The Valley of the Dolls
This is the first in a series of essays on nonmonogamy targeted at men who are attracted to women, talking about men's interactions with women in nonmonogamous communities. Once the series is complete, it will be collected into a guide to nonmonogamy for men and posted to my freaksexual blog. Some of the things I say in this series will apply to women and men who are attracted to men, but not everything.
Men have this persistent fantasy that if you just find the right scene, if you poke your head through the right door, you will happen upon rooms full of gorgeous women eager to have sex with you.
We see this in porn all the time. The primary justification for people having sex in porn movies seems to be that they have found themselves in the same room. Or perhaps outdoors in the same location. Their response to this incredible coincidence is: "Oh hi! Wanna fuck?" Sometimes they throw in a little bit of justification to spice things up. "Oh hi! You're the plumber! Wanna fuck?" "Oh hi, hubby! You just caught me having sex with the pool boy! Wanna fuck?" "Oh hi! I'm interviewing for a job. Wanna fuck?"
This is of course not just confined to video porn. Pick up Letters to Penthouse sometime: it reads just like a porn script. (Just so you know, those letters are faked. Really.) When men write down their fantasies, we often see these themes of sexual abundance and availability.
I call this mythological place full of nubile enthusiastic women the Valley of the Dolls, after Russ Meyer's sexploitation film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Russ Meyer's movies generally featured tall women with huge breasts having sex with... everyone. Because these movies were made in the 60's or 70's, they ended on a moralistic tone to avoid the wrath of the censors, with the loose women getting married or killed. But their draw was the promise of easy sex with amazonian women.
Back in the era of free love, there may have actually been some Valley of the Dolls situations, though I suspect the rumors are overblown. A number of factors in the 80's ended this: AIDS, an increase in cultural sexual repression, and women realizing that free love may have been designed more for men than them.
Despite changing times, the Valley of the Dolls is still heavily present in men's imaginations. There is a guy in the San Francisco scene whom I see every once in a while, who always asks me where he can find the play parties with the "hot young things". I am always speechless. First, what he is looking for does not exist. Second, why does he think that I am the connection to this mystical event? Third, he will ask me this at parties that are full of very cool sex radical women (and men - he's bisexual) who would probably be willing to do all sorts of nasty with him if he could take the time and get to know them a bit. But he cannot, because he is too busy chasing a dream and cannot see what is right in front of him.
Here is the kicker, guys. The harsh truth. The thing you need to repeat to yourself again and again. There is no Valley of the Dolls.
There is no party you can walk into where strange women will just throw themselves on you. There is no "Oh hi! Wanna fuck?" It is never that straightforward. There is always some effort involved, and usually it takes a lot of effort. Porn is lying to you. So are Letters to Penthouse. You may have heard from some guy about his Valley of the Dolls experience, but there is a good chance he was describing a fantasy to you, not something he actually did. Men produce these fantasies all over the place, and often try to pass them off as real in a grown-up version of locker room boasting.
There is a core piece of the Valley of the Dolls fantasy that is untenable: the idea that some women will make themselves sexually available to men just because they are that sort of woman. "That sort of woman" does not exist. What actually happens is that women have sex with men because they are attracted to those men. (Which should be obvious to us, but many guys seem to forget.) This means that there is some level of negotiation involved, and women have input into that negotiation. The negotiation often takes time and energy, though other times it is quick. At sex or play parties the negotiation may seem fast and painless, but there is actually always some leadup, usually either people scoping each other out from across the party or some kind of shared history in the scene.
I think men are obsessed with the Valley of the Dolls for three reasons.
First, the sexual accessibility of women seems to be a central theme: the idea that there are women out there who will sleep with you because you are just in the same room. In our culture which sets up women as the gatekeepers of sexuality, men are trained to be attracted to women just because those women are available for sex. Which is about as low as standards get, and can cause all sorts of problems when men try to figure out which women they are actually attracted to.
Second, the women in these fantasies are never picky about their men. They are happy to have sex with whomever walks through the door. There are no real women like this. Real women have their own sexual agency, and they are looking for men they are attracted to. They are not interested in getting it on with men they are not attracted to, and just like everyone else, they are probably only attracted to a relatively small subset of people. Somehow this little detail gets lost in these fantasies, and it is not hard to see why. The fact that women are actually evaluating men is a major point of insecurity. Men tend to go way out of their way to deny the existence of women's sexual agency, because if these men can pretend that women are not judging them, it means they do not need to worry about themselves: their attractiveness, their intellect,whether they are acting like an asshole.
Third, these fantasies evade any sort of responsibility. There is no need to get to know someone first. There is no need to take them out to dinner afterwards. There is no need to use a condom (thus, very few condoms in porn) because there are none of the real-world worries about STDs or pregnancy. Sex in the Valley of the Doll is free and uncomplicated. In fact, it is so uncomplicated that it cannot exist in the real world, where other people are complicated beings with needs and agendas of their own, and where all sorts of meaning attaches to sex.
If we look at the three elements, a pattern emerges. All three motivations boil down to having control of the sexual situation: women who are sexually available to any guy and who do not bring their own motivations into play, set in situations outside the social contract. Control is a staple of sexual fantasies (including many women's fantasies), but control at this level is antithetical to actual sex with another person. If you have this level of control, what you have on the other end is not a person. In fact, it is usually a book, website, or video. There is nothing wrong with masturbating to control fantasies, but beyond a certain point the fantasy is not going to become reality.
(I can hear the domination/submission types in the audience gnashing their teeth. Even the strictest D/S arrangement involves some level of agency on the part of the submissive, or it is no longer D/S and has wandered into the territory of actual sexual slavery. My point here is that these fantasies tend towards an unrealistic level of control of the sexual situation, even when compared with real-life D/S. In fact, D/S erotica falls prey to the same pattern: as anyone who has done D/S can tell you, the actual negotiation involved is a lot more subtle and complex than what happens in Anne Rice's Beauty series.)
Unfortunately, most depictions of nonmonogamy in popular culture fit the Valley of the Dolls model. It goes the other way as well: men's sexual fantasies as played out in porn or erotica seem to require nonmonogamous women (and men). This has always struck me as a bit odd, given that men with these fantasies are usually unwilling to date nonmonogamous women themselves. Perhaps this is because sexually fantastic women like this must be on the wrong side of the madonna/whore split, or perhaps it would be somehow logically inconsistent for a man in these fantasies to be nonmonogamous while the women are monogamous to him.
In any case, the consistent association of nonmonogamy with the Valley of the Dolls has meant real trouble for real-life practicing nonmonogamous people. It means that men in particular enter nonmonogamous scenes with a totally unrealistic set of expectations: they assume that the scene will operate just like those movies and websites they have been looking at. In future posts I will get into a number of the goofball assumptions that men can bring to a scene and talk about how to address them in yourself.