The Cooking Parable
Comparison between cooking together and having sex or other kinds of relationships. About consent.
This article will be revised a few times. I think not everything is clear but the main ideas might help already. I am happy for input or feedback.
Content Notes: Sex and taboos are mentioned in multiple ways but mainly positive. STIs are mentioned. For two paragraphs there are extra Content Notes.
A little introduction with some context
"I am a bit nervous. I have never cooked with you before.", the friend said. "What can I do to make it easier for you?", I asked. "Saying it out loud already helps.", the friend replied.
Side note: previously to that conversation, that actually happened, I had talked to them about the parable. It was fun and helpful and they encouraged me to write this article.
Since then time had passed until we finally cooked together for the first time and the cited conversation took place. They had forgotten about the parable at that time. But this opening convinced us even more that cooking together and having sex together have a lot in common. And since people are okay talking about cooking but somehow hesitate when it comes to talking about sex, or even think, there was no need to talk because things were clear, I hope this parable is useful for some people. It was for quite a few already.
I am polyamorous and my concept of how important sex is, which rules apply and which role sex plays differ from the concept of many other people. But actually, that is true for everyone. I talked to so many different people, including a bunch of people who had the believe that there is a social rule cookbook where everybody agrees on. I did that, because I have difficulties perceiving rules for social interaction via subtle hints. I need to have it in words. And even though I never wanted to follow all the rules in that cookbooks, anyway, it is very useful to know them, so I can explain to people where I do not match their expectations.
But when it was about sex, in fact, when I asked for the rules in these cookbooks it turned out their content intersect in only one single rule:
You are only allowed to have one partner at a time.
But people do not even have the same opinion on what a partner is supposed to be or how cheating is defined. What exactly is sex? Is it okay to intensely cuddle with a third person as long as there is no arousal? Is arousal okay if there is no sex? Is a partnership defined via a sexual relationship? These books also differ a lot on how the term date is defined.
Talking about it helps!
But this is not about monogamy and not so much about polyamory, although it might help understanding the latter. This is about communication, about what needs to be communicated, what specific requirements there are, how hard coded these are and why. And that sometimes you cannot say why and it is still valid.
Layers In A Relationship And Some Definitions
I define a relationship between two persons as existent if these two persons have interacted with each other at least once. There are many different types of relationships, like partnerships, friendships, the relationship to your colleagues or your employer, the relationship to your barber or landlady. And you can have a friendship with your colleague or a partnership with your barber. I call these different types of relationships you can have with one person at the same time layer.
Let's have a closer look to friendships. You can have the person you trust on psychological issues but you would rather not ask to organize a party with. You might have a friend with whom you really enjoy cooking but you are not very close. And you might have a friend you like playing computer games with, then have sex, but only once a week.
I'd call every of these type of things you like to do with a person a layer.
Concluding: there is a cooking layer and a sex layer.
For some people to have a sex layer with a person makes this person really special, or the other way around, they would only start a sex layer with a person if this person is special in a specific way, already.
But there also are people for whom the layers are equally important. There are people, for whom cooking with another person is quite personal and they would do so only with people they really feel comfortable with. And there are people, who don't even need a name of a person, to have sex with them.
Side note: For me, cooking layers are more important. A person I cook with, I let into my kitchen, into my personal space where I withdraw to, when I need it. Or we do it in their place where there is so much personality in everything. Also: we talk, we open up, we share. Yes, that is also the case for sex but somehow I feel closer to people I cook with. It's more like home.
This part of the parable explains:
- for some people having sex with only one person at a time sounds equally random as having a cooking layer with only one person at a time
- being poly does not automatically mean that you have sex with strangers. You also don't just cook with strangers, do you? Some of you do, and so do some people have sex with strangers. It's quite similar to how diverse the handling with cooking layers is.
- some people prefer cooking alone, some people prefer having sexual arousal only with themself.
When I cook with a person for the first time we start with some conversation about what to cook, and there again are lots of parallels.
If you meet a person with whom you want to eat and you haven't talked about preferences, you might decide for pizza because it is quite common. This might be the equivalent to having penetrative sex, missionary style. And like some people do not like pizza there are some who do not like this kind of sex.
Luckily pizza is not that much a standard like penetrative sex is. Hopefully this will change for the latter.
Back to the introducing conversation about a cooking event: you probably talk about what ingredients you have. In a sexual context this would be what is okay for you to do today. Then you talk about what all participants like most or what you would prefer today. Maybe you like so many ingredients that it is too much for one day and decide for a subset. Maybe you usually prefer tomatoes but you had tomatoes yesterday so today you prefer something else. Maybe you had enough of a specific kind of oral you usually like and today you would like to try some new ingredient.
Content note for this section: trauma, dysphoria, death
One of the first questions when preparing a meal with or for a person is concerning intolerance. This can be vital! There are people with whom you cannot have raw onions or peanuts. The consequences can range from uncomfortable feelings to death. And it is pretty close to what can happen with taboos in a sexual context. You can have some ways you do not want to be touched because it causes a slight dysphoria or you might have a trauma that might be triggered with a certain action.
It is important to previously talk about the limits. And you do not have to reason. If you say you cannot eat peanuts, usually nobody would question and likewise there is no need to explain why you maybe cannot touch a penis or cannot be touched there.
Content note for this paragraph: alcohol, trauma
And even if you could, you don't have to. When cooking together you might have an issue with alcohol. You might have been an addict or you might have a trauma based on an incident with alcohol. There is no need to explain this in detail to a person you just cook with. Likewise it is with specific sexual interactions.
Has anyone ever asked you if you would like to put banana, cinnamon and orange juice into your meal? Too extreme? Well, to me kinks feel a bit like this. Some people prefer certain tastes that are not quite common. Then there are people who have no issue trying a few times, to find out if it is okay. Some do it now and then. Some prefer more common practices but sometimes it is nice because the other participant likes it a lot. And some do not. Every preference is valid. And, like you would not put cinnamon in a meal when you very much like it but another participant does not, there is no shame in having a kink, and there is nothing wrong about not including the kink when another participant does not want to (vice versa, it would be wrong to include it then).
Some people don't have matching tastes. They just cannot find any ingredients they would agree on. Or maybe the one needs it salty and everything needs to be cooked for quite some time and one cannot eat salty and needs something to bite. Maybe these persons would not cook together but it is also possible that they meet for cooking, do the cooking each on their own and eat from different pots. Same is possible with incompatible sexual preferences.
I mentioned the sex cookbook of untold rules that people think were common sense. It is the same with cooking. I have been to households where people would assume everyone would prefer small knives. Where adding the herbs had to be at the very beginning of the cooking because they need to be fried. And vice versa, people who would get mad if herbs would be added early. People were really mad at me for contrary reasons and told me it was common knowledge.
I felt the same when it came to talking about behavior in sexual context. Like, people who expect me to tell everyone if we broke up to prevent embarrassing situations, and people who think this is private matter I should not be so public with, for example.
Conclusion: there is not that one cookbook for rules. You actually need to talk if you want to have clarity.
Ways Of Polyamory
I talked to quite a few people about polyamory. Often people who are new to that topic surprisingly have a clear concept of how polyamory works. When I say, I was polyamorous people often assume one or more of the following
- I have a lot of sex, certainly a lot more than people in monogamous relationships
- Therefore I have a much higher risk for STIs
- I currently am in a relationship with at least two people
- with whom I share an apartment
- sex always happens with more than two present persons
- all my partners are equally important to me, play the same role in my life
- I'd easily begin a sexual relationship or I would have lots of one night stands
- Or I have a lot of sex with strangers, like on any party
(Most of this is wrong in my case but I will not tell you which is true and which is not.)
But these assumptions or even categorizing polyamory is as helpful as categorizing cooking relationships. It is pretty individual.
Lets go through the list:
1. In poly relationships people have more sex than in monogamous relationships.
There for sure are some who have a lot of sex. There are some who cook a lot with others.
But there also are people who only cook with one person but who do this everyday, while another person might meet with four people to cook together once a year. And yes, there are poly long distance relationships where a few people meet each other once a year and have sex (usually not only sex but also sit together, talking, like it would be in a group of people who cook together).
2. In poly relationships there is a higher risk for STIs.
People who cook a lot with other people for a huge group usually go through some hygiene instructions. Same often occurs to poly folk who actually have a lot of sex with different people. Still, the risk might be a bit higher, but saying it was an issue would probably be too much.
(And as mentioned: some polyamorous people only have very few relationships and so on.)
3. Being poly you are in a relationship with at least two other persons.
You might currently only have one person you cook with, but that does not make you a monogamous cook person, if you would be okay with another such relationship.
4. All participants in a poly relationship live in the same apartment.
Well, same with cooking. I know a person in a shared flat who usually only cooks with their four flatmates. I know persons who cook a lot in different apartments.
5. Sex always happens with more than two present persons.
You can cook with one or more persons.
6. All partners are equally important.
You can live in a household with one other person with whom you usually cook. Sometimes another person comes over and either one of you or both of you cook together with this person, but still this third person is not a part of the household. Same can be the case for a poly relationship. Or, coming back to the very beginning, even in a monogamous relationship where the definition of cheating is wide enough.
7. Poly people easily begin sexual relationships or have many one night stands.
I know introvert people who are poly and there again are similarities: some have difficulties having strangers in their house, cooking with them. They need to know these persons quite well and the process of coming closer is stressful. Same can apply to sexual partners, even if the person is poly.
8. Poly people have sex with lots of strangers.
You might be a person that is willing to cook with complete strangers. You might even visit a course. But you also could be a person for whom it is quite personal to cook. You prefer to do it in your home or the home of the other person, talk about personal stuff during the process, be close, feel a bit like home. You might do it with some special persons only.