Vancouver
3 min

You can’t unring this bell

What to do when you're in your 40s, poly, and suddenly discover you like being a bottom

Dear Dr Ren,
 
My girlfriend and I are both in our 40s and have been in a happy, open relationship for almost 20 years. Over these years we have developed a rhythm of frequent, expansive, satisfying sex and have both learned how to manage the ups and downs of a non-monogamous relationship. We are solid.
 
We’ve both experienced having new lovers and know how to weather that new-relationship energy. I’m in something now, though, that I haven’t faced before, and I need some help with how to handle it.
 
I’ve taken on a new lover who has introduced me to a top/bottom dynamic absent in my full-time relationship. It’s awakened in me some sort of sleeping giant, and my sense of my sexual self has dramatically shifted. Sex with “Beth” is different from anything I’ve experienced before, and I’m different now.
 
I crave this bottom space and know that after 20 years, my girlfriend is not going to welcome or complement it. This means I’m either dependent on “Beth” (which I don’t want) or will eventually have to give up this newfound sexual persona.
 
What To Do?
 
***
Dear What To Do,
 
You have so many riches in your life that I’m tempted to remind you to count your blessings, but I recognize the anguish in your situation.
 
After years of a full and happy sex life with your partner, someone else has introduced you to a side of your sexuality you did not know existed. Now you feel delighted with your discovery, but torn between a fear of unwanted dependence on a secondary lover and loss of this new sexual expression if/when you return to your former situation with your main squeeze.
 
The good news is that you don’t have to give up anything at the moment. You are free to explore the top/bottom dynamic by which you are so dazzled with your new lover for as long as that feels comfortable.
 
Dive in and swim freely. Find out if you are attracted by the newness of this or if it is truly something that calls to the core of you.
 
You may find that it is tied up with the excitement of the new woman and her “brand” of lovemaking, and when her allure fades so might your attraction to bottom space. Give yourself time to make that determination.
 
If you have 20 years of practice with a polyamorous relationship, I needn’t tell you that now is the time to be giving your girlfriend extra reassurance that you two are strong and safe. Remind yourself how good your sex life is with her, and maintain good boundaries between what happens at home and elsewhere. This is not the time to introduce new sexual behaviours. She’ll become suspicious and defensive immediately.
 
However, once your new love interest has cooled, moved on, or settled into an accepted part of your ongoing life, and you and your girlfriend are back on familiar ground again, you might want to share with her what you learned from “Beth.” Do so delicately.
 
Or perhaps you may want to introduce SM as a fresh topic, suggesting the two of you experiment together to see if it adds some spice to your already hot sex life. 
 
Though you tell me she would never go for this, and I don’t doubt your knowledge of your own girlfriend, before you were introduced to a little kink, you didn’t know what a fan you would be either. When she sees your reaction, she may stretch her limits in a way that will surprise and delight you.
 
But let’s say you are correct and your gal gives you a thumbs-down on the top/bottom suggestion. What then? 
 
You can’t unring this bell. You can’t unknow that you’re kinky, nor do you need to apologize for it.
 
You don’t need to be unsatisfied with the fine sex you have enjoyed for two decades or feel resentful towards your mate because she has different tastes sexually than you have now discovered in yourself.
 
Remember, you are wise and lucky enough to have designed an open relationship that makes room for differences and waxing and waning attractions. You are free to seek out those with whom you can indulge your desire to explore bottom space without insisting that your girlfriend share that with you.
 
It may not always be available to you, and sometimes it may be better than others. This may not be your first choice, but it’s workable.
 
What you will have is knowledge that you have learned in your 40s something brand new about your sexuality. Who knows what you will learn in your 60s or 80s?
 
Imagine what your girlfriend may discover about herself as your lives unfold. The two of you can share and mingle all these discoveries as they happen, incorporating what works together and keeping separate what is individually pleasing.
 
This combining and dividing allows you both to have the best of everything possible and to grow individually and together into the best you can possibly be.
 
What to do? Everything you can!