Episode one covers sex parties and Dionysus, the God of ritual madness and wine.
This article was originally published in Playboy.
Image courtesy of Playboy.
“I’d been spending time intimately with someone on multiple occasions when I learned he had a girlfriend,” says Melissa Vitale, a New York City-based publicist. He said that his relationship was open and that he was “ethically non-monogamous.” As it turned out, Vitale’s lover’s girlfriend was not aware that he was sleeping with others under the false label of ethical non-monogamy. “I later found out that he was full of shit. He’s just a small man who cheats on his beautiful girlfriend,” Vitale says.
New York magazine reported in 2017 that 20 percent of Americans had practiced polyamory at some point in their lives. As a side effect of the normalization, are more people not only misusing the term, but using it as an excuse for bad behavior—therefore stigmatizing non-traditional relationships and stomping on the hard work advocates have done to help normalize such relationships in the first place?
Anyone who has spent time on a dating app recently has likely noticed a rise in people identifying as ethically non-monogamous and polyamorous. The Latin translation of polyamory is “many loves,” and polyamorous people don’t just have sex with, but date and love more than one person. Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy, but the two words are not interchangeable. Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for open relationships formed on consent, trust, and honesty, and includes polyamory, swinging, and relationships in which a couple is emotionally exclusive but occasionally sleeps with others.
We see non-monogamy within “monogamous” relationships in the common practice known as cheating. Some people who cheat get off on the secrecy and sneaking that accompanies seeing someone behind their partner’s back. “Sometimes people get off on lying, that is their fetish,” says sex therapist Dr. Denise Renye. If you’re in an open relationship and wish to integrate secrecy into your sexual encounters, you can consensually negotiate that with your partner. “Most things are possible as long as consent is present. If the consent is not present, this completely clashes with the principles of ethical non-monogamy,” Dr. Renye says.
However, some folks seem to have attended Burning Man once, learned the word “polyamory,” stuck it on their Tinder bio, yet continued to date in a manner that involves non-consensual lies and secrecy. When they’re called out, they throw up their hands and say, I told you that I was poly! “They are attempting to sugarcoat their cheating styles. I do not necessarily think that people always know what they are talking about,” says sex educator Jimanekia Eborn.
Some folks, such as Vitale’s lover, may use words like “ethically non-monogamous” to cover up bad behavior. Others may simply be brand new to the poly lifestyle and in need of an education. “Do you even know who you are? Or do you know what kind of relationships actually work for you? You can also be hurting yourself in the process,” Eborn says. If you’ve serially failed at monogamy, it’s an exciting time when you learn about other options. You may feel eager to update your dating profile and embrace a new lifestyle. However, first, you have to do your research. To start, what kind of open relationship do you want? Do you want a relationship with a “primary” partner, with an option to sleep with other people? Do you want to date other people? Or do you want to be “solo poly,” in which all partners are on an equal playing field, and there’s no hierarchy?
Zachary Zane, a New York City-based writer, dated a woman who identified as poly, but did not live by its principals. “She would start dating someone new and completely forget about her previous partners. While all of us in the poly world cut a partner some slack when they start dating someone new and are in the midst of NRE [a poly expression for new relationship energy, or the giddy rush of joy you experience when you first start seeing someone], she never seemed to get over the NRE—until she found someone new and then forgot about her previous partner(s) all together,” Zane says.
It does not feel good to have a partner drop you the moment they meet someone new. You can avoid such misunderstandings by taking the time to think about what you’re truly looking for: one partner, multiple partners, or just multiple partners until you fall in love? Polyamory means many things to different people. For some, their relationship format changes depending on circumstance and partner(s). For others, it remains rigid and feels more like an orientation.
“A lot of us have been trained from the mainstream model to not ask tough questions about what realistically are you looking for, what are you available for, and what does your model for this kind of relationship look like?” says sex-positive psychologist Dr. Liz Powell. If you’re in a period of your life in which you want to be poly, but feel you may end up in a monogamous set-up one day, one argument is that it’s better to just identify as single. However, as long as you’re honest, you can identify however you want.
The plus side to identifying as open or poly, even if you may not always be that way, is the transparency. If you tell multiple partners that yes, there are others, and no, it won’t just be you right now, you don’t have to worry about hurting feelings with false pretenses. However, if you’re dating other poly people, you do have a responsibility to talk about what that word means to you. While it can be flexible to you, it may be a lifelong lifestyle to another, and vice-versa.
Any relationship, but especially relationships that involve more than two people, demand honest communication. That communication must begin with yourself, so you can clearly express your needs to other partners. That being said, dating is messy, and it takes trial and error to know what works best for you. The hard truth is, that while yes, there are some bad apples intentionally misusing words like “poly;” hurt feelings, learning curves and miscommunication are part of all relationships—including ethically non-monogamous ones.
“We’re reaching a point culturally where there are enough people being non-monogamous that folks are starting to use that label inappropriately, and that’s going to happen with any label,” Dr. Powell says. There’s a term known as “poly preaching,” which refers to poly people taking on an enlightened attitude that they date the way that humans are meant to—that it’s more intelligent than monogamy. While that is true for some, it doesn’t mean that poly people don’t mess up. And they should be allowed to.
“I think non-monogamous communities sometimes like to think of themselves as these like beautiful utopias full of enlightened people, who never have relationship drama. They only have relationships made completely of love and free of jealousy and fear. And that’s just not real. I’ve been non-monogamous on and off for 18 years, and I still have issues sometimes. We are all imperfect, messy humans,” Dr. Powell says. The key to being an ethical messy person, and not a harmful one, is honesty.
This was originally published in Off Assignment.
When I was a child, I spent my weekends on my family’s speedboat until it sunk in a hurricane and was gone forever. We lived on an island in the Caribbean and would all board the boat, my dad acting as the captain. We spent our days in search of the perfect beach. I remember the bounce of the boat against the waves as we drove faster and faster. The motion of the boat against the ocean imprinted into my body, and even after I got home, and went to bed, I could still feel the currents in my body as I fell asleep.
About two decades later, you took me to an island in Brazil. When we got to the house we were renting, and I saw the view, I sobbed. The Caribbean child in me felt cheated. I thought I grew up in the most beautiful place in the world. But the view from what was our home, for a brief moment in time, was so beautiful I didn’t know how to process it. Everything felt amplified, from the magnitude of the rocks that met the sea, to the depth of the ocean I knew existed, containing an imagination’s worth of creatures. In the distance was an island, that I’ve heard of on nature documentaries, where only snakes live. Even researchers and the best scientists are scared to go there. I began to cry. I didn’t know such beauty could exist. When the sun set, which we watched from a volcanic rock, that hurt to sit on and buzzed with mosquitos, I learned that even the cockroaches glowed at night, like fireflies. Even the coarseness of the rock and the cockroaches I found magnificent. I now know, that while views from Brazilian islands are indeed one of a kind, what made this moment in time so beautiful was that I was there with you.
You asked me what I wanted to do while on the island, and I told you that I wanted to go on a speedboat. You said yes and made my dreams come true. As a child, after our boat sunk, I didn’t know the next time I would get to ride on a speedboat in paradise, but you made it happen. You were very good at making me believe in the impossible.
The boat we rented for the day came with a captain. He was young, Brazilian, and reminded me of my childhood friends. While I moved to New York, so many people I grew up with stayed in the Caribbean, working today as speed boat captains, driving around tourists. The captain barely spoke English, and neither of us spoke Portuguese. We sat in the back of the boat. I snuggled into your lap, and you put your arms around me. The boat captain took off and sped, sped, sped, and I felt the impact of the boat hitting the waves again, but this time I was with you. I was so happy. Life can be so cruel I often wonder how any of us get through it. But every now and then, if you’re very fortunate, you have a day like we did in Brazil on the boat with the sea captain. The real sting is not from the mosquitoes, but that when you’re there, you don’t realize just how lucky you are.
As the sea captain drove us along the coast of the island, every time he passed a beach, he pointed, to ask if we wanted to stop there. We shook our heads until we reached the first beach that you couldn’t get to by land. It was a tiny inlet, with dark caramel-colored sand, so different from than the white sand tourist beaches lined with beach chairs. But it was exactly what we wanted.
We had a plan to make love on the secret beach. We wanted to make love in a place we’d never be again, that most humans don’t even know exists. We wanted to consecrate the day. So, when the sea captain joined us in jumping off the boat and swimming to the sand, we were annoyed. There were huge, lush, green trees of the jungle all around. The swim into the small beach was cold, as the salt water mingled with the cool fresh water coming from a stream that cut through the beach. There were mosquitoes everywhere, giant ones, with suckers so big you could feel when they bit and penetrated your skin.
You and I swam through the spring water. We walked with careful balance along a fallen tree trunk. The brown beach, with the fresh water spring cutting through it, opened up into a jungle filled with mysteries (I envisioned tree snakes) and you could spot some spiders on the rocks that jutted out here and there. It wasn’t the most comfortable beach, with cold water and plenty of mosquitoes, and it was obviously ruled by nature, not by humans. You could tell people rarely visited it. While we kissed in the cold water, too in love to mind the bug bites, our sea captain went on his own exploration. He seemed as taken and mystified by the secret beach as us. He walked into the jungle, he stopped to examine plants, and other than the occasional eye contact, nod, and a smile, he left us alone to be in love. I no longer resented him for joining us and ruining our plans to make love, because I felt glad that he too appreciated the magic of our beach of choice.
Eventually, it got too chilly, the bug bites were too intense, and it was time to swim back to the boat. Before we left, I found a sharp stick and carved our names into a rock. I wonder if they are still there. On the ride back to town, I put myself back in your lap, and we watched the sea captain. When other boats passed us, he seemed to know their captains and raced with his friends. He was having fun. To us, it was our day, but he made it a day for himself as well, and I admired that.
When he dropped us back off at shore, it began to storm. The portable credit card machine the boat rental company used wasn’t working, so I waggled my fingers over it pretending to cast a spell. The machine started working, and you told me I was magic. Is magic real? That day I believed so, and I seemed to make you believe in magic as well. Ours was a love so unique it only could exist if magic were real. The sea captain got back on the boat, sped away, and we’ll never see him again.
Many moons later, I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, either. That day turned to storms, and so did we. Unfortunately, days like the one with the boat captain only glow in full force when compared to the darkness that follows. We left Brazil. Me and you, the white girl from the Caribbean and the Syrian man, came back to America. I know I will never understand how difficult it is to be a Syrian living in America, and for that, I am sorry, for all the times I couldn’t give you what you needed. People we loved died. Literal bombs fell in your country. I survived a shooting while visiting my hurricane-stricken homeland, and I understand compared to you, even to visit to my childhood places left in ruins is a luxury. Depression came back. I hurt myself. You hurt me. I disappointed you. And then when I needed you most you ended it, but not for lack of love. Pressure, obligations, and hard truths piled up and up until something had to give, and that was us.
You shattered my heart, and I found myself spinning, wondering if the magic and the love was just a dream, an illusion, and escape from reality. I hated you. I hated the day with the boat captain and the rock still standing with our names on it because I couldn’t have it again. I wish I could twirl my fingers and fix the world like I seemingly fixed the credit card machine. I can’t, but I can choose to continue to love you, even when I have no idea where you are, and think fondly of the cock-blocking sea captain, and imagine what all those snakes are up to on their own private island. All the reasons you gave me are sensible ones. But I keep thinking of those rebellious snakes, who in a world in which humans rule everything, managed to take over their own untouchable island, and I wonder why couldn’t we.
This article was originally published in Allure.
Are witches real? Well, have you ever had a vivid dream about someone, only for them to text you the very next day? Consider that your intuition was burning bright. When you’re overwhelmed and stressed, do you ever turn your bathtub into a cauldron by filling it with soothing salts, perhaps lighting some candles to further set the mood? That’s a self-love spell if I ever saw one. Or have you ever found yourself in an overly cluttered apartment thinking, “I just have to tidy up to change the energy in here”? Look at you, performing cleansing rituals.
Witches are real: They’re people who practice magick. Magick, which witches like to spell with a “k” to differentiate it from stage magic, is real too. The practice of magick is about raising and directing energy to fulfill your intentions, and if you haven’t noticed, witchcraft is in vogue. You may be wondering what in God’s (or the Goddess’s) name is going on, or even what you need to know if you’d like to practice witchcraft yourself. A very good place to start is by clearing up any misconceptions you may have about witches — here’s the truth about nine of the most common myths out there.\
1. Witches aren’t real.
Remember the evil witch from “Hansel and Gretel” who snatches up children to eat? How about Nicole Kidman’s sexy character in Practical Magic? There are lots of different kinds of witches presented in pop culture, but witches exist outside of films and fairy tales, as well.
In real life, you can be a witch and look just like yourself, no eating children required. So how do you know if you’re a witch? If you feel an urge to exert your will and get what you want (while fighting the patriarchy and practicing intersectional feminism, of course), you qualify. A witch is simply someone who is aware of their own power and puts that power into action. If that’s you, then congratulations, you’re a witch.
2. You need tons of training from established witches before you cast your first spell.
Researching and doing some homework is never a bad idea. If you’re looking for good starter resources, I recommend the website The Hoodwitch and the books Craft: How To Be a Modern Witch, by Gabriela Herstik, and Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, by Kristen J. Sollee. However, writing a spell does not require a coven, goat’s skull, and full moon, as fun as nights involving these can be. Performing a spell just means setting an intention and then conducting a ritual — be that lighting a candle or meditating in the bathtub — to fulfill it.
For instance, let’s say you want to wake up each morning filled with more self-love. Write an intention letter affirming how much you appreciate yourself as you honor Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. You can invoke the energy of any deity you personally connect with, so long as you show proper respect, but Venus is a great go-to for love spells. You can also work with an ancestor or inspired celebrity, like David Bowie (a personal favorite) or Rihanna. Light some pink and red candles, and take a bath while meditating on how loved you are. See? You’re doing magick. Simply writing out gratitude lists or repeating a mantra is casting a spell, as it means you’re injecting reminders of your self-worth into your life. Most witches believe that the universe is filled with energy. Casting a spell is just harnessing that energy.
3. Practicing witchcraft is expensive.
The upside to witchcraft’s recent popularity is that it’s becoming more accessible, and more people understand witchcraft isn’t synonymous with evil. It’s also allowed powerful witches to make money from their craft, which is demonstrative of the power of magick on its own. Some online shops are worthy of your money if you have some extra to spend. Witch Baby Soap, for example, sells lovely, vegan, cruelty-free beauty products infused with spells.
However, it seems like everyone is cashing in on the witchcraft trend these days. Do you need to drop $85 on Goop’s “8 Essential Crystals Medicine Bag” in order to engage in crystal healing? Nope. Sure, tools such as crystals, tarot cards, and incense can be handy in rituals and help sharpen your practice. But all you really need is yourself. You are the witch, you practice the magick, and you are more powerful than any crystal money can buy.
Before you blow your paycheck on overpriced accessories, simply begin sharpening your practice by adding daily meditation and learning to your life. The more you immerse yourself in witchcraft, the more you’ll notice that witchy tools are all around you: in your spice rack, your closet (hello, broomstick), and growing outside. Witches of all economic backgrounds have been practicing for centuries using the tools they have at hand.
4. All witches are female.
Whether you are male, nonbinary, trans, gender-nonconforming, or anything else, you can be a witch. It’s true that there is a beautiful history of women and witchcraft, in part because women have been historically silenced and have used witchcraft to tap into their power and subvert the system. Think of the term “kitchen witch,” which means a witch who flourishes in the kitchen: When women were told their place was the kitchen, some simply focused their magickal energy there. Ultimately, though, magick is genderless.
5. Your ancestors have to have been witches for you to be one.
Like many other communities, the occult world has problematic members who insist that to be a witch, you have to come from a magickal bloodline. Remember how messed up beliefs about “Purebloods” are in the Harry Potter series? It’s not OK to shame or exclude based on lineage in our world, either. Some people do have witches in their families, and when you’re looking for spirits to work with, magickal ancestors are a powerful choice — but so are any ancestors. If you come from a non-magickal family, aren’t close with your family, or have severed ties with them out of necessity, that has nothing to do with whether or not you can be a witch.
6. Hexes aren’t real.
Sorry if this scares you, but hexes, cast to inflict misfortune on others, are indeed real. You may have heard of “the rule of threes,” or the belief that performing magick with ill intent will come back to you three times, turning the ill intent on you. (The neo-pagan religion Wicca holds that “Three times what thou givest returns to thee,” which can be applied to positive magick as well.)
But the rule of threes doesn’t simply mean, for example, that if you cast a spell to steal someone’s man and you and said man get together, he’ll cheat on you exactly three times. Hexes like this usually entail bigger blowback: If you’re performing magick to cause harm to someone, you’re probably in a pretty nasty, dark place. You likely aren’t exuding positive, loving vibes, but swampy, malicious ones. And it doesn’t feel good to be a mean troll. Performing magick to release yourself of anger so you can move on after you’ve been harmed can be healing. Using your craft to hurt someone, meanwhile, often just ends up making you feel bad, not to mention that positive energy is simply more powerful. Work with the universe, not against it.
7. There are “black” witches, meaning evil witches, and “white” witches, meaning good witches.
Speaking of hexes, you’ve probably heard about “black magick” and “white magick.” Some people use these terms, but they probably shouldn’t. To start, they have racist undertones: Rituals that are mistakenly believed to be “bad” and therefore labeled “black magick” often come from traditions such as Hoodoo, which is traditional African folk magick. Generally speaking, magick itself isn’t simply “good” or “evil”: It’s a tool. We can all act selfish, jealous, and petty from time to time, and honestly, that’s OK. We have good sides that are loving, too.
Often, the best way to get in touch with your loving side (and then inject it into your magick) is to recognize that you’re human. Negative thoughts are normal. Instead of acting on them, perform a cleansing ritual, dance around or go to the gym, or take a long, hot bath to soothe yourself. All such acts can be magickal rituals.
8. You must join a coven to be a witch.
A coven is a group of witches that meets regularly to perform magick and rituals. A coven can be traditional, with 13 members and a highly organized initiation process, or it can be more laid-back and designed by you and your witchy friends. As witchcraft has become mainstream, covens have become more casual. Some people enjoy the responsibility and framework of performing magick with a structured group, while other people perform better as solo artists. By all means, form a coven if it’s appealing to you. But if magick is something highly personal that you do alone, that works, too.
9. Your witchcraft should be Instagram-ready.
Explore the hashtag “#witchesofinstagram” and you will see a plethora of pristine, perfect-looking altars, clothing, and crystals. Social media can offer camaraderie and inspiration, and aesthetically pleasing rituals — such as cleansing your space with herbs like sage — have value. But your practice doesn’t have to be camera-ready to be valid. In fact, many of the most powerful witches prefer to keep their practices secret and their altars private. (A note about altars: They’re basically just areas set aside for devotion. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on yours for it to yield rich rewards, and you’re allowed to be a little messy — IMO, Joanne the Scammer is totally a witch and “polished” is definitely not her brand.) It’s OK to look at photos for inspiration, but your practice only needs to reflect one thing: you.
Read my latest for GQ. Illustration by Alicia Tatone.
Another winner for GQ.com. Illustration by Cecile Dormeau.
It’s true! I wrote this for Allure.com. Image via Getty.
There are a lot of sexual myths out there, but doctors confirm that broken penises aren’t one of them. Remember when Lexie Grey supposedly broke Mark Sloan’s penis back when all our favorite characters on Grey’s Anatomy were still alive? Nope, Shonda Rhimes wasn’t making that up. While there aren’t actually bones in the penis, a penile fracture is a real-life injury. We spoke to several urologists to learn how it happens, what a broken penis looks like, and how to treat one.
What exactly is a fractured penis (often known as a “broken dick”)?
First, a quick refresher on what inside a penis can break in the first place: A penis contains two chambers of tissue called the corpus cavernosum, which fill with blood when the penis becomes erect.
Blunt force to an erect penis can tear the sheath surrounding these chambers (and even rupture the erectile tissue inside) so that the blood inside leaks out to other areas of the penis. If you need another visual, Alex Shteynshlyuger, a urologist in New York City, says to think of this covering less like a bone and “more like a sausage casing.” (Doctors, however, call the covering of the corpus cavernosum the “tunica albuginea.”)
How do penile fractures happen?
A penis can be broken during vigorous penetrative sex or through masturbation. When this happens during partnered sex involving a penis and vagina, “generally speaking, the penis will come out of the vagina and strike against the pubic bone,” says Leslie Deane, an associate professor of urology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
While a penis can fracture during sex in any position, research suggests that rear-entry positions such as doggy style may lead to penile fractures more often than others: A penis may be more likely to exit a vagina or anus entirely when thrusting from behind and then, instead of reentering, bang against something hard like the perineum. (If you’re an anal sex beginner, it’s important to take things slow — check out our anal sex prep tips right here.) Deane says penile fractures aren’t uncommon, and that he sees several cases a year. He adds that he observes higher rates of the injury around Valentine’s Day and that alcohol is sometimes involved.
What does a broken dick look like?
According to Stacy Loeb, an assistant professor of urology and population health at New York University, a penile fracture may be accompanied by a popping noise, a rapid loss of erection, and acute pain. “The penis may develop swelling and bruising, referred to as an ‘eggplant deformity,'” Loeb says. This means that the eggplant emoji isn’t totally off-base as a representation of dicks: It just looks like a broken one. Shteynshlyuger adds that some penile fractures lead to bleeding from the tip of the urethra and that patients may notice blood in their urine. If you’re having fun with a penis that suddenly “pops,” goes soft, and causes its owner immense pain, seek medical attention immediately. You might have a broken dick on your hands.
How is a broken penis treated?
Still reading? Good, because there’s some positive news: If treated, broken dicks stand a great chance of making a full recovery. Unfortunately, Deane says, surgery is required in most cases. While there are less severe penile injuries that can occur during sex, such as a tear of one of the superficial veins, the only way to know for sure what’s going on is to head to the emergency room.
It’s also important to do it fast: “Surgical repair of the tear usually results in good outcomes,” Shteynshlyuger emphasizes. However, “If a penile fracture is severe and not treated in a timely manner, it can lead to problems with obtaining or maintaining erections, [or] it may also cause scar formation in the penis and a condition called Peyronie’s disease, which causes curvature and deformity of the penis.”
After surgery to repair the ruptured “sausage casing” inside the penis, the recovering patient should be able to have sex again in about six to eight weeks, although Deane advises going slow at first. This doesn’t mean that wild, headboard-rattling sex is off the table after a penile fracture, but it’s not a bad idea for patients to ease their way back in.