One of the unfortunate things I’ve run across in some sex-positive communities is the idea that there’s a “right way” to do a certain kind of practice. There’s a “one true kind of D/s play,” the “real kind” of (insert meaningless garbage here). And I think that’s really hurtful, to people who are still trying to figure out their identities and sexual practices without feeling judged. For those of us who feel confident in our preferences, it’s just bloody annoying.
I’ve seen this most often in the polyamorous community. I’m not going to hypothesize why this is, but it really upsets me, considering how difficult it already is to identify as poly in our society. Taking flack from within your own community about the different ways people perform polyamory is a burden no one needs. ((BTW: If you want a refresher on what polyamory is: check out this Q and A with XeroMag))
So what are some of the bogus arguments you may come across?
Poly isn’t about the sex.
Bullshit it’s not about sex. I strongly dislike polyamorous people who lord the sanctity of their emotional bond over people who have casual sex. Yes, the idea behind poly is that you can not only have sex, but also a loving emotional connection to more than one partner, but when poly people use love as a prerequisite for the identity, they are doing everyone a disservice.
Boring book cover, great book. Click through to buy on Amazon!
There is a great book, called Understanding Non-monogamies, which is a collection of essays on different types of non-monogamy (yes, my nerdiness is showing) which has a really amazing section on how poly communities use “love discourse” like the “Poly isn’t about sex” line to reinforce monogamous beliefs. Think about it—conventional, monogamous marriage is all about prizing one emotional bond over all others. It exists to the exclusion of all other sexual partners because their love matters more than the physical pleasure of random sex. By saying, poly isn’t about sex, poly people are using the same logic of monogamy to exclude people who do relationships and sex differently. They are saying: you are not as good as us. Your relationship doesn’t deserve recognition, because it’s not built on the foundation of love that makes ours REAL.
That is of course, a load of crock. Only you can give your own relationships and hookups and friends with benefits meaning. A casual sexual partner can often be hugely important in your life, even if the emotional commitment to a long-term relationship is not there, the same way a monogamous person can have a one night stand after they break up with a partner and have it be completely game-changing for them.
You aren’t really poly if you don’t love your other partner- you’re just using them.
B….S…. This is tied right in to the first argument, that poly relationships are about love, and sex is just a side benefit. By extension, if “real relationships” are about love, then a poly relationship where you don’t love your other partner is really just using them.
I’m sorry, I forgot when it became ok for others to place value judgments on what my relationship means. If my partner feels like ze is not being respected enough, ze can leave. One thing poly really is about is honesty, so I can understand this argument if a person is lying to their partner, saying ze loves them, but really doesn’t. However, beyond situations where one partner is obviously lying to the other partner, and those two people are not asking for the same things out of a relationship, there’s nothing wrong.
Swingers are inferior to poly people. We’ve figured out how to make sex with multiple people meaningful.
Gararrarrrawrrrrr. (that’s my angry noise)
There’s a surprising amount of ire between poly people and swingers. Polyamorous people often think of swingers as cheapening non-monogamy by making it all about sex, or by having so many rules or so much jealousy around the issue of sex. For me, this is kind of a no-brainer. People are wired for different kinds of monogamy, and different kinds of non-monogamy. Some people can let their partner have casual sex, but they want no part in it. Some can let their partner have casual sex, but only if they ARE part of it. Some people aren’t wired for jealousy. Some people can have emotional attachment to multiple people. Some partners don’t want that. You have to work within the context of your own needs, your own limitations, and those of your partners. The hardest situation to navigate is when an established, monogamous couple contains one partner who wants to open up the relationship. There are a lot of degrees to which this can be done, and swinging is one of a variety of options. There’s no reason to look down on couples that swing, because that is what works for them. It respects boundaries, is consensual, and the people involved enjoy it. Isn’t that what we all want?
You’re not really poly if you have a primary partner.
A primary partnership in poly relationships is the pair that stays together for the long-run, that has primacy over other relationships, and should be respected above all else. Some poly people (often those that militantly advocate group relationships, poly circles, etc) take issue with the idea of a primary partner, because it devalues other relationships with a paired person. And in a way, that’s true. If you live with, marry, and spend the majority of your time with one person, your secondary partner is not going to have the same value to you that your primary does. It’s right there in the vocab: primary, secondary.
However, that doesn’t exclude you from polyamory, and it’s not abusive to your secondary partner. If you assume an open structure on both ends (you can have multiple partners, and so can your secondary), then your secondary partner is open to finding a primary of zir own. That’s pretty darn poly-like to me.
And there’s a reason that the pair-relationship model has lasted so long. It’s awfully nice to know you can come home to the same person every night, to have someone to depend on no matter what, to be there for you through everything. But that doesn’t preclude other relationships. It doesn’t preclude anything. The coolest thing about relationships is that you can make your own rules for them. As long as everything is consensual, and you strive to do right unto everyone you spend time with… then love whoever you want.
Go on, I give you permission.
Stay cool, queer kids.