British magazine FK recently surveyed 1,006 gay men about their opinions on open and polyamorous relationships — that is, relationships that aren’t exclusively monogamous. In short, gay and bi guys who’d never been in an open/poly relationship tended to regard them as negative, and guys who had been in one tended to view them more positively. These findings reflect similar ones from a September 2013 study in the journal Psychology & Sexuality.
Considering the negative outlook by monogamous people, it’s not surprising that 65 percent of those surveyed perceived societal stigma against poly/open relationships.
A polyamorous session at this year’s national conference on LGBTQ equality (Creating Change) said that anti-poly stigma includes the inability to bring more than one partner to company events, the awkwardness of mentioning multiple partners to other potentially judgmental people, the lack of healthy poly relationships on TV or film and the dangers of being labelled a pervert, getting rejected from jobs or having your children taken away in a custody battle just for being polyamorous.
Seriously. The struggle is real.
But there may be more poly/open people than most Americans realize. Australian academic Kelly Cookson said that anywhere from 1.2 to 9.8 million Americans are in some sort of non-monogamous arrangement (that’s up to to 3 percent of the U.S. population). And the numbers could actually be much higher as many people only call themselves monogamous to avoid social stigma.
Truth is, we’re taught to see non-monogamy as evil, slutty, immature and selfish rather than viable, healthy, mature and loving. Just think of “the other woman” or the “homewrecking playboy” tropes in movies in TV.
To change that, polyamorous attendees at Creating Change sought to lay out a social and political agenda for the modern polyamory movement. Here’s some of the goals they came up with:
Changing zoning laws so that multiple parent families aren’t kicked out of “single family homes”
Creating a comprehensive website with legal info about parenting/employment/tax/healthcare for quick, easy reference. This site should include information about legally and emotionally dissolving polyamrous relationships too.
Providing information about non-monogamous relationship styles in sex education classes.
Training workers in the childcare, family services and domestic violence fields about the existence of poly families so that they’re not viewed as a threat to child safety.
A push for governments to recognize polyamorous marriage and to ensure non-discrimination protections for polyamorous people.
A push for employers to start providing multiple-spousal benefits.
A push for polyamory workshops during local Pride events that teach (among other things) that polyamory is not cheating but that cheating can occur within polyamorous relationships.
Educating counselors and therapists about polyamorous relationships so they can effectively counsel them .
Pushing for positive representations of polyamorous relationships in the media.
Protests and awareness campaigns to teach people about anti-poly stigma and polyamorous political aims. ...
I meet Blythe and Tom in a bar in Clapham. Blythe's pastel-pink hair is easy to spot from a distance. Slim, sandy-haired Tom sits beside her. As I approach, their heads are together and they're giggling softly. They look every inch the loved-up couple. I introduce myself and slide on to the sofa next to them, hoping three won't be a crowd. I needn't have worried.
The pair have been polyamorous from the beginning of their relationship after both realising, separately, that monogamy wasn't doing it for them. Polyamory is an umbrella term for intimate relationships that involve more than two people. The expression covers everything from swinging to triad relationships. Typically, these encounters involve sex, although it's not a prerequisite.
The dating website OkCupid recently became the first dating site to add a "polyamory" function for its users, allowing already established couples to search the site for people to join their relationships. The feature will also be available to singletons looking for open relationships to join.
The lead singer of the British band Vaults, Blythe Pepino, 29, and her partner, Tom Jacob, 27, agree to meet me to shed some light on what it's like to be non-monogamous. The couple dissolves into giggles when I ask if they've had time to prepare for our interview. Exchanging knowing looks, they tell me they tried to do some planning that afternoon but got "distracted". Cue more titters.
They have been an item for two years and live together in south London. Blythe also has a girlfriend, Alice, whom she's been with for over a year. Alice – an artist – lives in Bristol, so they don't get to see each other that often. Tom is seeing another girl, Sian, whom he met on Tinder. In addition to this, Tom and Blythe recently started dating a couple, Nich and Sonya, whom they met at a specialist club night in London. Blythe tells me they "fell in love with them as a couple" and now hang out regularly. Sometimes they go to the movies, sometimes they have group sex. Blythe and Tom also have one-night stands with people, although these happen less frequently. "I'm just not that good at them," Tom says.
A common misconception, they tell me right off the bat, is that people in polyamorous relationships don't get jealous. That, apparently, is not the case at all. In fact, both Tom and Blythe readily admit to having experienced feelings of jealousy at some stage in their relationship. The trick, they say, lies is how they deal with that emotion. Namely, through talking. Open and honest communication is essential to polyamory. Blythe and Tom tell me that whenever one of them sleeps with someone new, they schedule a meeting the following day to discuss what the latest tryst means for their relationship.
"When we started, we had one rule, which was that we'd always talk about it," Tom says. "If one of us had been with someone else, we'd put a bit of time aside the next day." ...
I studied composition with Georg Friedrich Haas in Basel from 2011-2013, his last years there before his move to New York City, where he teaches at Columbia University. In my Master’s recital, a musician showed late and an instrument I built broke, and I had trouble facing the—very supportive—audience. He managed to make me. Our last lesson, afterwards, was dedicated to subject of personal confidence.
Maybe this talk reflected a change in Haas at the time, too. As his new wife and partner, Mollena Lee Williams-Haas put it in a speech to Playground Sexuality Events, “he is freshly out as a kinky person.” We spoke by phone and email about this change and its effect on his life and music.
VAN: WHEN I EMAILED YOU ABOUT DOING THIS INTERVIEW, YOU RESPONDED THAT YOU WERE A DIFFERENT PERSON FROM THE TEACHER I KNEW IN BASEL. WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?
Georg Friedrich Haas: For decades, I tried to suppress and reject my sexual orientation. I thought of it as immoral. Then I decided to embrace it. I was incredibly lucky to find a partner who is willing to embrace it with me. This weight—I’ve carried it for decades, now suddenly it’s gone. That has caused a very fundamental change in me.
HOW DID YOU MEET MOLLENA?
The way things started wasn’t especially romantic. We met online, on OK Cupid—it wasn’t even a special website.
YOU BOTH HAVE DECIDED TO BE VERY PUBLIC ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY.
Yes, she is very open about it, and since I’m her partner, I’m automatically present in public too. This is very much a part of the change in me. I don’t need to be ashamed of my orientation; I don’t mind if it’s discussed in public. But I’d like to go one step further. For four decades, I suppressed something. I had three marriages, all of which were doomed to fail, even though at least some of my ex-wives were fantastic people. My three children have a father whose interests are irreconcilable with normal family life. My life, and the lives of the people close to me, would have been better if I hadn’t suppressed my orientation. Now I’m living my sexuality openly—and an important part of that is, I want to encourage people a few decades younger than me to embrace and accept the way they feel. I don’t want them to try and suppress their feelings for decades like I did.
HOW HAS THIS CHANGE AFFECTED YOUR WORK?
I’m able to write more than I ever could before. And when I’m writing, I feel more concentrated, at ease, lighter than I used to. I no longer need composition as a form of psychotherapy. Instead it’s become a spiritual act; in exploring the world of sound, I venture into places...other people look for that feeling in religion. I can focus my entire life on music. My partner is submissive, which means that she makes her own wishes subordinate to mine. And a side effect of this is that I have someone by my side who takes care of all the problems of daily life for me. I’m able to dedicate 100 percent of my time—well, maybe 80 percent—to composing. I spend the the rest of my time on my personal life and on teaching. ...
When I started sleeping with Dylan, a gorgeous 24-year-old artist who worked at the local café, I thought it would be a fun, casual rebound fling. I’d just gotten out of a tumultuous, jealousy-ridden relationship with a guy who believed monogamy meant never speaking to anyone I had ever kissed. I was pretty down on the whole idea of monogamy, and being the fiery risk-taker that I am, my reaction was to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. I told Dylan I wanted to continue dating other people, and he was welcome to do the same. Even though he was hesitant, we gave it a try.
Six months into our hot fling, he experienced a typical twentysomething in NYC financial catastrophe, and moved in with me. Things were getting serious, in spite of all my best efforts. And I was falling in love.
I fall in love all the time, though. I identify as polyamorous, which means I can (and do) find myself in love with more than one person at a time. Some people argue that being polyamorous is an orientation, like being queer. My experience supports that idea. I have a guy back home who I’ve been madly in love with for years, thanks to the intoxicating combination of intensely hot sex, and the space and time we have between visits. No matter how deep I go with a new partner, no one has ever wiped him from my heart.
And I have the best crushes. I'm absolutely obsessed with several charismatic artist types who I can’t look at without actually quivering. Some of these affairs turn into love and stick around for years; some are really intense and last only last a few weeks. But all of them are important to me. I enjoy these connections immensely; they make me feel sexy, vibrant, and excited to be alive. After spending a year-and-a-half with the cut-off-all-your-exes type, I never wanted to give up that part of myself again.
I wanted to try out a polyamorous lifestyle with Dylan to see if it worked for me. It was a way to avoid losing myself in this relationship, like I had in all my other ones. For most of my life, I believed everything our culture teaches us about romantic love: that we are looking for our other half or someone to complete us, and that this was the key to happiness. Whenever I would find someone who wanted to be with me, I’d devote all my energy to him. I would subvert my own interests in favor of his. I’ve changed my hair and wardrobe, stopped talking to ex-lovers, switched my career focus — hell, I used to customize my lady bits to suit my partner’s preferences. You name it, I did it — all in the name of love. ...
Audhrey loved Eustáquio, who loved Rita, who loved Audhrey. The three decided to live together eight years ago and today they are a family.
This is not a shorter, happier and more liberal version of the famous Carlos Drummond de Andrade poem "Quadrilha". Rather, it is the story of a family from Belo Horizonte that a year ago obtained a polyamorous civil partnership - official recognition of their situation. At least eight such documents have been issued in Brazil.
Audhrey Drummond, 49, and Eustáquio Generoso, 57, got married in 1988 and had an on-off relationship until 1997. During that time they had a son, Iago, who is 23.
A year after they split up, Eustáquio began seeing Rita Carvalho, 45. But when Audhrey and Eustáquio met again in 2003, Audhrey admitted that she was still in love with him. "I told him that I didn't mind if Rita was in the picture," she says.
This is not a triangular relationship, but a ménage à trois, with Eustáquio living with both his wife and his mistress. He has his own room, with the women sleeping with him for a week at a time.
As well as obtaining rights to health insurance, polyamorous families also try to obtain recognition for their situation in order to add third (or fourth, or fifth) party to pensions and inheritance plans, for example.
Specialists are divided as to the validity of polyamorous civil partnerships. The public notary Fernanda Leitão believes that they are supported by a 2011 Supreme Court decision which equated homosexual civil partnerships with heterosexual marriage.
The lawyer Luiz Kignel disagrees. He says that the number of polyamorous unions is negligible in comparison to the number of heterosexual and homosexual couples, and as such, there is no indication of social change on this issue. ...
In my practice as a relationship consultant and expert in polyamory, I routinely encounter people who love each other dearly and have drastically different relationship needs. Most often it is a man who wants to have a polyamorous relationship and a woman who wishes to remain monogamous, but sometimes it is the woman who wants to be poly and the man who is devoutly monogamous. In either case it can be extremely painful for both people. There are a few things to consider if you find yourself in this position.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Excuse to leave?
For some people, trying to open a relationship is the last gasp attempt to save it from breaking up. A few people in my 15-year study of polyamorous families (link is external)explained how becoming polyamorous saved their marriage from divorce, though they are in the minority. Unfortunately, becoming poly to avoid divorce works only extremely rarely, and far more often the relationship self-destructs more spectacularly than it may otherwise. Because polyamory is so intense emotionally and requires such concentrated, compassionate communication, it can be difficult even for people in stable relationships that are not experiencing significant conflict. For those in high-conflict relationships, becoming polyamorous to save a relationship works about as well as having a baby to save a marriage—abysmally.
If you are unhappy in your relationship and considering polyamory as a “one-foot-out-the-door” strategy, please reconsider. Not only is your original relationship unlikely to survive the rigors of honest communication and complex feelings, but you will most likely hurt the other people you date in your polyamorous experimentation. If you know things are really over, then break up with your former relationship completely and take a moment to catch your breath before plunging in to a poly relationship. It will save everyone involved excruciating pain.
Communicate first, no cheating
Because polyamory is built on a foundation of mutual trust, respect, honesty, and communication, it is important to implement those relationship strategies right away. Hearing “Honey, I started seeing someone else and want to open our relationship” can throw even the most self-assured person for a loop. Transitioning to an open relationship from a monogamous one is tricky at best, and attempting to start out with cheating makes it even more difficult. Communication first, sex later.
Meeting needs of existing partner
If someone is feeling like they are already not getting enough attention, sex, love, or care from their partner, the idea of sharing that already inadequate supply will not sit well. In order to make polyamory more palatable to your reluctant partner, make sure to not only meet their needs now, but also reassure them that their needs will continue to be met in the future.
Part of meeting your partner’s needs is refraining from shaming, bullying, or badgering. The monogamous-leaning person should avoid shaming the poly-leaning person for being unhappy with monogamy—it might not even be a choice for them. If the poly person is poly by sexual orientation, it is no more realistic to expect them to be thrilled with monogamy than it is to expect a lesbian to be excited about being married to a man. Conversely, monogamy can also be a sexual orientation, and mono-leaning folks should not be shamed or badgered into polyamory against their wishes. Badgering leads to false consent and, very soon after, relationship meltdown.
If one partner just wants some open-ness and might be satisfied with something less threatening than falling in love with someone else, consider starting small. Swinging can provide the person who wants consensual non-monogamy with access to sexual variety while keeping the couple as the primary focus in order to help the mono-leaning person feel safe with baby steps. Attending a swing club for one evening can help couples communicate about their feelings and desires without leading anyone else on to think that this will be an ongoing relationship. People can make their own boundaries at swing clubs: It is OK to go and just watch, or flirt with others and not have sex with them.
Alternately, if even considering sex with strangers is too much, try a clothed social event like a munch or chat with folks at a polyamorous Meetup (link is external) group. People mingle fully clothed at poly Meetups which are often held in restaurants or other public places. Sometimes the people are there to meet potential dates, sometimes just to chat and share advice or experiences. Again, it is OK to make your own boundaries, so simply going to a Meetup does not mean you have signed up to be polyamorous. ...
Recently, someone submitted the following comment to my site:
Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, how do you justify supporting BDSM and prostitution? These are practices oppressive to women and opposed by the feminist movement.
My first thought was to just type madly in response; then I considered whether I should delete the comment and be done with the matter. But I reminded myself that being a writer of smut, however well-crafted that smut may be, is bound to attract this sort of reaction, and that how I respond (or not respond) is rather important. I checked in with some online friends and acquaintances, and decided to compose this missive.
Let me first begin with the last portion of this person’s statement, claiming that sex work and BDSM are “opposed by the feminist movement.” Really? Which “feminist movement” are we talking about here? The reality is that feminists, like any other grouping of human beings, have rarely been entirely unified. Even on the issue which galvanized modern feminism – votes for women – its organizers divided over strategies and priorities; and after women’s suffrage was achieved, they splintered further over every issue and question put before them.
So yes, self-declared feminists actually disagree with one another over a number of concerns, including issues of erotic expression. But the one thing on which we agree (or, at least, I hope we would) is that every woman ought to have the power and the right to choose what is best for her own life. Others would say that the goal of feminism is equality between men and women, but “equality” may take many forms, including equal deprivation and degradation. So I would say that feminism is about achieving equality by lifting women up, and expanding women’s rights and choices so that gender is no longer a barrier to fulfillment and freedom.
Now, the author of the above comment has asserted that BDSM and prostitution are “oppressive to women”; and, because I’ve expressed support for people to engage in these on a consensual basis, this individual thus questions my right to call myself a feminist. Well, I could easily point out that many other self-declared feminists have expressed support for both voluntary adult sex work and consensual BDSM, including some leading scholars and organizers, but that might be seen as an appeal to authority. I could even point out that the National Organization for Women first passed a resolution calling for decriminalizing voluntary sex work in 1973, and in 1999 reversed its anti-BDSM policy after years of education and discussion, but I am sure that some feminists would simply dismiss NOW with the same ease with which they would dismiss myself and other feminists who disagree with them. ...
Note: This article only represents the views of those interviewed and should not be misconstrued as representative of all bisexual and/or polyamorous people.
You're poly? So...
- You're into group sex.
- You're a sex addict.
- You can't sustain an enduring, loving relationship.
These are just some of the assumptions and misconceptions that exist surrounding polyamory -- one of the most misunderstood relationship forms in our society. But is polyamory purely about sex? And if it isn't, then what else is it about? I spoke to five bisexual, polyamorous people about what being poly means to them. Their heartfelt answers might surprise you.
Is it just about sex? If not, then what is it about?
That is, of course, the question on everybody's mind. Each one of the people I spoke with was very clear that for them, poly was, or had the potential to be, about more than just sex.
For Kate, an English professor in her early thirties, polyamory means the ability to be in a serious, loving relationship with more than one person at the same time -- regardless of whether there's a hierarchical structure in place in terms of primary, secondary, tertiary and further relationships.
Anne (not her real name), also in her early thirties and from Somerville, MA, believes that what's so wonderful about poly is that it can be whatever the partners involved want it to be. "Your poly can mean that you and your primary are open to secondary relationships, or that you have an understanding that when you go out, you can engage with other people in emotional and/or physical ways." She goes on to say that for her, poly means love, connection, communication, creativity, intimacy, freedom and fluidity. "It's not black and white; it's multiple shades of gray with some rainbows mixed in and it's beautiful."
Is polyamory an orientation, a lifestyle choice or something else?
All five interviewees felt that polyamory came naturally to them when they were ready and the time was right. JC, a consultant from the East Coast who's been in a different-gender relationship for 30 years, tells me he simply isn't wired for monogamy. He and his partner decided long ago to open up their relationship, mainly to allow him the freedom to meet men. Over time, their relationship morphed and evolved according to their needs and external pressures. Now, it's mostly about being open to each other when it comes to potential secondary relationships.
Colleen, a computer app developer from Ontario, chose polyamory when her monogamous 32-year marriage ended and left her deeply hurt. She was afraid of repeating the experience and felt that she couldn't commit to one person. Interestingly, polyamory seemed to fit her right away. It quickly brought two steady partners into her life; a man she's been living with for three and a half years, and a bisexual woman who's also in another relationship.
Authentic Paint, a nanny in California, shares her insights on why polyamory comes so naturally to some. "Think about how much you love your parents, siblings or children. Would you be able to choose only one of them? If we're capable of feeling equal love in those relationships, then why not when it comes to romantic love for more than one partner?"
Do you think there's a stigma attached to polyamory? ...