Deborah Anapol, Ph.D.

Deborah Anapol Ph.D.

Love Without Limits

Shameless: A Review of an Ordinary Woman's Sexual Memoir

Can monogamous marriage and sexual exploration co-exist?

Posted Apr 19, 2011

Pamela Madsen's courageous journey from happily married but sexually bored mom to proudly passionate sexual adventurer offers creative solutions to the many women for whom neither secret affairs, nor open relationships are attractive. The subtitle to her recent memoir, Shameless, tells it all: How I ditched the diet, got naked, found true pleasure ... and somehow got home in time to cook dinner.

Like many women who came of age before the Sexual Revolution made virgin brides obsolete, Pamela's sexual experience prior to marriage was very limited. In my own book, Polyamory in the 21st Century, I share the stories of several women who embarked upon open marriages as a way to broaden their sexual experience without ditching their husbands. While Pamela had friends for whom secret affairs were a way of life, she rejected the idea of cheating on her husband, and apparently, consensual non-monogamy was not on her radar. These decisions reflected the high value she placed on her long standing marriage and the love and appreciation she felt for her husband and father of her sons.

Instead, she chose to do what many men who are sexually dissatisfied but unwilling to risk ruining their marriages have done for centuries. To boil it down to the bare facts, she sought out professional erotic masseurs, sexual healers, and practitioners of BDSM who provided her with quality sexual experiences in exchange for dollars. As Pamela's humorous and deeply personal story reveals so well, it turns out that there is much more to expanded sexuality than a simple orgasm. Her craving for sexual exploration turns out to be a path to spiritual expansion and personal growth, resolving long standing psychological issues that stubbornly resisted the "talking cure."

These kinds of transcendental sexual experiences can also be found within the context of both marital and extra-marital relationships, but for Pamela, pay-for-service was an essential part of her own sexual liberation as well as a way to maintain the integrity of her marriage.

Madsen's account of her struggles to find practitioners who could guide her to a deeper understanding of her own erotic nature and help her access more profound levels of self-love, receptivity, and surrender are at once funny, moving, and engaging. But Shameless offers more than a good read. This fascinating glimpse into the "sex positive/sacred sexuality" subculture inspires and supports women to value their sexual potential in a way that men have long taken for granted. Despite post-modern sexual equality, many women are still reluctant to openly pursue sexual gratification outside of a romantic context. By not only admitting, but deliberately choosing to do so, Madsen models a new sexual ethic.

For me, she raises another interesting issue: Is it monogamy if extra-marital sex is exchanged for money or does not include intercourse? Certainly, the boundaries and expectations are more defined than they would otherwise be. But does this fit the definition of monogamy? As I've discussed in previous blogs, sometimes we just have to accept that monogamy is in the eye of the beholder.

I've encountered the reverse issue in offering relationship coaching to clients who provide erotic massage and other sexual services professionally. That is, such individuals sometimes choose to identify as polyamorous, and select polyamorous partners, because in many people's eyes, their work disqualifies them from having a monogamous relationship. The fact that they are being paid to engage sexually does not always prevent partners from experiencing jealousy. It appears that money does not necessarily erase distinctions of exclusivity, specialness, or inclusion.

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