When my last essay appeared in Slate, a number of people were offended that I compared polyamory and homosexuality. The commenters’ chief objection seemed to be that homosexuality is innate, like race, and therefore “more worthy” of civil rights, while polyamory is a choice.
Even a cursory examination of the facts will blur any claim of a black-and-white, binary distinction. Sexual orientation—how sexual desire and emotional connection are informed by the physical sex and gender performance of a potential partner—is informed by both nurture and nature. Otherwise you couldn’t possibly get the vast differences that are observed across cultures and eras. There’s good reason to believe that it’s partly genetic and perhaps partly developmental as well, but at the margin, there are surely some people for whom same-sex intimacy is a choice.
Meanwhile, there are some people whose innate personality traits make it very difficult to live happily in a monogamous relationship but relatively easy to be happy in an open one. Given the persecution heaped on gays in most of the world in recent generations, and the relative difficulty of “passing,” there are probably few people who would choose that identity unless they could not find happiness in straight life. So, sure, there may be a larger fraction of non-monogamists for whom their unconventional relationship is “optional” or “a choice.” But there are almost certainly also some “obligate” non-monogamists who would never feel emotionally satisfied and healthy in a monogamous relationship, any more than a gay man would be satisfied and healthy in a straight marriage.
For many polyamorists, the idea of a partner telling them that they can never, under any circumstance, embrace their feelings for a new partner feels terrifying and stifling. If you’re a monogamist, the idea of your partner wanting somebody else may make you ask, “Why am I not enough for you?” But if you are innately poly, the idea of a primary partner trying to cut you off from even the possibility of new love fills you with a parallel anguish: “I promise I’ll never spend so much time and energy elsewhere that it takes away anything I promised to you, any more than I’d let work or hobbies take me away from you. You’ll get everything from me that you always have. Why isn’t my adoration and devotion enough for you?”
I have little experience with non-monogamists who are purely interested in outside sex without wanting emotional involvement. I would guess that among swingers, there’s a larger fraction for whom it’s “optional”—essentially a hobby. However, I also expect that if you asked enough of them, you’d find some who would tell you that they can’t imagine feeling fulfilled any other way; thatin order to be satisfiedwith their primary relationship, they need to experience others’ desire for their partner. Is that unusual, or even rare? Sure. But as long as everyone’s having fun and nobody’s getting hurt, why should that matter? The left-handed are also a small minority. That doesn’t mean we need to tag them as abnormal or aberrant. (Or sinister.)
I’m hopeful that the psychological and sociological studies of non-monogamists that are beginning to emerge will eventually address these issues clearly. My experience suggests that perhaps half to two-thirds of polyamorists—those who want to be able to fully embrace multiple loving relationships, with sex as merely part of that (albeit an important part, just as it is in monogamous relationships)—are “obligate poly.” I’ve heard a lot of stories from people about having a few miserable monogamous relationships before they were introduced to the concept of honest, consensual non-monogamy. I doubt there are many gay folks, anymore, who get to age 20 or 25 without learning that the kind of relationship they yearn for is actually possible. That kind of experience was common when I first joined the poly community in the ’90s. Media exposure is gradually ending that problem, just as it did for gays. I suppose it may also lead to an increase in the number of “optional poly” folks joining the community, just as increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships has probably encouraged more bi people to try a same-sex relationship.
Still, as much as I enjoy omphaloskeptical explorations of the origins of my tribe, when it comes to the more important question of social acceptance, this entire conversation is a red herring. The “born this way” argument has been politically useful, but the moral argument for acceptance of gay relationships doesn’t require it. Nobody ever claimed that Mildred and Richard Loving were born with some kind of overwhelming predisposition to prefer partners of another race and that they thus couldn’t marry somebody of their own race. Choosing an interracial partner was, and is, a choice. So what? The correct response to the nature vs. nurture question is: There’s no way to know for sure, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people love each other, treat each other with respect, and live happy, productive lives.
A monogamous bisexual has the “choice” to simply settle down with an opposite-sex partner, without ever trying intimacy with a same-sex partner. You could even argue that a “truly” monogamous straight person would “choose” to settle down with their very first partner. But very few of us would seriously recommend that. The statistics say that those who marry young divorce far more frequently. Those who take the time to experiment and figure out what they really want from a relationship when they finally do marry, stay married and are better able to invest in their children. ...
Where: Leather Archives & Museum 6418 N. Greenview Avenue Chicago, IL 60626
When: Saturday, October 19th from 2:30-5 p.m.
followed by a wine and cheese reception for the benefit of LA&M and NCSF from 5-7 p.m.
Presentation is free of charge.
Wine and cheese reception has a suggested donation of $20 and is open to the public.
You and your BDSM partner may be having a great time, but you need to know about the legal risks. Join NCSF and legal experts for an overview of issues related to federal and state laws used to prosecute consensual BDSM criminally. This interactive discussion will review pertinent state and federal laws that are used against BDSM practitioners and the current state of the law. NCSF will discuss its Consent Counts program to decriminalize consensual BDSM and the group will discuss the issue of consent and give NCSF input.
Please RSVP to Judy Guerin at
Judge Rudolph A. Serra was appointed to the 36th District Court by Governor Jennifer Granholm on June 29, 2004. Judge Serra has a Bachelor's Degree with a double major in Psychology and Communication (with Honors) and a Master's Degree in Communication, as well as a Doctorate in Law. Judge Serra is a former school board member, a former County Commissioner and a former Human Rights Commissioner for the City of Detroit. He was selected as a Michigan "Lawyer of the Year" for 2000, and received the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. Freedom Award in 2001.
Judge Serra served as a Referee for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and was a member of the State Bar of Michigan Open Justice Commission. He wrote the Civil Rights survey for The Wayne State University Law Review (published in 2005) and co-authored Chapter 3 of the latest edition of Michigan Family Law. His writing had been published by The Journal of Psychology and Christianity and by The Journal of Intergroup Relations (National Association of Human Rights Workers). Judge Serra's book, "Bag A Fag" (published by the Triangle Foundation), is recognized as one of the most authoritative sources of information about anti-gay police misconduct.
Richard O. Cunningham, B.S., M.A., J.D., has advocated for over 30 years on issues of gender, race and sex. He has played a leading role in landmark legal cases, including being the supervising attorney on the U.S. Supreme Court case to allow women in military academies and the initiating attorney for the lawsuit during the Vietnam War that resulted in the “Fairness Doctrine” to require balanced media coverage of political issues. He is senior international trade partner at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP in Washington, D.C. He is the former Chair of the Boards of the NCSF Foundation and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. Dick is currently advising on legal and policy aspects of NCSF’s Consent Counts Project.
Judy Guerin is a well-known activist, writer, speaker and educator on issues of sexual freedom and gender expression. She is also a long-time practitioner of BDSM and sex educator on BDSM activities. She is a former board member of GenderPAC, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and Forum 21. She is a former steering committee member of the National Policy Roundtable of GLBTQ/HIV groups, former executive director of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and advisor to the European Union Human Rights Commission on issues of sexual freedom and GLBTQ issues. She currently directs NCSF’s Consent Counts Project to decriminalize consensual BDSM in the U.S.
Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others -- when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.Two studies led by psychological scientist Erin Buckels of the University of British Columbia revealed that people who score high on a measure of sadism seem to derive pleasure from behaviors that hurt others, and are even willing to expend extra effort to make someone else suffer.
The new findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
"Some find it hard to reconcile sadism with the concept of 'normal' psychological functioning, but our findings show that sadistic tendencies among otherwise well-adjusted people must be acknowledged," says Buckels. "These people aren't necessarily serial killers or sexual deviants but they gain some emotional benefit in causing or simply observing others' suffering."
Based on their previous work on the "Dark Triad" of personality, Buckels and colleagues Delroy Paulhus of the University of British Columbia and Daniel Jones of the University of Texas El Paso surmised that sadism is a distinct aspect of personality that joins with three others -- psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism -- to form a "Dark Tetrad" of personality traits.
To test their hypothesis, they decided to examine everyday sadism under controlled laboratory conditions. They recruited 71 participants to take part in a study on "personality and tolerance for challenging jobs." Participants were asked to choose among several unpleasant tasks: killing bugs, helping the experimenter kill bugs, cleaning dirty toilets, or enduring pain from ice water.
Participants who chose bug killing were shown the bug-crunching machine: a modified coffee grinder that produced a distinct crunching sound so as to maximize the gruesomeness of the task. Nearby were cups containing live pill bugs, each cup labeled with the bug's name: Muffin, Ike, and Tootsie.
The participant's job was to drop the bugs into the machine, force down the cover, and "grind them up." The participants didn't know that a barrier actually prevented the bugs from being ground up and that no bugs were harmed in the experiment.
Of the 71 participants, 12.7% chose the pain-tolerance task, 33.8% chose the toilet-cleaning task, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, and 26.8% chose to kill bugs.
Participants who chose bug killing had the highest scores on a scale measuring sadistic impulses, just as the researchers predicted. The more sadistic the participant was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing over the other options, even when their scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs, and sensitivity to disgust were taken into account.
Participants with high levels of sadism who chose to kill bugs reported taking significantly greater pleasure in the task than those who chose another task, and their pleasure seemed to correlate with the number of bugs they killed, suggesting that sadistic behavior may hold some sort of reward value for those participants.
And a second study revealed that, of the participants who rated high on one of the "dark" personality traits, only sadists chose to intensify blasts of white noise directed at an innocent opponent when they realized the opponent wouldn't fight back. They were also the only ones willing to expend additional time and energy to be able to blast the innocent opponent with the noise.
Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost -- a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.
The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people's view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals.
Buckels and colleagues are continuing to investigate everyday sadism, including its role in online trolling behavior.
"Trolling culture is unique in that it explicitly celebrates sadistic pleasure, or 'lulz,'" says Buckels. "It is, perhaps, not surprising then that sadists gravitate toward those activities."
And they're also exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports.
The researchers believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.
"It is such situations that sadistic individuals may exploit for personal pleasure," says Buckels. "Denying the dark side of personality will not help when managing people in these contexts."
For more than two decades, New York photographer Barbara Nitke has cultivated an artistic viewpoint on the porn industry and BDSM communities.
Nitke visited IU Thursday to talk about her photographic work in the porn industry.
Her talk, “American Ecstasy: A Photographic Look Behind the Scenes of the Golden Age of Porn,” provided a behind-the-scenes look into certain sexual communities, particularly BDSM practices and adult film actors on set.
“Interviewing and photographing these people opened my mind to the fact that we’re all just built differently,” Nitke said. “And I found moments that I really considered to be worthy of art within the porn realm.”
Catherine Johnson-Roehr of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction organized the event highlighting Nitke’s work.
She said the Kinsey Institute received a money gift to fund the lecture from California photographer Michael Rosen, who also photographs in areas that are sex-positive.
“He asked us to use the funds to bring fine art photographers to campus to speak about their work,” Johnson-Roehr said....
Bud Izen wasn’t prepared for the reaction he received the first time he brought his two girlfriends with him to synagogue in Eugene, Ore.
The rabbi stopped the trio in the parking lot outside the synagogue and grilled Izen’s partners about whether or not they were really Jewish. Izen hasn’t been back since, but he and his girlfriend — now his wife — still engage in polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time.
A number of partners have been part of the couple’s relationship since Izen, 64, and Diane Foushee, 56, first got together 3 1/2 years ago. Now they are seeking a third partner in the hopes of forming a stable three-way relationship, or triad.
“We want to use the relationship that we have to bridge our way to the next relationship,” said Foushee, “so that each of us in turn is given strength.”
Polyamory, often shortened to poly, is a term that first came into circulation in the 1990s. It is distinct from swinging in that it typically entails more than just sex, and from polygamy, where the partners are not necessarily married. Polyamorous relationships often are hierarchical, including a “primary” relationship between a couple that can be supplemented by a “secondary” relationship with a girlfriend, boyfriend or both.
Such arrangements remain far from mainstream acceptance. But in the wake of the progress made by gay and lesbian Jews in winning communal recognition for non-traditional partnerships, some polyamorous Jews are pushing to have their romantic arrangements similarly accepted.
“The only kind of queers who are generally accepted in some sects are monogamous married queers, upstanding queers,” said Mai Li Pittard, 31, a Jewish poly activist from Seattle. “Judaism right now is very oriented towards having 2.5 kids, a picket fence and a respectable job. There’s not a lot of respect for people on the fringe.”
A former editor of ModernPoly.com, a nationwide polyamory website, Pittard has been polyamorous for 10 years and is currently involved with three partners — two men and one woman. She is a violinist and vocalist in a fusion hip-hop klezmer band, the Debaucherantes, and likes to engage in culture jamming, the mixing of seemingly disparate cultural elements. Combining polyamory and Judaism is one example of that.
“For me, polyamory and Judaism make a lot of sense together,” Pittard said. “When I’m singing niggunim or hosting people at my Shabbat table, it’s just another way of experiencing a connection with a group of people.”
Pittard is frustrated by what she describes as a “white-bread,” conformist Jewish culture that refuses to accept polyamorous relationships. But some Jewish communities have been more accepting than others.
“It’s easier to be open about polyamory at temple than it is with my professional colleagues,” said Rachel, a 28-year-old San Francisco business owner who asked that her last name be withheld. “My particular segment of the Jewish community likes me because I’m different and they accept that being poly is part of that.”
Others are more conflicted about their polyamorous and Jewish identities.
Ian Osmond, 39, a Boston-area bartender and former Hebrew school teacher who has been in a polyamorous marriage for 10 years, says he believes the rabbinic ruling that prohibited polygamy nearly a millennium ago has expired. Still, Osmond worries that his behavior is inconsistent with Jewish law.
“I do feel there’s a conflict between polyamory and Judaism,” said Osmond, who is dating several women. “I feel that what we are doing is not supported by halachah.”
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a longtime champion of gay inclusion in the Jewish community, draws the line when it comes to polyamory.
“First of all, the depth of the relationship is much greater if it’s monogamous,” Dorff said. “The chances that both partners are going to be able to fulfill all the obligations of a serious intimate relationship are much greater in a monogamous relationship. I would say the same to gay or straight couples: There should be one person you live your life with.” ...
We may not want to admit it, but as psychologist Jesse Bering reveals in his book, "Perv," there's a spectrum of perversion along which we all sit. But where do we draw the line between kink and the type of behavior that requires a psych evaluation?
Jesse Bering@JesseBering(New York, NY)Author of 'Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us'
Jillian Keenan@JillianKeenan(New York, NY)Journalist
Susan Wright@NCSF(Phoenix, AZ)Founder of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom; Author of 'Good Girl'
NEW YORK (AP) — David Ives' naughty "Venus in Fur" tops the list of the most produced plays nationwide during the 2013-14 season, according to the theater industry's largest trade group.
American Theatre magazine, published by Theatre Communications Group, announced the list in its October issue.
Ives' play, which explores power and powerlessness with more than a bit of sadomasochism, was a hit on Broadway and won Nina Arianda a Tony last year. Twenty-two theaters will produce "Venus in Fur" this season.
The Top 10 also includes Bruce Norris' "Clybourne Park," Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," David Lindsay-Abaire's "Good People," Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," Amy Herzog's "4000 Miles" and Christopher Durang's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
The list was compiled from 499 member theaters. It omits holiday-themed shows and Shakespeare works. ...
Leather and latex cover some parts of the bodies at Folsom, but not the parts that society typically asks of clothing.
Some folk are bound by rope and chain — others are led by their partner by collar and leash, often wearing full-head leather masks. A woman’s limbs are arranged artistically via rope and knots before she is suspended by hooks, her bound breasts turning slightly purple. She grins wolfishly as the fellow who tied her up pinches a nipple, and she kisses him upside-down — he grips her hair in a show of both force and devotion. A beautiful transvestite rocks a lace bra and knee-high leather boots. A naked man in a ski mask stands in a window on the third floor of his apartment and jacks off what might be the largest erect dick I’ve ever seen. The crowd on the street erupts in cheers when, 15 minutes later, he cums.
These are a few of the scenes I was fortunate enough to be privy to at the Folsom Street Fair last Sunday. For those unfamiliar, FSF is an annual leather and BDSM — Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism — street fair. BDSM practitioners enjoy a myriad toys and methods, many of which I saw at FSF. But for all the variety in sexual preferences — from butt plugs that had horse tails, aerial suspensions via rope and so forth — there was one thing that all the people I saw held in common: smiles. No matter whether the party was a dom — the dominant member in a BDSM relationship — in spiked heels or a sub — the submissive — in a full-face leather dog mask, a totally naked middle-aged man getting his ass whipped cherry-red or a plainly clothed average human walking through the fair, everyone was having a good time bringing bedroom preferences to the daylight or simply watching others do so.
Nearly no one I saw was intoxicated. No one did anything to anyone without explicit consent: Nearly all the sexual activity — be it flogging, spanking or stroking — was between people who already knew each other or was within the bounds of set-up booths. I felt entirely comfortable the entire time. There I was, surrounded by people who were so open, honest and communicative about their sexuality that they chose to air it out in the sunshine. The feel of community and adventure was buzzing in the air.
Oftentimes, people associate the images I painted at the beginning of this article with a sort of deviant, seedy subculture. Part of this is institutional. Older editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychologist’s bible for mental disorders, had listed paraphilia — an umbrella term for “unusual” sex desires like fetishes, BDSM and kink — as a mental disorder. But a Dutch study published last summer found that, of the survey’s participants, BDSM practitioners scored better on measures of mental well-being and the emotional security in relationships than those who only practice “vanilla” sex. Granted, the participants self-selected into the study, so the results may not be representative of society as a whole, but it was still a refreshing shout against the historical villainization of BDSM. And maybe the sort of communication necessary for BDSM — regarding soft and hard limits, for example — does lend itself to healthier relationship skills. ...