You have to 'play' in order to learn some major lessons from the game.
It's the phenomenon of experiencing pleasure for oneself from the pleasure a person close to you experiences from their interactions with a third party.
My wife, SexyThing, for example, is highly compersive. She'd often prefer to watch me with another woman than participate herself with either of us. In fact, in unscientific surveys, compersion seems to be more commonly felt by women than men, but I don't know if that’s actually true or not.
Compersion is a wonderful thing that creates a self-reinforcing positive cycle of pleasure.
It turns solo experiences into joint experiences. It allows couples in non-monogamous relationships to easily maximize pleasure and happiness without undermining their primary bond. The fact that SexyThing is compersive is the main reason we’re in a swingers' community, and it's made everything we’ve done there even better.
I wish I were compersive.
On an intellectual level, I like to think I am. There are few things in this world that bring me more joy than seeing her smile, and her happiness is my highest goal. But when push comes to shove, I just don’t feel it the way she does.
Sure, watching her with another woman turns me on, but that’s less about experiencing pleasure from her pleasure and more about watching really sexy stuff happening. And while watching her with another guy doesn’t bother me the way I’d originally feared it would, it’s not something I get off on.
I've spent many hours — and shed a few tears — trying to unlock the compersive door in my brain, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe someday.
The closest I’ve come, and what I think might someday lead to a similar place, is my extreme exhibitionist streak.
I think that, at its core, exhibitionism is about showing off. Not just in a literal sense that you are showing people things, but in the figurative sense: "Hey, everyone! Look at this! Isn’t it awesome?!"
For me, my exhibitionist streak extends to SexyThing. Hell, it’s probably almost entirely about SexyThing. I know I married up, and I want everyone to know it, too.
I want to show her off. I want everyone to look at her and admire her, and I want her to be seen.
At the first party we went to, one of the big moments for us was when I convinced her to take her top off and walk around the room so everyone could see her topless. At its core, I think I do it as a form of bragging.
"Hey, everyone! Look at this incredibly sexy woman! Isn’t she awesome?! And guess what … She’s mine."
There are certainly feminist theory folks who will cringe at that language, but she is mine. And I am hers.
It goes both ways for us, though I’d freely admit that, when it comes to sex, it’s more about me possessing her than her possessing me.
Sex and power are inherently intertwined for a lot of people, and we are no exception. The power-play is part of what gets us going. In this context, it leads to me wanting to show off the most incredible, invaluable, awesome thing I have: my SexyThing.
The way this blurs into almost-compersion for me is that there's an element of sharing involved in my exhibitionism. I want to show her off, but not just by having other people look at her, but also by having them experience just how incredible she is.
It's of course fundamentally not compersion in the sense that my pleasure in the experience is not about her pleasure, it's about the pleasure of the third party — the person (man or woman) with whom I’m sharing her.
Obviously in practice this isn't the way it works. She picks her own play partners and she is always in total control of the situation.
But in the fantasy — my fantasy — I am the one who gives the other person the chance to experience this pleasure. I let them have, for a brief moment and in a fundamentally incomplete way, what I get to have every day.
And if that small taste elicits a little jealousy from them, I’m certainly not going to say no to that either.
One of the experiences I've been most excited about a time she was naked in public at a swingers' resort. I knew everyone was looking at her, wanting her, maybe even a little jealous of me that I have her. And she knew I was loving every second of it, which made her enjoy it even more than she already was.
And truth be told, her enjoyment of it also made me enjoy it even more too.
So I guess, in some ways, I actually am compersive after all.
This article was originally published at Life on the Swingset. Reprinted with permission from the author.