Orgy Domes, strap-on parties. Burning Man is the biggest adult playground in the world, so if you’re going—and you’re not single—it’s time to have an adult conversation about it with your significant other.

Burning Man is a situation where you’re supposed to drop your inhibitions, go with the flow. Forget about constraints like money, time. There’s no clock to punch. But… then there’s the partner you brought with you.

For the semi-initiated, Burning Man is a giant outdoor festival in Black Rock City. For a certain breed of type-A urbanites it might seem like a nightmare. No cell service, no showers, no kiosks, no outlets. But many others see it as their annual break from all that noise.

“Be able to talk about anything, not just what you will do. Don’t be afraid that talking about a threesome means that you have to have one.”

More and more, couples who would never go to a swingers party or even take their wedding ring off on a business trip are granting each other a “Burning Man Hall Pass.” The term was first developed by the great Reid Mihalko, a man who once gave a woman an eargasm in my friend’s kitchen.

Taking a day off from monogamy seems too good to be true. How can you trust a partner if there’s essentially a missing file in your calendar? Relationships are about trust and communication.

“For first-time couples, I recommend they work backwards from worst-case scenario: If I don’t see you for five days, what would you think?” From there you can establish rules.

A great starting point: “What would you really ask for if you knew no one would get angry or get hurt?” It is almost as simple as that. (We’ll give you more questions in a minute). But let’s stop there and just say that this isn’t an obligation or chore. This is an opportunity—especially for people who have been together for quite some time—to learn new things about themselves and each other.

Monogamy is a tricky beast. On one hand you’re supposed to fulfill all the sexual needs of another person. On the other: Unless you explore that together, you will be bound by each other’s past sexual experiences. (My briefest endorsement of this is that the alternative is for your girlfriend to say, “Tonight I want you to fuck me like my ex did.”)

Back to the opening question: What would you ask for if you knew no one would get angry? There are swingers who might want to spend all of Burning Man with their partner but are afraid to say it. There are open couples who would like their partner to keep to a regular “check-in” schedule, but don’t want to feel clingy. And there are people who just want to be able to sleep with someone else for one night. So for the first time couple, there’s literally nothing you can’t ask.

Oftentimes couples get into a rut not because they aren’t interested in each other sexually, but because they don’t have the vocabulary or the menu to talk about what they might want.

A few quick pieces of advice from Mihalko before we go to the Orgy Dome:

“Remember that voyeurism is participation. Go to the Orgy Dome and only play with each other.”

“Be able to talk about anything, not just what you will do. Don’t be afraid that talking about a threesome means that you have to have one.”

“For the two of you, just having this conversation might be great new foreplay.”

I recommend this line of thinking—that talking doesn’t equal doing, it equals growing—so much that I endorse couples that aren’t headed to Burning Man to use this as a no-stakes game of “What If?”

Oftentimes couples get into a rut not because they aren’t interested in each other sexually, but because they don’t have the vocabulary or the menu to talk about what they might want. Your partner might say she has a fantasy about going down on that cute girl from work, but having a fantasy doesn’t equal making plans. Fantasies are fun and harmless.

Now, without further ado…

Reid Mihalko’s Burning Man Hall Pass Conversation Starters

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, how important is it that you share a tent vs. each having your own?
  2. If your partner were to have sex with a complete stranger at Burning Man, what safer sex protocols could they follow that would make you feel emotionally and physically safer?
  3. If your partner were to have sex with someone you know at Burning Man, what safer sex protocols could they follow which would make you feel safe emotionally and physically?
  4. Who is on your “Please Do Not Fuck List”?
  5. If they don’t fuck them, and follow the safer sex protocols above, what could they do with them that would leave you feeling safe emotionally and physically? (ie. Kissing? Oral sex? Exchanging energetic orgasms? Showering together? Non-erotic massage? Cuddling?)
  6. Do any of the above change if your partner spends the night with stranger/person you know? Sleeps over? Wakes up next to?
  7. Would it bother you to hear your partner having sex or see them pre- or post-coitus entering/leaving their tent with another person? (If so, then consider a “no fucking other people in our camp”-type rule.)
  8. Depending on the answers above, is it OK for your partner to have sex in your tent with someone other than you?
  9. Same question as #8, but you’re included in the sexy time… does that change anything? Discuss.
  10. Is it OK for your partner to interrupt you having sex with someone else to get support from you, emotional or otherwise? If it’s not okay, can you be specific as to when it would be okay to interrupt you?
  11. Is it OK for your partner to interrupt you spending non-sexual time with someone else for emotional support or otherwise? If not okay, can you be specific as to when it would be okay to interrupt you?

Burning Man is just like any other trip you take with your partner: All of your relationship issues come along with you. If you were on rocky footing before you left for her sister’s wedding/your college reunion/that romantic trip to Cuba that I cannot, for some reason, bring a girl on without breaking up immediately after—you don’t have much hope for the trip. Quoth Mihalko: “For this reason I recommend making a three-to-five day rule that you won’t break up or make major decisions about the relationship until after you get home.”

Plus, Burning Man can give a person their own version of hangry called HALT. “If you’ve been out dancing all night and you’re in a bad mood ask your self: Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?”

If this seems a little overwhelming for couples, remember: “Burning man is not going away. Go this year and watch.” Have a good time. Look at other people’s butts. Spend at least one day just exploring together.

“For women especially it’s a huge win to have a partner who makes you feel safe discussing unsafe topics.”

And this is a time where “being there” really counts in the relationship.

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Photos by Twenty 20/@emanghillawi

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