Inside Ventura County’s hidden love life
By Joan Trossman Bien 02/09/2012
We’ve all heard that Los Angeles is a hotbed of sexual activity, where the only rule is that there are no rules. Perhaps. But you might be surprised to learn that Ventura County has a very interesting sexual subculture that is thriving. It lies just beneath the surface and is easy to find if that is what you want. The people who participate in alternative sexual relationships, open marriages, swinging and cougar relationships are sometimes those who appear to be the most conservative people around. They may be community leaders, professionals, merchants or soccer moms. You just never know.
Is this the result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, or has participation in untraditional sexual relationships always been around? One thing that has changed is the amount of blatant sexual content in advertising.
We have all seen heiress Paris Hilton voluptuously enjoying a drippy, messy Carl’s Jr. hamburger. Some of us still remember the 1960s cigarillo commercials with blonde actress Edie Adams slithering into our living room in a form-fitting satin gown as she fondled a cigar. Nothing new there.
What is new is the commoditization of sex. Instead of the conventional wisdom that sex sells, this new twist is about selling sex. First came the daring commercials that spoke of female biology. It may have begun in the late 1960s with commercials that broke a lot of barriers: ads selling feminine hygiene. They told ladies that they would feel fresher if they used a particular brand of feminine hygiene deodorant spray, to be followed by ads saying the world would feel fresher (after sex) if they used a particular brand of douche. But science spoiled that party with research showing that douching could be dangerous. All that so-called cleaning actually could introduce harmful bacteria, and douche ads disappeared.
Another unrealistic portrayal by Madison Avenue was a woman’s menstrual cycle. It was portrayed as no big deal. Just slap on a sanitary pad and you, too, can go horseback riding with no problems. Pain? Nothing that a little Pamprin or Tylenol can’t fix. Women may have finally been recognized as a desirable demographic for advertisers, but men were clearly still in control of the creative aspect.
It appears that the big question was finally asked and answered; What do women really want? The answer of great sex within a long-term relationship echoed through the halls and boardrooms of the commercial-making factories. The explosion of cable popularity introduced the kinds of commercials that still run afoul of the big boys who run the television networks.
Now, the topic of sexual satisfaction of women is taking the lead. Maybe you’ve seen the Trojan vibrator commercials using actors with their hair oddly styled as frozen straight back from their heads. The tag line? “It will blow your hair back.”
Emily Prior is the director of the Center for Positive Sexuality, a nonprofit that is essentially a sex education teacher, focusing on marginalized sexual identities. The center provides information and resources to those on the fringe and to the mainstream, in the pursuit of acceptance by all.
“I think it’s great that you can now see a Trojan commercial and that you can see condom commercials,” Prior said. “And I think it’s great that you can now see all sorts of K-Y commercials.” Those are the ones that open with a wide shot of a quiet couple in bed, some sort of explosion after using K-Y, and end with a contented couple in bed.
As far as public health is concerned, these commercials are a positive step forward. After all, anything that promotes the use of products that prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is good for everyone. Too bad that health is not even mentioned in those commercials. Even Fox-affiliated TV stations occasionally run public announcements for their “Pause” campaign. Again, they never mention unprotected sex and the message may not be fully understood by precisely the viewers who are the targets of the ad.
If you have the desire to meet others who are looking for either casual sex or a relationship that is outside the box, you only have to go as far as your computer. There are several websites for everything sexual, and some of the swinger sites are centered in Ventura County.
Not all who have alternative sex lives consider themselves to be swingers. There is no real definition for the term although the most common one refers to casual and abundant sex. That can be misleading for many who are looking to experiment or expand their sexual lives.
Susan (not her real name) lives in Ventura County and is married. She is also bisexual. Susan does not hide this fact from her husband and he is on board with their unusual arrangement.
“I married a man who is my soulmate,” Susan said. “I have been in long-term loving relationships with women as well. Now that I am married, I still enjoy sexual activities with women as well as my spouse. We always engage together as a union.”
Susan made clear that she is not part of the crowd that goes for indiscriminate sex. “It’s funny; my friends have done the whole get-a-room-at-a-known-swingers hotel and leave-the-door-open-and-see-what-comes-in. They also attend the parties for couples who swap.”
Emily Prior said that all relationships have similar challenges, including jealousy. One person may feel neglected.
“You have to be very good at communicating your needs and emotions without coming from a negative perspective,” Prior said. “You have to be able to do it as objectively as one can so that everybody is getting what they want out of it.”
The issue of jealousy is something that Susan and her husband have conquered. “There is no jealousy; we operate with a very strict honesty policy. Without trust, you have nothing. We engage in activity that is beneficial for all involved. We don’t have time for the drama surrounding jealousy or ill-harbored feelings created from poor communication.”
Susan said they have had some less-than-stellar experiences with women who were looking to try something new but who did not have the emotional stability to understand the essence of the relationship. As these are long-term relationships, Susan said, there are no time limits.
“We would be open to keeping any relationship going as long as it would continue to be good for everyone,” she said. “My husband and I don’t get jealous, we are secure that we are connected, and this is for supplemental enjoyment. He and I have a life together and a bond that is pretty strong. This part of us actually makes us stronger as we have learned to be completely real and raw with one another. This is not a lifestyle for everyone.”
Prior said that couples who have these same qualities, trust and open communication, are more likely than others to participate in alternative lifestyles.
“It’s been my personal observation, when I’ve gone to places where couples could be swinging or engaging in non-monogamous relationships, it is usually older, established couples,” Prior said. “It is usually people over 30 who have been together for a long time, they trust each other, and they are looking for something to spark things again.”
Prior explained that something as simple as flirting with someone else can be used to benefit a long-term relationship.
“Even just having coffee with someone else who is new and interesting can bring back sexual energy and make you feel attractive and interesting again. If you can bring that back to your primary partner, that can really bring that energy back in. Even that little wave to say ‘hi’ across the coffee bar, that little bit of flirting can make you feel wonderful.”
Edith and Samantha
One of the forbidden relationships is simply one of age. Of course, both partners are consenting adults. When the term May-December romance is used, it generally refers to an older man with a much younger woman. Friends, family and society find this arrangement as normal. But turn the tables with an older woman and a much younger man, the clucking and whispering begin. Some may say that the young man is only looking for a mother figure. But is a younger woman only looking for a father figure? Rarely is that mentioned.
Back in the early 1970s, All in the Family was a ground-breaking television show. It shattered many social attitudes that had been the backbone of family television. Blacks and whites may not always get along but Archie Bunker showed us that even long-held prejudices can be overcome, however reluctantly. Grown daughters like Gloria were just as concerned with work as they were with raising a child. A son-in-law like Michael could still love a father-in-law who called him Meathead.
But Edith, the object of much of Archie’s derision (“Stifle yourself, Edith!”), put up with it and still put his needs before hers. Edith was the epitome of a woman caught between what she really wanted and what she felt was her duty to her family. In the end, Edith found her fulfillment by taking care of her family. She felt loved and competent because she was the glue that held the family together.
Two decades later, Sex and the City moved away the familiar cultural structure of marriage and family to women’s liberation and redefined the idea of “happily ever after.” This time, four single women, all with successful careers that gave them the independence to wait for Mr. Right, or in this case, Mr. Big, to sweep them off their feet.
The eldest of the group was Samantha. She was also the most outwardly sexual and gave the appearance of wanting a man far more than she needed a man. When life did not turn out to be what she had expected, Samantha would wipe the tears away and so the pain would also be erased. She would raise her chin and set her sights on the next sexual object, which might be a much younger man. It has been said that Samantha was the essence of the modern woman — single, financially secure, and looking for a man to satisfy her needs.
The characters of Edith and Samantha were close in age, though the paradigm shifted quite a bit in the last 20 to 30 years.
JB (not her real name) is an older woman who only dates younger men 10 to 20 years younger than her. She recently exited a long-term relationship but recalled how they first met on a social networking site.
“I searched to find a man anywhere from 31 to 50 and his profile appeared,” she said. “The attraction at first was physical but then I read that he was a vegan and that is what prompted me to contact him.”
They both knew each other’s age from the start. Perhaps they would have found each other even if the age difference had not been part of the attraction.
“Would we have ended up together no matter what? I guess that depends on how he would have aged.”
According to JB, the benefits for an older woman who dates younger men are many. “I have always been with a younger man and I think that it keeps me young,” she said. “His desire to be out and about instead of sitting at home is definitely a plus. His youth makes me more driven to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Social acceptance is another story. “The only difficulty of the age difference is that my friends and family have a difficult time understanding why we were together. They just did not see how we could have such a connection.”
Cougarville: Recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in the 1967 film, The Graduate, is ensnared in an affair with Mrs. Robinson, who happens to be the wife of his father’s business partner.
JB said there are good reasons why an older woman is so appealing to a younger man. “Younger men are tired of the girls that need to be wined and dined. As we mature, it is the simple things that make us happy just being with that special someone. Plus, I think my never having been married and having no kids makes it easier to relate to a younger guy.”
Julie Ferman, a professional high-end matchmaker, said that some of her female clients are looking specifically for younger men. But finding that person is difficult.
“There’s a woman who wants to hire me and she’s 55 years old,” Ferman said. “She wants to date men who are 35 to 40 but not older. Well, that’s a really challenging search,” said Ferman. “Most of those men are not coming to me asking to meet a woman who is 20 years older. It is not uncommon for men to want to date women who are much younger.”
If a match includes a woman who is older than the man, however, Ferman has a way of finessing the situation.
“We give everybody the option of choosing whether they are going to reveal their age or not. If they ask me not to, which most men and women over the age of 45 prefer not to lead with that information, we won’t reveal their age. There are just so many things that are more important than that number. When it does work, and I have two clients in their 70s who are in relationships with much younger men, it’s the kind of thing where the man is not aware of her age going into it.”
JB has some advice for women who may be afraid to consider dating younger men. “Older women should not feel intimidated by getting to know a younger man. Younger men (maybe men in general) like it when a woman takes the initiative; it is amazing how many men out there are drawn to older women. You never know until you try.”