was open to my bisexuality and was eager to add another woman to our bed, but we quickly discovered what a challenge that was. The slang term for an available, hot, and willing bisexual woman is "unicorn" for a reason! They're hard to come by. So we broadened our horizons and explored swinging, joining a swingers website to connect with other couples.
Our first few double dates with other couples left me with knots in my stomach and anxious thoughts: Will they be attractive? Will they like us? Will we hit it off?
Some of the couples were creepy, which was awkward. We'd have dinner with them, then part ways. But others were amazing, like-minded people, so we'd go home with them and play all night long. It was tremendously exciting.
Then my swinging partner moved away, and after a couple years of trying to maintain a long-distance relationship, we called it quits. I was single again, and I was a unicorn! Little by little, with the help of the Internet, books, and local groups, I moved beyond swinging and began to realize that having multiple partners was an option. I could settle down and still be able to play the field.
Around that time, I met a man through a mutual friend. He'd recently gotten divorced after 10 years, and though his marriage was monogamous, he felt like I did about being with only one person. So we hit the ground running and happily began dating other people, together. This time, it felt more natural. I was more experienced and more compatible with my partner. We've been happily together for six years, and have dated dozens of people, together and separately.
At first, I'd feel very anxious whenever he went on a date with another woman. My heart would race and I couldn't sleep. But nowadays, it feels fine. I feel very secure and comfortable with it. I've always been turned on by it, even early on, but now it feels warm instead of edgy.
People don't realize that it can take years to acclimate to polyamory. You can't just wave a magic wand and de-program decades of social norms. Also, monogamy has one built-in rule: Don't be intimate with other people. Polyamory is much more challenging, because you get to make your own rules, the list of which can be long and must be discussed often. Open and honest communication is the key to polyamory. That means pushing past the fear and saying things you are afraid to say. You have to replace the fear with love.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it actually feels like our relationship receives a steroid shot every time we tryst with other people and share the details with each other. Talking about how we felt, what we loved, what made us feel insecure--all that openness makes us feel closer. There are no secrets. We operate with mutual respect, and practice what I call "responsible hedonism." That means that as long as all of your duties and obligations are met, you can have as much fun as you want, presuming you aren't hurting others.
While we sometimes have partners whom the other doesn't meet, we also have a rotation of partners we see on a regular basis, and we occasionally go on double dates with other couples who like to swing. Our sex life is so much fun. I'm proud of my partner, so I love when another woman gets to experience his sexual prowess. I think it's hot to watch him in action, so to speak. And of course I like feeling desired by other men. A lot of people enjoy fantasizing about orgies, but it's another thing altogether to witness or be a part of one.
And it's not all sex, not for me and not for others I know who also engage in polyamory or nonmonogamy. (In general, polyamory means having multiple intimate relationships simultaneously as opposed to one after the other, which is serial monogamy, while nonmonogamy means not pairing off with just one person.) It's also about intimacy. Do you limit yourself to intimacy with just one person, or do you allow it to occur with multiple people in an ethical, open, and honest context?
We are really into and committed to each other, but we realize that people crave novelty and a wide array of experiences, so we don't limit ourselves. For us, it's unrealistic to expect one person to satisfy all of our physical and emotional needs.
I know my lifestyle might sound wild to others, but my circle of friends are so like-minded that I have to rack my brain to think of a monogamous couple. There are a lot of swingers and polyamorous folks in "conservative, Midwest" St. Louis. But that doesn't mean everyone's experience is like mine. I know some polyamorous people who spend most of their time sitting around playing video games--definitely not a pile of bodies every night. And often, polyamorous partners settle into routines: Some pair off together, others only pair with a specific partner. Like any "traditional" relationship, it just depends on the individuals in it.
Ultimately, I'm so glad I found this lifestyle, but I know it's not right for everyone. I compare it to rock climbing or mountain biking. I have no interest in engaging in those daring athletic activities. But swinging? Not a big deal.
Kendra Holliday is a 40-year-old bisexual mother living in St. Louis. A passionate sexplorer when it comes to kinks, fetishes, BDSM, swinging, and polyamory, she is a sex and relationship consultant, a sex worker and educator, and editor of the award-winning sex blog The Beautiful Kind.