Astonishing Beauty

The world around us is fractally beautiful. Not only is it filled with the most extraordinary, breathtaking beauty, but that beauty exists no matter what level you set your gaze upon. At any scale, at any magnification, beauty persists.

Look at a flower.

It’s beautiful–the colors, the symmetry, the shape. These things are all pleasing in their own right.

But look closer. Much, much closer. What will you find? An enormous array of tiny cells, in a proliferation of shapes and functions, each working with the ones around it to give the flower its form and color, all of them filled with activity. Inside every cell, an array of bogglingly complex molecular machines, running all the time, consuming energy, producing still more molecular machines, and always, always striving to survive and make more of themselves.

Now look up, from the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Image: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope team

This is NGC 2818, a magnificent planetary nebula in the southern constellation Pyxis. This and other planetary nebulae are the remnants of violent explosions, the result of a star that has fused all its available hydrogen fuel and is no longer able to support itself against gravity. In the last few seconds of the star’s life, it explodes, leaving behind a glowing ember called a white dwarf and throwing off a shockwave of expanding gas.

These stellar remnants are beautiful, but like that flower, they are fractally beautiful. In fact, they are connected with that flower. Most of the elements necessary for life, all the molecules with an atomic weight greater than iron, are forged in these fiery explosions, when the unimaginable forces of a nova or supernova fuse lighter elements into heavier ones. The atoms in this flower, and in you and me, were birthed in fire and sent out into the universe, to eventually coalesce into this sun, this solar system, this planet, at this place and this time, and became us and kittens and chocolate and motorcycles and ice cream sundaes.

The universe is both incomprehensibly huge and incomprehensibly fine-grained, and it’s beauty all the way down.

Even when we look at the same scale over time, we see beauty. Beauty is enduring. It emerges, over and over again, wherever there is the possibility of change.

Indeed, there is quite literally more beauty around us than we are capable of seeing. White flowers are richly colored, to eyes that can see in ultraviolet. The sky above our heads is a tapestry whose richness we could not recognize until we built machines to augment our feeble vision.

But it isn’t just the grandeur of the natural world. Beauty lurks in every corner. It hides in a tumbler filled with colored glass stones on a restaurant table.

Color is a myth, of course. It’s a perceptual invention, created by the sorting of light of different frequencies into neural impulses by our visual system, with sensors tuned to respond best to different wavelengths of light. It’s a crude approximation of the diversity of photons filling the air around us. These photons chart extraordinarily complex paths through the tumbler, reflecting and refracting, sometimes being absorbed or scattered, and we glance at this intricate mathematical dance of physics for a moment and then look away.

The complexity and beauty of the physical world is both breathtaking and ordinary. Breathtaking because it exists on scales we can scarcely begin to understand; ordinary because it surrounds us all the time, beauty so abundant we forget it’s even there.

Every moment of our lives is spent in a world so beautiful, so incredibly filled with marvels, that we are blessed with abundance beyond measure. I can not help but feel that, should we become more mindful of it, the dull and ugly parts of the world will lift, just a bit. And perhaps, just perhaps, we will be that much less inclined to manufacture more of that dullness and ugliness.

We are here for only a brief time. Let us never forget how beautiful it is to be so privileged to exist in this place.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 29: What Rhymes with “Slinky Hex”?

It’s a trick question. There are many things that rhyme with slinky hex, like blinky rex or tinky dex or linky necks. The answer that’s probably on your mind, though, is “kinky sex,” at least if you’re a veteran, seasoned pervert like I am.

Choose about a score and change of smart, creative, sex-positive folks, make sure they’re all veteran, seasoned perverts, make ’em all members in some sort of capacity of the same amorphous poly network, and put ’em in a 14th century castle in the south of France, and a certain level of slinky hex is the inevitable result. And just to clarify, when I say “a certain level,” I mean “rather a lot.”

Now, had I had my wits about me, rather than being addled by a day-long ride in a van with more than a dozen other folks and all their various and sundry bits of luggage, musical instruments, computers, sex toy bags, and other assorted implements of destruction, I would have photographed every room of the castle immediately upon our arrival, before the debauchery began. As it was, I barely managed to get any shots of the castle’s interior, and had to rely on the fact that another of our entourage was more proactive in that regard and kind enough to dump her camera’s card onto my laptop.

This is the main downstairs living area of the castle. This room, like the upstairs turret room, was soon converted into a play space, a process which had already begun by the time this photo was taken:

That’s a king-sized mattress; the fireplace is bigger than you think.

It’s also weirder than you think. There’s a big metal plate in the back of the fireplace, which is adorned with a relief sculpture that looks to me like a bunch of heretics being burned at the stake, which is rather grim decoration if you ask me.

There are also a bunch of big iron chains hanging down from the chimney, ending in a wide assortment of different hooks, some of them very large. I assume they’re probably for cooking or something; I’m sure I wouldn’t know about such things.

The odd religious imagery wasn’t going to deter such a group of seasoned perverts, though, and soon there was a roaring fire going in the fireplace. Not long after that, there was a roaring orgy going in front of the fireplace, though I didn’t attend that particular event as I still hadn’t met many of the folks there, most of whom had long histories with one another.

As the week progressed, though, I had the opportunity to engage in rather a lot of slinky hex, and to get many wonderful photos, some of which are quite lovely and one or two of which are quite sweet as well.

Most of those photos, you won’t see, as the folks involved chose not to have them posted. This is an unfortunate loss, but think of it like cell phone service to a Bronze Age tribesman: you can’t miss what you’ve never seen.

There are, however, some pictures which I do have permission to post. If you’re reading this at work, or you have delicate sensitivities easily offended by carnal images of the human form, or if you are living in China or Australia or any other place where sex is strictly forbidden by law, you might want to consider not clicking on the cut below.

If, on the other hand, pictures and descriptions of orgy in a castle seems your cup of tea, click here!

Still more on the Map of Non-Monogamy

[Edit]: Can’t get enough non-monogamy? Check out the book!

The Map of Non-Monogamy I’ve posted on my journal already keeps generating a ton of email, and I’ve realized that there is still another category of non-monogamous sexual behavior missing from it.

So, here it is yet again, in what is hopefully the final revision (ha!). The Map has gotten quite a lot more complicated, and I’ve added a number of new examples and clarified some of the old ones. I’ve also added borders around the various overlapping sections to make them easier to see. Oh, and polyamory intersects with swinging now–it was supposed to from the beginning, and I’m not quite sure why it didn’t.

I’m still getting quite a bit of email about the Map, so for the record: Yes, you can re-post or re-blog it provided you give credit and a return link. A couple of folks have emailed asking for permission to translate it into different languages. Same thing; feel free to do so provided you give credit and a return link.

If you translate it or blog about it and you’d like me to link to your translation or article, let me know! I’m also planning, eventually, to add a Sexual Informatics section to the Web site, which will have this and all the other sexual informatics charts and maps I’ve done, probably in a more interactive format.

As before, click on the picture to see a much, much larger version.

Map of Non-Monogamy Re-Revisited

[Edit] There is yet another update to the map here. You can also find my book on non-monogamy here.

Because my brain is totally broken…

I woke up very, very early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, because it suddenly occurred to me that entire classes of non-monogamy were missing from the last version I did. Plus, I thought of a lot more edge cases. And since the only way I can get this stuff out of my head is to put it on the Interwebs, here it is!

As before, click for a bigger version. A much, much bigger version, that will pulverize your bandwidth the way Chuck Norris pulverizes your pelvis. Or something. I don’t know.

Sexual Informatics: Non-Monogamy Revisited

A while back, I did a graphic of the various overlapping types of non-monogamous relationships. I’ve re-visited that chart, with some revisions and additions, and at zaiah‘s suggestion I’ve added some specific tags to various parts of the graph.

Click for a bigger version. A much, much bigger version.

Sexual Informatics: Non-Monogamy

I’ve been told, many times, that the word “polyamory” is not really necessary, as it’s simply a synonym for “open relationship” or “swinging” (or, depending on the person talking to me, “cheating”). This idea seems to assume that there’s really only one kind of non-monogamy, which is kind of silly.

I started thinking lately about the various ways in which a relationship can be non-monogamous, and the intersections between different sorts of non-monogamy, and after tinkering around with the notion for a while I’ve come up with this diagram.

A relationship can be non-monogamous without being open; cheating relationships, polyfidelitous relationships, and religious polygyny are all examples. I’ve made polyamory and swinging separate and nonoverlapping here, though of course a person can be polyamorous and also be a swinger (they’re two different behaviors engaged in by the same person, just as a person can be a swinger and also be a cheater, and so on).

BDSM throws a monkeywrench into the issue because there are so many ways that people involved in BDSM can be non-monogamous. I’ve seen people who play at play parties with other folks but don’t do so outside play parties and don’t form relationships; that sort of arrangement overlaps with swinging. I’ve seen various flavors of polyamorous and polyfi BDSM relationships. I’ve seen closed-group non-monogamy that isn’t quite polyamory and looks more like closed-group swinging, though God knows there’s some overlap between closed-group swinging and polyfi; I’ve known closed group swingers whose groups stay stable for longer than most marriages do. And there’s a sliver of non-monogamous BDSM relationships that don’t intersect with anything else; “I’ll arrange a gang bang for you and you’ll LIKE IT,” ferinstance.

And then there’s con sex, which overlaps with a whole lot of other stuff. But someone could probably write an entire book about con sex. And now that I think about it, I’d probably read it.

Because sex is a lot like astrophysics…

In the study of stellar evolution, there is this concept called the main sequence, a well-defined band that you see whenever you survey all the stars in the sky and plot their color on one axis and their brightness on the other. Not all stars fall into the main sequence, but the vast majority do; there’s even a lovely image of the graph here.

It seems the same is true of relationships. Stellar evolution and stellar nucleosynthesis map with remarkable fidelity onto relationships, I’ve observed, with a plot of “intensity of relationship” (as a function of emotional investment and expectation of continuity) vs. “sexual boundaries” showing patterns startlingly similar to the main sequence. At least to me.

So for example if you plot sexual boundaries horizontally and relationship intensity vertically, you might see something like this:

The sexual boundaries increase from left to right, with the classifications as:

A: Anything goes. Unbarriered, unprotected, full-on squishy fluid-bonded sex.
B: Barriers for anal and PIV sex
O: Unbarriered oral; no penetrative sex.
F: Fisting and/or fingering without barriers; barriers for anything else.
G: Gloves for fingering; no wet and squishy contact, even manual, without them.
P: Pants stay on; above-the-pants contact allows.
M: Makeout partners–no removing of clothing.

Now, not all the partners one can have fall in the main sequence. Along the top of the graph, we see partners distributed in Type Ia and Type Ib classifications: these are people you will schedule regular orgies with or a regular BDSM play relationship with, which may or may not involve sex (directly) but do involve a high level of emotional investment and commitment. Some of these folks might even be considered “family.”

If you’re part of the sex-positive community, you might go to orgies or play parties on a regular basis, and see the same folks over and over. These are folks you don’t necessarily have squishy sex with, but you might have some sort of irregular or semi-regular play/makeout relationship with. There’s not necessarily a high level of emotional investment, but you notice when you show up to a party and they aren’t there.

Type IV partners are most commonly found in poly relationships. These are the “Too Complicated To Explain” partners–they’re not necessarily partner partners, and they’re not necessarily part of the family, but they’re not not partners either…

A branch from the main sequence sometimes occurs for metamours, who a person might have some sort of sexual relationship with, but might not continue if that person’s partner breaks up with that person, but then again, sometimes these relationships do continue on their own, and…yeah, it’s complicated. Past a certain point, it’s not always clear from a single partner whether that person is main sequence or metamour.

A scattering of partners exist with a high level of sexual contact but a low level of relationship investment. These partners tend to scatter along the Friends with Benefits and One-Night Stand axes.

Group Sex Meets Information Theory

A while ago, I got to wondering, as I sometimes do, exactly what makes an orgy. For example, if fifteen people are all in a room having sex, but only within existing partnerships, and there’s no “extra-partner” sex happening, is it an orgy? If four people are all fucking each other, is that an orgy, or is it just a foursome?

As it turns out, the dictionary is of precious little assistance with answering questions like this. I consulted a number of different dictionaries, and got a number of different answers–one said an orgy is five or more people having sex, one said more than two, one said an event dominated by “excessive” sexual activity (whatever the hell that means), and so on.

Now, to me, three people having sex is a threesome; four people having sex is a foursome; it doesn’t get to be an orgy until you’ve got five or more people.

But is a play party an orgy? Clearly not all orgies are play parties, but is a play party an orgy? What about a play party where people aren’t having penetrative sex? How about a mutual masturbation event…is that an orgy? My impulse is to say “no;” it isn’t an orgy unless there are five or more people and there’s fucking going on, so mutual masturbation doesn’t count. (Edit: There are many kinds of sexual activities that aren’t penetrative sex that I would consider to be an orgy, so I’m still not quite sure exactly where the borderline for the definition of “orgy” is.)

From there it was a short intellectual hop to wondering how many different kinds of group sex there are1, and what the relationship between them is.

So I started working on a Venn diagram of group sex. Then I started enlisting the help of all the people around me.

Then I started realizing that some of the potential overlaps are complicated beyond what you might at first think. For example, not all swing parties include group sex, yet most folks would probably think of a swing party as a group sex event.

And it soon became clear that certain rules of geometry2 precluded doing this as a traditional Venn diagram, because it’s not possible to show all the overlaps and exclusions with circles.

So the project got a little more complex.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with: Where group sex intersects with information theory!

Some assumptions I’ve made for this chart:

1. An orgy must involve penetrative sex of some kind (including manual sex) but can not involve all the participants being sexual with one and only one person; a gang bang and an orgy are exclusive, non-overlapping sex.

2. An orgy can never bee a threesome or a foursome.

3. If penetrative sex happens, it is no longer a puppy pile; ergo, orgies and gang bangs exclude puppy piles.

I have the feeling I missed some categories of group sex, though, and I don’t know how universal these assumptions are.

1 As opposed to how many different kinds of sexual activity you can have in a group sex situation, which is a completely different question altogether.

2 Specifically, group theory, about which I know less than what would fit in the white space of a postage stamp.

Fragments of Frolicon: Surprise figging!

There are probably folks reading my blog who don’t know what Frolicon is. There may even be folks on my blog who aren’t familiar with cons in general, which is a damn shame, and those folks should definitely see to that sometime soonest.

For folks familiar with cons in general but not acquainted with Frolicon, imagine Dragon*Con. Now make it a lot smaller and get rid of all the folks in stormtrooper outfits and all the folks wearing Katamari Damacy T-shirts.

Got it? Okay, good. Now, with the remaining folks, make about half of ’em wearing a whole lot less. (I know it’s hard to imagine folks wearing less than they do at Dragon*Con, but work with me here.) Now, add a lot more corsets, and replace most of the geek shirts with leather fetishwear.

Still with me so far? Excellent! Now replace the panels on UFOs, Star Trek, and how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen with workshops on flogging, figging, and needle play. Finally, imagine a huge open space filled with all manner of dungeon furniture, and picture an open play party every night.

And oh, yes, we played.

Saturday night, we Cut for kinky sex