Growing up, I didn’t give much thought to sharing my bed. There were always a lot of us living together at any given time, and living in New York City, we had to be economical with space. When finding an apartment, it was a given that if a large sleeping space needed to be shared, it would be shared. And if a relative or friend visited, it only made sense to open up a spot by asking two of us (usually of the same sexed body) to share a mattress or the couch for the guest’s stay.
Because of my rearing, my knee-jerk reaction to sharing a bed is to think of it as an unsexualized, unromantic arrangement whether the people sharing are related or not. Even if I wanted to, I could never truly grow out of this ideology because it is ingrained in my understanding of my working class family’s particular experiences. Sharing, to me, is just a practicality meant to maximize the efficiency of a living arrangement. No one wants to sleep on a floor, and if there is a huge space open on a queen-sized bed, I would gladly bunk up instead of piling up blankets or buying an air mattress that might only be used once or twice a year.
However, I also understand that this view of bed sharing is completely removed from the experiences of many of my peers, perhaps especially from those who may not have had to share for long periods of time. Apart from the practicality of a comfy place to sleep, beds can be viewed as a highly private space where adding a person to a sleeping arrangement marks a significant amount of intimacy in a sexual and/or romantic relationship.
According to romanticized accounts of the linear progression of commitment, a relationship can be taken to “the next level” when sleeping spaces are shared. It is seen as romantic. It’s proof of a long-term arrangement. It’s a time to cuddle and wake up together and perform any number of small, domestic tasks. It’s making a conscious choice that shows trust, expresses an offer of opening yourself up to another person, and values a willingness to make yourself vulnerable to your bedmate.
A bed, then, is not just an object with a specific function; it can be a symbol of both the privacy we may want from ourselves and the trust we have in our sexual and/or romantic partners if we invite them in. There is reasoning, I believe, behind focusing on trust when discussing whether to cohabit a sleeping space. In what I imagine for a better, more sex-positive world, there would be no fear associated with sharing a bed; unfortunately, I cannot say that now. Someone who does not understand what it means to enthusiastically consent might take advantage of a sleeping arrangement, using it as a time to do sexual violence upon a person. In the hands of a sex-negative culture, bodily autonomy becomes an oft-ignored, oft-forgotten notion that can be ignored to make way for someone else’s immediate desires.
Acknowledging this very real fear, especially surrounding violence against women, is key to the importance of sharing a bed. The intimacy is not just rooted in a fanciful idea of love and sense of togetherness; sharing a bed can be powerful when it transgresses personal fears to allow others into your private spaces. While it may seem like I am disregarding the emotional symbolism of sharing a bed by focusing on the potential dangers involved, I do not think that you lose one by acknowledging the other. Fighting against a culture of violence means receiving clear consent, negotiating the boundaries of what you want from sharing a space, and trying to balance out the societal expectations of cohabitation, and the reality between you and your partners.
Although these are serious issues and must be taken seriously, what is left after receiving necessary consent is largely up to the partners involved and generally involve more fun and lightheartedness. Whether that means cuddling or fighting off cuddlers, sharing a bed is an avenue for communication. You can express your desire for long-term companionship, or a focus on practicality, or whatever else bunking up might reflect. Whether the opinions involved are exactly the same or at very different ends of some political dialogue, the possibilities are endless when it comes to sharing a sleeping space.