An Inappropriate Life

Memoir by Stan Gotlieb

(Photo by)

Group Sex

Sex was a big deal in my life. I attribute my obsession with it to a late start, to a weak self image, and to its being so much fun.

In 1963, having had a couple of brief affairs, one of which would continue, off and on, for the next ten years, I found myself, at 25, working as a book salesman on college campuses in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In August, when everyone in academia bugs out for some r&r, I took a couple of weeks' vacation and drove back to Minneapolis.

I arrived at my folks' house, road weary. After a few minutes with my parents, I took a shower and went in to my old bedroom to take a nap. No sooner had I gotten into bed, than the phone rang. It was Bob Fishman (of whom, more, later, in the chapters on drugs). Come at once, he said, giving me an address near the University. I begged off, on account of exhaustion. This, he said, cannot wait. Get off your ass and come NOW!

When I arrived, the door was answered by a young woman with twinkling eyes, a pouty mouth, and a body worthy of Playboy magazine. Welcome, she said, and delivered a kiss that curled my toes.

Bob was sitting on the couch, where I joined him. She (call her C) sat in an armchair across the room. After about fifteen minutes of small talk, and without any planning, Bob and I both stood up and started taking off our clothes, meanwhile continuing to converse with her as if nothing was happening. We had never done anything like this before. She was clearly bemused by our behavior, while acting as if nothing was happening. We sat back down, naked, and continued to talk.

Five minutes later, she smiled, shrugged her shoulders, and proceeded to disrobe. Conversation continued until, naked, she walked over and sat down on the couch between us. That afternoon, we each made love with her, and when Bob got up to leave, he told her he wouldn't be coming back soon and wished me a happy homecoming.

For the next ten days, C and I were inseparable, excepting when she went to work. One evening, we joined an old friend, Dave, for dinner. Dave took one look at C and went into terminal meltdown. I watched it happen. I also saw C's eyes registering approval and curiosity about Dave. When the time came for me to return to the grinding mills of academe, I asked C if I should give Dave her phone number, and she said yes.

Being a salesman puts one only a half-step higher than being a student, in the eyes of most academics, and after a couple of months of taking guff from a bunch of third rate intellectual pretenders - a small but highly annoying minority among the hard-working and knowledgeable teachers I met -I loaded my sample cases in the company car, put the car in a long-term parking facility, mailed the keys to my regional manager, and hopped the hound for home.

When I arrived, I found that Dave and C were in the midst of a very hot love affair. I was not about to risk both friendships by trying to make claims on C (which I would not have done anyway, since (a) it would have been mean of me; (b) I did not love her, and he did; and (c) she loved him passionately). Instead, I asked for a return of the favor, and Dave introduced me to Ellen, who became my first wife.

Ellen was a lusty country girl, working as a primary teacher in suburban Saint Paul. It took us a few dates to really hit it off, though we were having sex right away. After a few weeks of trying to work around her room-mates' schedules, we decided to live together, elsewhere. At the same time, Dave and C were looking for larger quarters, so the four of us agreed to share a two bedroom upper duplex near the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis.

Shortly after we all moved in together, C let me know that Dave would not be uptight if we got it on together at the odd moments when he was otherwise occupied. Ellen said she didn't mind, as long as she had similar freedom, so now I was sexually active with both women, until N arrived on the scene.

N was an old college chum of ours, who was employed as a prostitute in an infamous resort area over in nearby Wisconsin. Dave had been her lover for some time before he met C, and C welcomed N into their bed on the rare occasions when she had time off. N had difficulty reaching orgasm, and on those nights when she had screwed Dave into exhaustion, I would be called on for the little bit of extra help she needed.

I was happy as a clam, with not the slightest idea in my head that what we were doing might be considered strange, let alone pioneering. I had not reckoned on "Stranger In A Strange Land".

Immensely popular when it came out (the term "grok" passed from the book into standard usage among the nascent hippy culture), "Stranger" was a sci-fi parable about an alien who comes to Earth, and eventually allows himself to be sacrificed in a Christ-like manner, in order to bring humans once more an opportunity to live better lives. One of the themes that runs through "Stranger" is the joy of non-possessive sex with multiple partners, either in sequence or simultaneously.

Our friends quickly perceived before we did, actually; we were just doing, not philosophizing that ours was a "Stranger" formation. We became objects of sexual interest, because of our perceived availability as much as anything (we're talking 1963, here). Ellen drew most of the attention, and a few of the men who approached her were accepted. I, receiving fewer offers, but being less discriminating, had more partners. Did I remember to tell you I was obsessed with sex?

About six months went by, and Dave and C began to quarrel. Ellen and I grew tired of their process, and decided to seek separate quarters. The house we chose was well away from the University area where most of our friends lived. We got married. While we still had occasional lovers, our days of "group marriage" appeared to be over.

Years later (1971), after some time in a commune, we found ourselves in Berkeley, sleeping on a bed in the furnace room of a house owned by some old pals. One day, we noticed an ad in the Berkeley Barb: "discussions being held about alternatives to marriage". Not having anything to do that night, we attended.

The meeting was held in the living room of a large house on upper Ashby Street, near the Claremont Hotel. Among those present was an extremely sexy woman, about 15 years my senior, who lived in the house. I later came to realize she was both a shill and a gate-keeper for the group: the "test" the men needed to pass in order to be considered for admittance to the "inner circle".

The inner circle, all of whom lived in the house, had formed an "intentional group marriage", a la Robert Rimmer, whose book "The Harrad Experiment" was to the '70s what "Stranger" had been to the '60s. We quickly figured out what was going on, and let the partners know, in a subtle way, that we not only approved of what they were doing, but probably had more practice under our belts (no pun intended) than they did. They began to court us that very night, but there were some "vibes" we weren't sure of, so we let them know we were not quite ready to jump in.

As we got to know them, we could see that they weren't as loose as we were; that they were all just a little older than us; and, that for most of them this was their first experiment in alternative living. We thought they still had a bit of idealism to work through. Still, they seemed like nice people, sincerely interested in making their relationship work, and in expanding their "family". After a few weeks more of meetings and private conversations (during one of which, D, the gate-keeper, and I made love upstairs), Ellen was still hesitant to take the plunge but I was ready. With an agreement that we would leave whenever either one of us said so, we exchanged our furnace room for a large, sunny upstairs bedroom.

We lasted less than a month. We told ourselves that it was the schedule that did us in. Posted on the front of the refrigerator, it listed the daily schedule for cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sex. Each of us was to spend the night with each of our opposite-sex partners, in rotation. No trading: the alternative to keeping the schedule was sleeping alone. Sex was discouraged outside of regulation sleep times, except with one's "primary partner". This suppression of spontaneity, in the interest of preventing jealousy, felt too inhibiting to us.

On reflection, I have come to believe that it was the seriousness that alienated us. We, being more jaded than we thought, were just there to have a good time, and some laughs. They were really trying to build a committed relationship to each other. They were in to "intentional" and we were in to "spontaneous".

In any case, we went back to our furnace room, thus ending our last experiment with group marriage.

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