Jealousy can be mild and flattering and endearing, and sometimes it gets violent and murderous. None of us are immune to feelings of insecurity. When somebody loves us and makes us feel secure we are bound to want to avoid losing them. The more we doubt our own worth, the more likely we are to suspect that a lover will find somebody better than us and jump ship. Sadly, the more we mistrust somebody, the more likely they are to believe that they can never make us happy and leave anyway.

One strong possible reason for sexual jealousy in men is (bio)logical: doubt about the paternity of one’s offspring. If you are 100% certain that you are the only man your partner has slept with in a certain period of time, you will feel secure that you are the father if a baby comes along. Add to this thousands of years of habit. Men apparently being in control of their wives in public is one example – even if a woman is very clear that she is not interested in sex with anyone else, a man can still experience pressure from other people to show her ‘who’s in charge’.

Why do women get jealous? Women being ‘provided for’ is another example of habit – even though most women work very hard, it is still true that a lot of women have depended on men for material security – for money or protection from other men. More or less intentionally, we have created societies in which men control financial resources far more than women do. If another woman is attracted to her partner a woman might be afraid of losing her income, her home, her family, her survival, not just her lover. Sexual prestige can also be as important for many women as it is for many men.

Why do same-sex partners get jealous? As above, everybody has insecurities – while being in a loving relationship can help us feel valued, special, wanted, etc., it also gives us something really big which we can lose. People leave, people die, people disappear. Every pair bond is as vulnerable to death and decay as our own bodies. While the idea that the only way to be happy is to be paired off is a rather horrible one, when it works well coupledom has a lot of rewards and couples don’t want to give them up without a fight.

In theory, we should only be committed to one sexual partner if we genuinely don’t want more than one. Sometimes people vow to stick to one without meaning it, because they love and want that person and don’t see the possibility of living happily if they are honest. Oftentimes one can be a lot. Some people decide to have no sexual relationships. Sex can be an incredibly powerful form of communication (especially when it’s done well and with a good listener) – we don’t want to be doing it so much that we can’t hear ourselves think.

Even in relationships where partners agree that sex with other people is allowed, jealousy is common and understandable. Jealousy is always understandable. How we express jealousy is what matters. The Sleep Project is not a way to make somebody jealous, or to test your ability to overcome jealousy. It’s a way to free ourselves from the causes of jealousy.


Sexuality politics

Sharp readers may be wondering whether I am assuming heterosexuality to be ‘normal’, especially when I suggest that friends of the same sex might already be regular sleep-together-ers. On the contrary, I think homosexuality and bi-sexuality have a lot to add to this discussion.

I don’t have much time for stereotypes such as ‘homosexuals are more promiscuous’. But I do suspect that when people have already had to wade (or fight) through a certain amount of ‘traditional’ morality to find out where their own sexuality lies, they have often learnt to take that morality with a pinch of salt. I think it’s easier for heterosexuals to get into a relationship and then just stay there indefinitely, for better or worse, because society tells us all that this is normal. Being normal doesn’t appeal to everyone, but it does make life a lot easier, and all creatures are lazy.

Bisexual, homosexual and heterosexual are all labels that we would not need to use if we were genuinely free to love, have sex with, and sleep with whoever we wanted. We do not need to identify as bisexual simply so that the correct group of potential sexual partners can identify us as potential sexual partners. We identify as bisexual in the hope that other people will not get confused by our behaviour and harass or intimidate us for not being what they thought we were.

Once society really gets that many people are not straight, we will be far less likely to assume that friends of the same sex are never going to be sexually attracted to us. When that finally sinks in, perhaps we will be less likely to assume that friends of the opposite sex are going to be sexually attracted to us as soon as we step into their personal space. Will we live to see that day? You decide.

Hidden love

If somebody is in love with you and you have not noticed, you either don’t want to know or they don’t want you to know. If you don’t want to know, then you are not going to dig are you? If you are going to do Sleep Project experiments, do them with somebody else.

If they don’t want you to know, they are going to refuse to sleep with you anyway, unless they are a closet masochist. The worst that can happen if you ask is that you find out. Maybe that will save them several years of inner turmoil and allow them to get on with their lives. Or, they may say yes to the Sleep Project and then try to seduce you. Plan ahead if in doubt. What will you say? What will you do? Thinking about this is a good idea at any time.

Maybe secretly you want them to be in love with you. Are you secretly in love with them? Maybe you are curious because you are fed up with an existing lover. How fed up? Maybe you just get that they are keen on you and since they are very fanciable you don’t want to put them off, just in case. Fair enough I say, but still best not to sleep with them for scientific purposes. If you really fancy them, don’t torture yourself. Whatever reasons you have for not trying to seduce them directly, honour them.

I think people who could potentially be sexual partners have to pass through a sort of sexual sound barrier if they want to become friends. It’s part of getting to know somebody properly – finding out how deep their relationships with other people go, what they are based on and whether they are healthy or not, and then finding out how deep your relationship with them is likely to become, is the core of close friendship. We don’t have to be able to solve all somebody’s problems to be a good friend, but it matters that we know what their problems are.

Many times passing through this sound barrier (sex barrier? pain barrier? Barrier of Eros?) causes much trouble. With opposite sexes it gets translated as “there is no such thing as a Platonic friendship” and of course, made into countless movies. What does this mean? It means that when sex came up on the radar people either gave up or gave in. Sadly I suspect there are a great deal of cases where people do give up, or give in to sex which can’t last, or just avoid becoming close friends with person after person in spite of feeling that there are many rewards to be had – richer connections with other people are always valuable.

Partnerships which start up when this barrier is breached are only different to the extent that there is the space for them to continue being sexual. Lots of people get together through having had an affair, this is well known, and many friends who have sex manage to continue to be friends without falling in love or starting a sexual relationship. The Sleep Project isn’t about any of this. It’s about all the beds where people who are sure that they aren’t going to have sex can sleep together – because that feels good too.

Welcome to the Sleep Project

The basic idea behind this project is that sleeping together shouldn’t have to be sexual. It doesn’t have to be sexual. I get the impression that, while some lucky friends can curl up together and pass out happily after a drink (or drugs) binge, most of the time sharing a bed means having to deal with a bundle of sexual implications.

If you are caught in a situation where sharing a bed with a friend would be sensible – more comfortable for you both than the alternatives – do you find it easy to sleep together? Do you hug while you’re in there? Do you have a sexual partner who will feel anxious when they find out (or be jealous, or angry)? Will you have to avoid telling them?

If you decide that it is not a good idea, and so one of you sleeps on the floor/sofa/armchair, or staggers home, is that a way of saying: “If we sleep together in this bed tonight, at least one of us is going to have sexual feelings”? Do you say “It wouldn’t be a good idea would it?” to each other, and then laugh loudly and agree?

If you are lusting after each other already, that’s a different kettle of fish, and certainly, a lot of perfectly good sex happens because people find themselves in bed together and get horny (or lucky). Come to think of it, one of my sexual relationships did start this way.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against sex – seriously. But I have come to think that sex gets in the way of a lot of perfectly good sleeping together. Couples have to negotiate with sex when they get into bed together; so do friends, it seems to me. I think a lot more affection and emotional and physical intimacy would be possible if it was widely understood that sex and sleeping together can be separated without too much trouble. My view is that the benefits are potentially great.

There are a lot more questions and answers that need to be added to this for a decent conversation to be possible. I will be adding some of these, but it is an open conversation, so please send your questions and answers, your opinions, and above all, your experiences.

And I am happy to be proved wrong from the off. If you have close or casual friendships, or tactile family relationships, and regularly bunk up with other people without giving it a second thought, I salute you. Please share your experiences – regular or one-off.