Tag Archive: polyamory


Our guest post today comes to me from a very articulate and intelligent blogger; Bydarra@hotmail identifies as a heterosexual, male, middle aged, kinky, poly, and a tech geek residing in central Texas.  There are other labels he embraces but they aren’t as relevant.  Much thanks to him for providing this person insight into practicing polyintimacy.

I think his post is incredibly important in the way he describes the ordering of our important relationships- whether they be with friends, romantic or sexual partner, or something else entirely.  It echos what Forever the Queerest Kids has always stressed- knowing what works for you in your relationships and going for it.

When I was young (20ish), I read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.  This turned out to contain the seeds that would germinate over the next 25 years and eventually result in my abandoning romantic monogamy (after the end of a 17 year marriage) and seek to put my thoughts in order.  This was, in part, an academic exercise but  even more it was an attempt to figure out how to implement relationships that would be meaningful and authentic for all involved.

I identify as polyintimate which I define as pursuing relationships in which participants strive for intimacy to whatever degree they are able. A sexual component may be included but not necessarily.  Some may have more emotional depth. Whatever elements come into play, these relationships encourage us to be our authentic selves.  Polyamory is but one avenue of this philosophy. Whatever the model of relationship, the one true thing is that time and resources are finite. As such, some relationships will receive more than others. Some people play a greater role in our lives. Sometimes that’s by chance. Sometimes that’s by design.

My involvement in the online public polyamory community revealed that my thinking diverges to a degree from many practitioners.  I think this is because of my nature.  I’m a geek who can be a bit OCD about order and trying to get concepts to fit together in a consistent fashion.  As a result, I’ve figured out how polyintimacy can work in my life.  A part of those thoughts are laid out in the following paragraphs.

Unlike many who practice polyamory, I see a validity in identifying the priority of a relationship. The terms Primary and Secondary are valid as long as we have some way of defining them for ourselves and those we are involved with know where they stand. For me, these terms go beyond polyamory. My son is a Primary relationship. My brother is not. He isn’t even on my radar in this. A very close friend could be Primary though not remotely romantic. So how do I define these gradations of intimacy and commitment? Those are the key elements for me. Let me stress that these are not specifically romantic. These frameworks should be applicable to any type of relationship from professional to personal; from platonic to romantic…

A Primary relationship is one where I see the other person as a long term participant in my life and vice versa. I consider them in my long term plans. I may not completely change those plans to accommodate them but I will modify my plans to maintain our relationship as best we can. This relationship is the kind where families exist… We sacrifice what we want when the others’ need is greater. Maybe we sacrifice what we need for our Partner(s). How far we go is up to each of us to decide. I love these people in some context. They’re my family of choice.

A Secondary relationship develops from a Tertiary. In some cases, it may be a negotiated relationship such as Mentor/Apprentice, Dom/sub, etc… Sometimes it may be more egalitarian and organic. In any event, participants have an expressed commitment to each other and the relationship. There is a much greater degree of intimacy that has been achieved over time. In a romantic context, I see this as the beginning of polyamorous involvements. Love is not necessary but it is a probability that it might develop.

A Tertiary relationship occurs when I’ve met someone and see a potential for growth beyond the casual acquaintance. I’ll spend resources in getting to know this person better. There will be a lot of conversations about philosophies, interests, plans, etc… to determine if there is a basis for increased intimacy. This takes me beyond the basic chemistry/’shiny’/appealing stage. If the growth of this relationship is mutual, I’d define this as the place where it has begun. At thispoint, we discuss what’s happening, decide to move forward or not, and begin negotiating future involvement.

Beyond this are acquaintances, buddies, strangers, and the rest of the world. Not all relationships fit easily into one of these ‘levels’. Many of mine fit somewhere in between. Some move between one level and another.

As a closing thought, I think it is profound to note how Bydarra also acknowledges the fluidity in the way that we relate to ourselves and our partners.  Our relationships were not meant to stay stagnant, but to evolve the way our personal identities do.  I find his story affirming and encouraging, so thank you again for writing!

Stay true to yourself, and be cool, queer kids.

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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.

understanding nonmonogamies book

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 ispoly heart: couple in the middle with arms extended to multiple partners on each side 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?

Two fingers pointing in opposite directions, captioned "I'm with them"

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.

What I Love About Polyamory

During the most recent months of my blog-scouring and self-reflection, I’ve been honing in on a lot of material about the polyamorous community and all the wonderful growth and learning experiences that living in a poly relationship can bring.  So here’s my list (and a number of awesome articles  to go with it!) about what polyamory can bring to the table for personal improvement and interpersonal intimacy

1.  Living in a poly or open relationship forces you to be an amazing communicator.

The top priority for every poly person is to love while doing no harm.  Just because people are in open relationships doesn’t mean jealousy doesn’t happen, feelings aren’t going to be hurt, or problems won’t arise.  Because it does, they are, they will.  Polyamory has so many pitfalls if you aren’t being completely, 100% honest with your partner.  They need to know what you are thinking and feeling and needing not only in regards to their relationship with you, but in regards to their relationship as it relates to your OTHER relationships.  Tricky stuff.

One of the biggest aspects of polyamory among couples that date separately is the question of “negotiating permissions.”  For an illustration of how this works, but also why it can be tricky, I direct you to The Ferret, a blog on polyamory, and his explanation of “The Butterfinger Metaphor.”  

“Look,” I said. “Imagine that we’re going out to see a movie. You know I love movies, because movies are awesome. But imagine, if you will, that there was a chance that at this movie theater, on any given night, the cashier might also give me free Butterfingers. …[But] you care about the Butterfingers so much that I have to make sure you’re aware of every Butterfinger I eat. So every time I head to the movies, I’m all like, ‘Hell, if there’s a chance at Butterfingers, I’d better clear it with Gini – because if it turned out there was someone willing to give me Butterfingers and you would have been okay with that, I’d hate to miss out.’” 


“So we spend a lot of time discussing Butterfingers,” I boldly continued, “But the actual amount of time I spend getting Butterfingers, or even deeply caring about Butterfingers, is pretty damned slim. I just want to make sure that if Butterfingers are available, it’s okay with you.” 

 Maybe the metaphor is terrible, but it’s also an adorable way of illustrating the importance and difficulties of negotiating permissions.  If you want to spend time with another partner, but not hurt your primary partner, you end up asking a lot more often that you end up receiving, which can in turn, irritate your primary partner because you spend so much time asking to sleep with other people.

HOWEVER, I would argue that the hyper-developed communication skills which led to the Butterfingers problem also allowed it to be solved, because both partners were able to talk about why there was a disconnect in the way they were interacting and feeling.   And creative, constructive dialogue is awesome!

2.   Being in a poly/open relationship allows you to experience things sexually that another partner is unable to give, and/or offer the variety you feel like you’ve been missing.

One of the major boons about poly life in the kink community is that it combines the emotional commitment and trust that many kinky people need in their sex lives without needing to put all your eggs in one basket, as it were.  Many kinky people have a variety of practices that interest them, but have a life partner that is either not kinky at all, or that is drawn to different varieties of kinks than them.   For example, a male/female couple may both like domination and submission play, but the man also likes fire play or other practices too extreme for his partner.  Likewise, the woman may like to switch and play with other women in the opposite role from when she plays with her husband.  This kind of variability is incredibly useful to kinky people, and is much safer- physically and emotionally- than playing with strangers at parties or in the club scene (not that there’s anything wrong with that- but it is more dangerous).

This is equally true for vanilla relationships and single people who fear “getting tied down by true love” before they’ve experimented and satisfied their curiosity with people who aren’t “the one.”  Dan Savage talks about this brilliantly in “What Does Marriage Mean,” where a young couple with three children ends up separating because they realized that they hadn’t had enough sexual experiences of their own before settling down with each other.  But because they were unprepared to acknowledge the potential for a non-monogamous, yet committed relationship, they had to leave each other, which I think is a frustrating and un-productive endgame.

3. Poly/open relationships take the stress of dependency off of a diadic partner relationship.

The swinger’s blog, Life on the Swingset, provides a great explanation of this in their post, “All Things Re-Considered.”

“In every aspect of a modern life, we’ve become interconnected and interdependent with others. Every aspect except sex, that is. Most still expect themselves to be everything for their partners in the bedroom….And with all of those expectations comes pressure. And feeling insufficient, which may just be the root of all jealousy….All of us in different open relationships, whether swinger, poly, or in some custom-built arrangement, share a comfort level in having another human being provide for our partners. In purely sexual terms, there are certain types of orgasms that [G] can’t have with me. “

4. Poly/open relationships give us the opportunity to explore ourselves emotionally- to better understand why we feel the way we feel about certain things, and to make us better people in general.

Being with more than one person at a time, and having to negotiate the complex cultural baggage and your own mental hoops about  what it means to care for multiple people IS HARD.  But it’s also rewarding.  You find different kinds of intimacy from different people;  they uncover new aspects of your personality and push you to learn more about your own limits and expectations.  There’s a reason Zachary Karabell refers to open relationships as “Sex as an extreme sport.”

5.  So that’s a lot of articles I just threw at you, but here’s one more- “Where We Are” by Lust and Confused.  They explain my favoritereason why poly relationships are awesome: because it means more love for everyone.  ❤

Stay cool, queer kids.

I’ve written once before about open relationships and the mental/emotional puzzles that they pose, but within a very American-centric paradigm.  However, I’m finding through reading The Meanings of Macho: Becoming a Man in Mexico City, that the phenomenon of negotiated open relationships and even open marriages exists in many forms outside of my insular, highly-sexualized college sphere.

In Meanings of Macho, ethnographer and anthropologist Michael Gutmann interviews men in living in the Colonia Santo Domingo, a self-built neighborhood just outside the center of Mexico City, about the prevalence of extramarrital affairs among people in the colonia, expecting answers in line with the typical image of a machismo man who sleeps around with little regard for his wife or his family.  What he found, in many cases, however, is that not only are men have affairs, their wives are also getting around.  And more intriguing yet, some of them are negotiating marriages wherein either spouse is allowed to have one-night stands and liasons, so long as the other partner is never brought into the house or mentioned to their spouse.  Gutmann hypothesizes that a lot of this behavior is due to the surge of feminist sentiment that took root in the 1970’s in Mexico, and has allowed women to be more liberated in their own behavior.  And yet, how does this explain the way spouses negotiate open marriages?  It’s one thing to demand certain things from your husband- like doing dishes and making dinner- but one cannot simply demand acceptance of a practice so tied to the emotional roots of a marriage.

Gutmann doesn’t really deem to answer this, but it got me thinking about the way that open partnerships are navigated and the emotional costs vs. benefits of them.  I think this Sugarbutch article gives a pretty good run-down of the way one blogger and her partner have talked out and come to an understanding of non-monogamy.  What I like best about it is the distinctions drawn between different acts and their incorporations of main partners, as well as the idea of processing and outlining together what each individual incident of non-monogamy will mean.

“I know it’s possible to be attracted to or interested in more than one person at the same time, and that one does not necessarily take away from the other. Most importantly, though, I recognize that just if or when I or my partner feels an attraction, I want us to be able to talk about that, to puzzle through it, to figure out if it’s important to go sleep with that person or if flirty coffee dates or making out is enough, or if it’s a temporary infatuation, or if it should become a bigger friendship.”

In that sense, non-monogamy is really a set of decision based on mutual permission and understanding, which I can appreciate as very healthy and well communicated.  But Sugarbutch also acknowledges that the “need” for non-monogamy can change.

“We’ve been talking about this, lately. From the beginning, we’ve claimed that we were open, and for a while that meant we could do whatever we wanted when we weren’t with each other, and we didn’t need to know about it. Then, as things got more serious between us, we decided we wanted to know, which (chicken or egg?) meant that neither of us were sleeping with anybody else.

But what does it mean now, a year and a half into our relationship? I guess we’re still working that out. By “regular” standards, we are open because most folks would consider things like threesomes or making out with another person potentially crossing the lines of monogamy…. And we are open because we are acknowledge that sexual desire for someone else can happen, and we should be able to talk about that, that desire for someone else doesn’t have to have repercussions within our own relationship,  and that sex can be fun and playful and, ultimately, meaningless.”

So not only is non-monogamy fluid in practice, but it is also fluid in time frame.  Maybe for part of a relationship- when it’s more or less serious- casual hook-ups are ok, but in another phase, sex should take place only when both partners are present, even if it includes other.

I find this fluidity attractive, but incredibly dangerous.  It’s so easy for one person’s perception of an aspect of non-monogamy to change while the other’s remains static.  If that isn’t addressed immediately (and it probably won’t- for feelings of guilt and restraint), the entire arrangement can backfire in one ugly, trust-destroying move.  However, I like the stress Sugarbutch put on discussing each sexual decision individually, as it forces the lines of communication open and keeps them that way out of habit.  When there is a problem, it will be addressed, because everything gets addressed.  I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this model, having not tried it, but I find it promising.  And as the couples in Mexico City demonstrate, their are different forms of non-monogamy that work for everyone- you simply have to find the one for you.

 

 

A Degree of Polyamory

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term polyamory, it’s helpful to understand its many manifestations.  The textbook definition (that is, only if you have a really good, progressive textbook) will explain that polyamory is a state of romantic and sexual attraction which involves more than one partner.  However, that’s far from the whole picture.  There are a lot of configurations for polyamorous relationships.  Some poly people desire to be the middle partner in relationship, where the other two partners are not attracted to each other, but only to him/her/zir.  Others prefer to be in a triangular relationship, where all members of the relationship are equally attracted to each other.  Of course, poly interactions are not in any way limited to three people, either, and can encompass all varieties of configurations and interactions.  I know of one asexual person who thought a poly relationship would suit them best because his/her/hir partners could get their sexual satisfaction from each other and their emotional satisfaction from him/her/zim.

However, polyamory takes on an even more unique adaptation, especially in the sphere of college couples, which is much more “mainstream:” The Open Relationship.  I will admit to you right now that last year, I did not understand open relationships at all.  It seemed completely unfathomable to me that two people could claim to love each other and care about each other, but see other people simply because of distance.  Now, the open relationship seems like not only a viable, but a daring solution to the societal pressure to remain faithful and the natural urge to explore variety in sexual and romantic interactions.  Usually I don’t like using Autostraddle for actual, informational articles, but this latest one about why polyamory can work in a relationship is great.

Contrary to popular belief, monogamy and fidelity are not one in the same. Take it from two lesbians – real lesbians – who have both been in serious relationships, both open and exclusive, and are still trying to figure out what exactly that means.

By nature, monogamy is insistent upon jealousy and structured according to what we feel areunrealistic expectations of yourself and your partner. There’s more room to focus on building a secure, lasting relationship when it’s not bound by or founded on obligation or a denial of attraction.”

While I don’t believe that the article hosts a completely unbiased analysis here (monogamy in a trusting relationship isn’t built on jealousy, but perhaps on respect and subsequent restraint), it does present a unique viewpoint- one where being with someone other than your primary partner is not cheating or doing something wrong, but actually a progressive movement towards honesty and a building block for a healthier, more realistic relationship.

Myself, I am still toying with the idea of polyamory.  Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense, but I’ve never been afforded the opportunity to try it in practice. I’m not by nature a jealous person (I mean, at all- when my ex cheated on me, I didn’t care about the action of infidelity, only the secrecy of keeping the information, rather than trusting me with it).  There’s potential for this configuration, although I’m not overwhelmingly drawn to it, either, except perhaps with a sexologist’s general abounding curiosity.  Which is another great point: some poly people are perfectly fulfilled at some points in their life to be in monogamous relationships (although others aren’t…).

What I think interests me most about polyamory though is the comparisons that the blogger Sex Geek draws between non-monogamy and D/S (domination and submission) relationships: transgression, specialization, spirituality, personal growth, and intimacy.  Check the full article out here.

Both non-monogamous and power-based relationships fly in the face of all manner of social norms that tell us who and how to love. So in order to do either, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you’re now beyond the pale of mainstream acceptability….

Have I ever mentioned my fetish for constant improvement? Well, I have one, and it comes into play

in both non-monogamy and D/s relationships because both involve intense trust and deep communication. They often force us to face our demons and exorcise them (or at least learn to manage them well), deal with our insecurities, figure out how to love ourselves better, and do some serious fine-tuning of our communication skills.”

My only note with all of this discussion of polyamory is an insistence on communication- on the necessity of making sure that both your partner and you want what you are pursuing (again, a parallel to important aspects of D/S).  Polyamory has the ability to tear down much more easily than it can build up, so if either you or your partner are unsure about how to navigate the territory, do so carefully and with respect for the other’s boundaries.

Stay queer, cool kids.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this one…

The Learning Channel has just launched a new series called “Strange Sex,” which is an attempt to chronicle alternative sexual experiences and bring light to the diversity that is American sexuality.  Or…something like that.

TLC’s official press release explains: “Throughout the series, Strange Sex highlights some of the most atypical sexual encounters, including a man who has a balloon fetish, a woman who tries to have an orgasm during childbirth for the second time, and a couple who welcomes another man into their relationship, sex life, and home.”

I find the concept of Strange Sex to be at once intriguing and frustrating.  On the one hand, THANK GOD our media is finally acknowledging that there’s more to sex than Hollywood’s Jennifer-Anniston-and-Matthew-Mcconaughey-fuck-missionary-style-in-the-pristine-white-bed-of-his-bachelor-pad model.  Strange Sex covers REAL sexuality: the fetishes, generation gaps, polyamory, and sexual disorders.  On the other hand, I feel like Strange Sex is making a terrible spectacle of non-“traditional” sex practices.

Take a look at this trailer about mental orgasms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=421LxxUOfSY.  Strange Sex is trying to dissect our most personal relation- that between our bodies and our minds- with a kind of sensationalist skepticism that pisses me off.  Why is it necessary to scientifically PROVE that people are able to have mental orgasms?  Why is a cross-generational or polyamorous relationship viewed as strange to begin with?  I think more than anything else, Strange Sex speaks to all the ways our society still doesn’t know how to deal with sex.  We are only capable of looking at things in terms of the normal-abnormal dichotomy, of saying, “This is right, but this is wrong”  when really what we need to understand is “This is what we’re shown all the time and this is what we never hear about,” even though both sides of the equation are very, very common.

I feel like this plays into the way that LGBT people have and still sometimes are treated in society.  We are seen as strange, alien creatures- people with such different habits and outlooks on life that we aren’t even of the same species: we become something that is unrelate-able.  Which is ridiculous, of course.  Yet the idea of a man sleeping with another man (or a woman with a woman, or a woman with two men…) is still so completely incomprehensible, so odd and misplaced to the general psyche, that it becomes the central focus of that person’s entire identity and inevitably a source of conflict and misunderstanding.  Sadly, in a society that can’t see past their own perceptions of “normal” behavior, we as LGBT people will always be known for a sex practices as opposed to our individual lives and personalities.

Maybe I shouldn’t speak before I actually WATCH the show, but Strange Sex seems (from the trailers) to be doing us- us as LGBT, kinky, queer, poly, allied, or otherwise non-normative awesome people- a disservice.

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