I May Be Bisexual

In this excerpt from her new memoir, Open, Rachel Krantz investigates her own sexuality through indulging her partner’s fantasy.

Illustration: by Paco May
Illustration: by Paco May
Illustration: by Paco May

One night, when I asked if there was anything he desired in bed that I could be giving him but wasn’t (implicit: besides another woman), Adam confided in me his most powerful fantasy — seeing me have sex with another man.

Well, this didn’t sound half bad. Being doubly taken, doubly helpless under the weight of masculine virility? Of all the kinks he could have, I felt I’d hit the deviant jackpot. So maybe he isn’t even really that interested in sleeping with other women! Maybe this whole non-monogamy thing is about seeing me with other men! Now this I could get behind, or on top of, depending on the scenario. “So, but, is it just about seeing me with the guy? Or, do you also want to …”

“No, I don’t want to have sex with the guy. And I definitely want to have my turn with you.” He smiled. “I don’t like humiliation, or just watching. It’s more about inviting the competition and potential pain, while seeing your pleasure intensified. Then reclaiming you as my woman after.”

Though Adam didn’t use the term, this kind of fantasy is generally called “hotwifing.” A “hotwife” is defined (heterocentrically, though of course the dynamic exists in all possible sexual and gender permutations) on Wikipedia as “a married woman who has sex with men other than her spouse, with the husband’s consent. In most cases the husbands take a vicarious pleasure in watching their wives’ and the other male’s enjoyment, or enjoy watching, hearing, or knowing about their wives’ adventures. Husbands may also take part by engaging in threesomes or arranging dates for their wives.” Cuckolding, which might be more rare as a fantasy but is the more commonly known term, is when someone enjoys elements of being dominated and possibly humiliated as they watch or hear about their partner having sex with others. They may or may not be allowed to touch their partner while the other person is present. While we don’t have numbers on how many people actually enact cuckolding or hotwifing scenarios, the genre consistently ranks in the top ten categories of porn on most major sites.

But I’d certainly never heard a man admit his interest in this fantasy before. Had a boyfriend suggested it earlier, I’m certain I would have been interested. Anyone who’s even heard of YA knows the fantasy of two guys fighting over you can run early and deep. “So … you like jealousy?” I asked, taking in this welcome news.

“Well, the jealousy makes everything more intense. It’s a good kind of hurt I can channel into the erotic.” Indeed, jealousy triggers the amygdala, a portion of the brain that also initiates sexual activity. “I mean, I’m speaking about how I imagine it will feel. I only know this is something I want because I started getting turned on in the middle of sex in college, when my ex admitted she was cheating.” Instead of getting mad, the fantasy to see her with other men had emerged. I later learned some researchers use “eroticization theory” to explain this kind of response; the excitement might be an adaptation to trauma. The unconscious mind transforms negative feelings (like the humiliation of finding out you’re being cheated on) into sexual arousal. This makes the ego bruise less painful and helps a person regain a sense of control over the experience. But hotwifing fantasies could just as easily also be an adaptive strategy designed to mitigate the trappings of long-term commitment: boredom, the possibility of cheating, loss of novelty and desire, and feelings of power imbalance.

“It’s hard to believe you could have wanted this since college and not had it,” I said.

“Well, I saw Molly make out with someone at Chemistry once,” Adam said nonchalantly, referencing a partner he’d once taken to the Brooklyn sex party. “But yeah, no one has really fulfilled the full fantasy for me yet.” Like I needed more incentive.

Adam had been in one long-term open relationship, with a woman he’d dated seriously for four years, Ramona. During that relationship, he had two other secondary partners, Molly and Faith, whom he saw roughly once a week each. Eventually, Molly wanted a more serious commitment than he felt he could give. By then, he and Ramona were barely having sex anymore due to Adam’s lack of desire for her. All three women eventually left him. The story read to me like a cautionary tale, reaffirmed the stereotype of non-monogamy being employed when a person isn’t attracted to their partner but doesn’t want to leave them.

He reassured me — often, because it had become a fear, another sub-catch — that the same thing wouldn’t happen with me. He “loved my basic shape too much,” he replied, as if it were simple mathematics. Even as I grew old, or if I “gained some weight,” he would be able to recall and build upon his desire for me over a lifetime. Like a building’s foundation, I had good bones. I was obviously skeptical. One thing was for sure, or so I thought: I would never be able to suffer the same indignity — to watch my partner go to two different women’s beds twice a week when I had no one else, only to have him return to me without sexual desire. Nope. No way am I self-assured or masochistic enough for that shit. But I understood the impulse to do whatever it took to keep him, his ability to persuade. The desire he evoked to please. That I did understand.

“Well, your fantasy definitely sounds fun to me,” I said, straddling his lap. The whole idea felt subversive and primal. In fact, I could hardly imagine a fetish I’d rather share. Or a more ego-safe way to wade into the waters of non-monogamy. We both came that night imagining making his kink a reality.

But a few weeks later, when Adam again casually mentioned us trying a sex party, the familiar face-burn began immediately. I could only compare this new and very physical feeling to when you can’t not cry at work, but angrier. Had he only been buttering me up when he’d confessed his fetish? “I thought you weren’t going to do anything with anyone else for now,” I said, trying not to sound panicky.

“I won’t do anything, if you don’t want me to,” he reassured me. “I just think you’d find it interesting to see a sex party. It isn’t even that arousing. You realize how we’re all just animals. It’s an experience I know you’ll find fascinating.”

But what if seeing the desire in his eyes for other naked women ruins something essential for me, the belief that I’m special? Then again, no risk, no reward. I mean, I want to see and touch other naked women, too … 

Ever since I first got that good-throbby feeling from watching mermaid Ariel turn into a naked human, there whatever I was … was. I’d masturbated furiously to even the abysmal last season of The L Word. But that doesn’t prove anything, I’d think to myself. Not because I didn’t (consciously) want to like women — but because I worried I simply wanted to want them and had tricked myself into homoerotic feelings. This is probably what happens when you’re raised in the Bay Area — you think there’s something wrong with you if you’re not queer. But then someone would appear and — bam! I was suddenly blushing, trying not to stare at breasts. It was maybe one in fifteen women this happened with, since middle school. Often these women had a boyfriend or said they were straight. But there was some sort of mutual recognition there, too.

Like we could see in each other’s faces something not quite totally gay, but not not-gay, either. Maybe I was projecting.

Lesbians and queer women had long been some of my closest friends. I didn’t know what this said about me, other than that I had good taste. Though I’d never fallen in (once again, yet-conscious) love with any of these friends, my periodic crushes on other women were oddly stupefying. Sometimes they lasted years. Since I was twenty-two, I’d alternated saying on dating profiles that I was bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or heteroflexible, or even straight — I tried all the labels, but felt only one really suited me: imposter.

The first time I had the chance to perform cunnilingus, when I was twenty-two, I’d frozen. I barely understood how I wanted someone to eat my pussy. I felt certain I’d “fail.” To my own great shame, I was also afraid I wouldn’t like the taste. How can I really even like women if I have that fear? Still, I was thrilled to have touched a naked woman for the first time. It felt like getting into a warm bath, like, Why don’t I do this all the time? Just one more hour, please? It’s so cozy and sexy and warm and amniotic in here … 

But cis women (I was not yet super conscious I was also attracted to trans and non-binary people) never seemed to pursue me the way cis men did. And I didn’t know how to pursue them. Or clearly not very well, judging from the lack of responses in my inbox. It led to a sort of inertia. Plus, I’d commiserated with my friends over the years about the “bicurious” women who “used them as experiments” or left them for men “once the novelty wore off.” I really didn’t want that to be me. But how could I know unless I tried acting on the feelings that had always been there? I felt stuck. Now, I was doubly mortified imagining a woman’s face when she found out that not only was I a “virgin,” but I was also in an open relationship with a man.

I knew a sex party might be the easiest way to gain some queer confidence/experience and reconfirm to myself that I was “legitimate” in my desires. I also knew this party was clearly what Adam wanted, even required, eventually. And so, feeling I both did and didn’t have a choice, I agreed to try it.

Still, let the record show: He handed me the brew, urged me to sip. And I deliberately chose to chug and fall down the rabbit hole.

Adapted from OPEN copyright © 2022 by Rachel Krantz. Used by permission of Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Art: Publisher
The term some polyamorous people use to define partners you don’t share the bulk of your time or resources with. The primary/secondary model of non-monogamy ranks one partner as, well, of primary position and concern. Out of care for these friends of mine, it feels important to note that some of them later came out as trans or non-binary and no longer identify as lesbians or queer women.
I May Be Bisexual