A few months ago, my partner and I stumbled upon an estate sale on our way back from looking at potential houses to rent. Like all estate sales, the inhabitants’ possessions were up for grabs to the lowest bidder, often displayed where said possession had been for decades. Everything from decorative broaches missing beads to outdated kitchen equipment and even musty smelling clothing is yours for the taking.
I’ve always moved around a lot so it’s hard to fathom even owning enough to stuff to warrant an estate sale, much less the idea of all my earthly possessions being put on display like a museum where everything is for sale. Our things tell a story, even the more mundane stuff left over after the family has fought over the valuables.
This house had a secret, hidden on a bookshelf in the study. My books are among my most valued possessions. Every year or so when I move, I pack them all up and once again internally chastise myself for having so many I haven’t read. For a brief moment, I consider imposing a strict embargo on new books, but it never lasts. The owners of this home also liked books and had bookshelves in many rooms. However, as I mentioned, the interesting ones were in the study.
Living in Utah, it was no surprise to find religious texts of all shapes and sizes. However, I was downright flabbergasted when beside the books on LDS theology, there was a small collection of relationship books, including one titled Open Marriage: A New Life Style Choice for Couples written by Nena O’Neil and George O’Neil. It was published in 1973. Alongside it was one of my personal favorites Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique by Van De Velde which was first published in 1926.
While I have yet to the read the former, my partner and I stumbled upon the latter over a year ago when we first started dating. There is a bar downtown that has its own bookshelves filled with all sorts of fun treasures. I happened upon on this book and decided to read some passages to my partner. We were pleasantly surprised to find advice that seemed ahead of its time mixed in with the blatant racism.
Imagine my shock to find a copy at the estate sale right between Women: Pro & Con and The Anatomy of Love. Needless to say, I made a killing at that estate sale and those books are now proudly displayed on the bookshelf in my living room. It’s not surprising to anyone who actually knows me that I have books about sex on display. However, they looked quite out of place in their previous home.
How did this couple break free of the sexual repression so rampant in this area that Utah has the highest rate of porn viewing in the country? Or did they? Maybe they had these books so they could be more aware of the carnal activities out there in the world they needed to safeguard against. Perhaps grandchildren put them there as a joke and the couple had no clue the books were even in the study. Because I’ve avoided the news all day and am feeling slightly more optimistic than usual, I’m going with my first theory.
I imagine this young couple who were trying to follow the rules but found themselves completely dissatisfied with the part of religion that said pleasure is sinful. Because two-day discreet shipping was not an option, they had to go to a bookstore, locate the scandalous section, and then take the book to the counter in full view of the judgmental cashier to purchase it. I like to think they found this part exciting, even arousing.
Then they spent hours poring over pages that cracked their sexual worldview until it shattered. What did they do next? Did they drive around neighborhoods looking for red lights on porches or just fantasize about other people while greatly improving their own sex lives by embracing pleasure? Regardless, it’s clear that while ethical non-monogamy of all variations is only now becoming part of public awareness, the secret has been out for some time. This is not a momentary fad like Snap Chat filters and avocado toast.
As ethical non-monogamy continues to become part of mainstream dialogue, I think it’s important to remember all those who came before us. There is still a stigma. However, I am certain it’s nothing like this lovely couple would have had to deal with even thirty years ago. It still baffles me that these books were on display. There is no way I was the first to notice them. Maybe there were hidden away and then resurfaced when the estate sale was put together. I remember finding a pretty risqué book in my ex-husband’s grandmother’s house when we were selling her house. Or maybe they displayed them proudly, inviting questions from judging visitors.
I’ll never know, but the books make me feel hopeful that this couple was able to break free of the mundane and find the kind of connection you can only have with someone when you experience true sexual liberation.