Everyone wants to know how my polyamorous family works. You'd be surprised how normal we really are
My family is very ordinary to me. We eat dinner together. We gather in the living room and watch movies. Last weekend, we went on a camping trip and sat around the campfire making s’mores, the grown-ups enjoying a few beers while my 9-year-old daughter challenged us with endless rounds of “would you rather?” It all feels so wonderfully mundane that sometimes I have to remind myself that most people view us as strange at best, depraved at worst.
I’m polyamorous, which means I believe you can love multiple partners at the same time. I’m in a relationship with my husband of nearly 17 years, and my boyfriend, with whom I celebrated my second anniversary in May. (In polyamorous lingo, our relationship is known as a “V”; I’m the “hinge” of the V and my two partners are the vertices.) People often say our lives sound complicated, but the truth is, we’re quite harmonious. We often joke that we’d make incredibly boring subjects for reality TV.
That hasn’t kept the world at large from condemning us. The right has spent years warning that we are the travesty waiting down the slippery slope of same-sex marriage. With every stride forward for marriage equality, I can count on turning on the TV to find conservative talking heads lumping families like mine in with pedophilia and bestiality. But liberals, for the most part, don’t treat us much better. They’re quick to insist that same-sex marriage would never, ever lead to such awful things — failing to point out how multi-partner relationships between consenting adults do not exactly belong in the same category as “relationships” with children or goats.
Even people who don’t vilify us still have a great deal of misconception. Aren’t you just “having your cake and eating it too,” they ask me? Isn’t this unfair to the men? Doesn’t this hurt your daughter? The confusion is understandable. Many people have never seen a polyamorous family like ours before. So let me explain how it works — or, at least, how it works for us.
My path here was a long one. As far back as I can remember, I felt that loving one person romantically did not preclude the possibility of loving another at the same time. It seemed natural and intuitive to me. But I had no models for that way of living, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.
I married my husband and remained in a monogamous relationship with him for many years. I knew I wanted to be with him for the long haul. But I was never entirely fulfilled. I couldn’t shake the feeling that some part of me was repressed.
When I learned about polyamorous relationships, I knew that’s what I wanted. My husband wasn’t so sure, though. It sounded fine for other people, but just not him. And it still seemed unrealistic to me, so I never pressed the issue.
When I returned to school to finish my bachelor’s degree in my late 20s, I became friends with a man who changed my mind about all that. He believed in polyamory, too, and we had long conversations about it together: how it could work, how it was truly possible.
One night, I sat down with my husband and spilled everything. I told him that being polyamorous was a part of who I am, and I asked if he would at least do some research and give it serious consideration before dismissing the idea. He understood that I never would have asked this if it hadn’t been extremely important.
That conversation could have ended our marriage. But instead, our journey into non-monogamy began.
One of the biggest hurdles in non-monogamy — probably the hurdle — is jealousy. My husband was an incredibly jealous person back then, but he began to question its usefulness and purpose. Jealousy is born from a fear of losing a partner; if you believe that love and intimacy can be shared, and are not diminished by sharing, then that fear loses a lot of its power. It was liberating for my husband to step outside of the box that saw everyone else as some kind of threat. ...
All interested individuals who are involved in BDSM/Leather/Kink lifestyles are invited to participate in a survey about intimate partner abuse.The purpose of this survey is to gather information regarding the quality of experiences had by those who sought help from domestic violence service providers, or those who wanted to seek help, but did not do so. The overall goal is to help service providers and outreach educators improve the quality of information, responses and interventions regarding the unique needs and experiences of individuals who live a BDSM, Leather or kinky lifestyle.
You are invited to take the survey whether or not you have been involved in an abusive relationship because the survey will collect basic demographic information about those who engage in BDSM, Leather and/or kink, as well.
The survey will take approximately 25-35 minutes to complete.
Please respond no later than January 31, 2014.
Your participation is voluntary.All responses are anonymous.However, there is potential risk of loss of confidentiality in all email, downloading and internet transactions.The final results of this study will be used for research and may also be published in a summary format in a peer-reviewed journal.
If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Elizabeth Fawcett, Ph.D., M.P.H., at
.This study has been reviewed according to accepted Institutional Review Board (IRB) procedures for research involving human subjects, and approved.If you have questions about the rights of research participants or the way this study is being conducted, you may contact Texas Woman’s University Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at 940-898-3378 or via email at
When It Is Abuse
by Elizabeth Fawcett, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Trust has been lost; consent has been revoked; the relationship has become threatening; you face real danger and possible harm.It’s not the “lifestyle”—it’s this relationship—and you need help. Where do you turn?
What happens when kinky folks seek help from publically available domestic violence services to deal with a relationship that may have become abusive?Are the unique circumstances of those who engage in relationships with negotiated power exchange dynamics such as BDSM, Leather or kink, understood and treated with sensitivity and respect by service providers?
“When I called the police, they said it was my fault because I consented.”
“The people who worked at the shelter talked openly about my D/s relationship, and it got back to my kids.They didn’t know! My children were bullied by other children at the shelter because of it.”
“Every time we had a disagreement, my partner threatened to call the police and tell them I beat him. But he asked me to! Who am I going to ask for help? I’m the Dominant! I’m the sadist!”
“I was told to leave the lifestyle altogether; they said that the power/control dynamic ISabuse.”
Anecdotes such as these prompted my interest in researching and documenting the experiences of those who engage in BDSM, Leather and kinky lifestyles whose relationships became abusive.Do kinky folks feel that they are discriminated against by service providers?Do they feel that they can even ask for help? These are the two major questions I aim to answer in a ground breaking research project on “Intimate Partner Abuse Among Practitioners of BDSM/Leather/Kink Lifestyles.” By placing a spotlight on the experiences and perceptions of individuals who have ever sought help in dealing with an abusive power exchange relationship, or who wanted to seek help, but didn’t, it may be possible to determine if kinky people comprise an underserved population, in order to promote improvement of the quality of information, responses and interventions provided by outreach educators and service providers.
I am very grateful to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom for supporting this important research.
You may have heard that with the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM-5), the American Psychological Association had “depathologized kink;” that the paraphilias (Fetishism, Sexual Masochism, Sadism… all of the ISM’s close to our hearts) are no longer necessarily diagnosable mental illnesses. This is tremendous news for kinky folks – especially those who have the misfortune to be involved in the legal system. Courts use the DSM to determine whether or not a party is mentally ill – which can have a huge impact on the outcome of cases, especially child custody cases. The removal of kink from the realm of mental illness has already had a tremendous impact on “real life” situations: according to Susan Wright of the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom (NCSF): “We’ve already seen the impact – NCSF immediately saw a sharp rise in the success rate of child custody cases for kinky parents after the proposed DSM-5 criteria was released three years ago.” To put it bluntly: the changes matter – they are important. But they’re not absolutely obvious to someone casually browsing through the DSM (as some of us are wont to do). Also, knowing the story of how the changes came about – and who the heroes of the story are – is inspiring by way of reminding us that dedicated, driven, kinky individuals can make a huge positive change. So this article is divided into two broad sections: first, I hope to explain in clear terms the what the changes look like and what they mean. Following that, I’ll tell you a bit about how these things came about.
Changes in the DSM through the years
The way the DSM works, each section begins with a definition of the ism, e.g. the paraphilia, followed by “diagnostic criteria,” that is to say the benchmark according to which the paraphilia is deemed a diagnosable disorder. So for example, sexual masochism was defined in the DSM-III (1987) (two editions ago) thus: “ Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.’’ A perfectly reasonable definition, right? But the benchmark for diagnosis was: “The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’ Wait.. what? I understand “markedly distressed,” but… “has acted on these urges” ?! In other words, any kind of masochistic behavior in a consensual sexual relationship was necessarily pathologized. This had to change…
The next edition, the DSM-IV, left the many of the definitions the same, e.g. the definition of Sexual Masochism above. But it significantly changed the diagnostic criteria – the benchmark by which a doctor determined whether someone had a diagnosable mental illness. The new and improved criteria read: “The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically signi?cant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.’’ So to be a disorder, the sexual interest had to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment.” This was a vast improvement over the DSM-III, in fact, it sounds downright reasonable on paper. The problem is, if you dig a bit deeper – and sadly, it is often the job of doctors and lawyers to dig a bit deeper – the definition of “clinically significant distress or impairment” included “lead to legal complications, interfere with social relationships.” In other words, if someone with the power of diagnosis found your fondness for cuffs, whips, rope, or anything pervertable to be socially… problematic (to interfere with social relationships), you were in danger of diagnosis. And a diagnosis of mental illness in a courtroom, for example, could lead to all manner of discrimination – especially in the realm of, for example, child custody. This, too, had to change..
Enter the great people at NCSF, who through the hard work (described in part 2 below) managed to get the diagnostic criteria changed. On paper the diagnostic criteria read similarly – for example, the criteria for “sexual masochism” still has the “clinically significant distress” language, but gone is the over-broad list of what constitutes “clinically significant distress.” Furthermore, the DSM-V contains explicit exceptions for sexual interests as opposed to disorders, e.g. “if they declare no distress, exemplified by anxiety, obsessions, guilt, or shame about these paraphiliac impulses, and are not hampered by them in pursuing other personal goals, they could be ascertained as having masochistic sexual interest, but should not be diagnosed with sexual masochism disorder.” (emphasis in original. Now how cool is THAT!)
How the changes came about
It was not until 1973, with the publication of the DSM-III, that homosexuality was removed from the pantheon of “mental illness” (curing millions of gay men and lesbians overnight). In 1987, inspired by some of the folks who brought about the de-pathologizing of homosexuality, Guy Baldwin and Race Bannon started the first “DSM Project,” a grassroots coalition of therapeutic professionals aimed at removing alternative sexualities from the realm of mental illness. Through tireless advocacy they successfully inspired substantial changes to the classification of kink in the DSM-IV. The two also collaborated on formalizing “Kink Aware Professionals,” a listing of kink-friendly therapists, lawyers, and other professional service providers, now maintained by NCSF.
The more recent DSM Project was run by NCSF, and primarily by Susan Wright. The revision of the entire DSM was accomplished through the creation of subject area workgroups, and narrower subworkgroups. Susan heard that the DSM was going to be revised, and when the names of the Sexual and Gender Identities Workgroup and the Paraphilias Subworkgroup were released, she emailed many of the participants trying to get someone’s ear. At first she didn’t hear back, but then had the good fortune to see Dr. Richard Krueger, a member of the subworkgroup, at a panel. She says: “I went up to him afterwards and gave him the 2-minute capsule of… how the DSM perpetuates the stigma that [kinky people] are ‘sick.’ He pulled out his copy of the DSM-IV-TR (he actually carried it with him!) and I pointed to the areas that were problematic – including the list that described what constitutes ‘clinically significant distress or impairment’ (e.g. are obligatory, result in sexual dysfunction, require the participation of non-consenting individuals, lead to legal complications, interfere in social relationships)(emphasis added). In the few minutes we had, I pointed out that …’legal complications’ and ‘interference in social relationships’ regularly happen because [kinky people are] a persecuted minority – [but] that doesn’t mean we have a mental illness.”
That one contact made all the difference – it gave her an in with the workgroup. She continues: “I emailed Dr. Krueger a number of documents that he forwarded on to the rest of his workgroup, including our arguments for differentiating consensual adult sexuality from the paraphilia’s, removal of the non-scientific text, and changing the criteria for determining mental illness. I also sent all of the evidence of discrimination we had gathered with my two Violence & Discrimination surveys, and through NCSF’s Incident Reporting & Response program, as well as the testimony of people who had been discriminated in legal proceedings and by health care professionals.” Throughout the process she continued clarify the difference between a paraphilia and a ‘paraphilic disorder’ for the members of the group – see, e.g., her letter to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior – and push for the changes that were eventually adopted. ...
While the Supreme Court's decision in the DOMA case made it possible for ACLU attorneys to question the legality of anti-gay laws, there are still some within the gay community who wonder if their kind of love will ever be sanctioned.
What do a German man and two country boys have in common? The short answer: a polygamous marriage of sorts -- and more interestingly yet, they do not approve of gay marriage.
While some think of the idea of being in a relationship with more than one person as foreign, the self-proclaimed "threeo" are fine with their situation. In fact, they hope that one day America will be open enough not only to accept gay marriage but to accept folks who live and love the way that they do.
Kevin Coins, a slender, 22-year-old man with an animated face and semi-dark features, met Christopher Williams, 43, a shaved, blue-eyed, toned man who exudes confidence, and Jacob Bowers, 27, of Lexington N.C., a man with beautifully toned skin and a mysterious air about him. Williams and Bowers had already been together about seven years by the time Coins came jingling into their life.
Nestled with a gaggle of animals in a modest country house on several acres of land on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, N.C., an area most would consider rural, are three men who love and care for one another.
"We had been talking about it some and decided that having a third would complete our relationship," said Williams. Most people are lucky to make a relationship work with two partners. One can only imagine what it takes to make it work with three.
The term "polygamy" derives from the Greek "polugamos," for "often marrying." In layman's terms it usually means having more than one wife, but in the case of gay men, it means having more than one partner. Polygamy is a social practice that is not well tolerated in most countries and is usually against the law. These three men do their best to make the relationship work. ...
This is a Public Service Announcement for San Francisco Bay Area Kinksters! Race Bannon, author of NCSF’s Finding Kink-Aware Medical Care will be attending the following Town Hall Meeting:
Kink Health Project Town Hall Meeting #1
“Whip your doctor into shape!!! Expose yourself to your therapist!!!”
Thursday, August 08, 2013 * 7:30-9:30pm Center for Sex and Culture 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco
Are you tired of having to educate your physician about your Kink lifestyle? Do you wish your therapist could really understand your relationship dynamic?
CALLING ALL KINKSTERS 18+
Make your voice heard at:
THE KINK HEALTH PROJECT TOWN HALL MEETING #1
Come voice your opinions about kink and healthcare:
Help us answer questions such as:
- What is it like to be kinky in the healthcare system? - Have you had negative or positive experiences with healthcare providers? - What are the most pressing health issues that kinksters deal with? - What do clinicians and therapists need to know about you and your lifestyle or sexuality?
The Kink Health Project is a research study investigating the physical and mental healthcare needs of kinksters.
We need your input so we can train healthcare providers to deliver competent and compassionate care to ALL sexual minorities.
The Kink Health Project is a collaboration between The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA) and UCSF.
For more information:
On behalf of NCSF, Jim Fleckenstein and Susan Wright attended the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) Annual Conference on June 5-9th in Miami, Florida.
NCSF organized the AASECT Alt Sex Special Interest Group munch that took place Friday evening in the Hilton Miami Downtown hotel. Over 40 AASECT members attended this dinner to ask questions of several volunteers who are experienced in the BDSM and polyamory communities. It was an informative meeting and provided specific information that the professional service providers wanted. The sharp rise in attendance from last year’s 25 attendees indicates a rise in interest in alternative sexual practices.
Jim Fleckenstein was the lead presenter on What Do Polyamorists Want? A National Survey of an Underserved Population, a workshop discussing the key findings from the Loving More and NCSF internet survey, the largest-ever sample of self-identified polyamorists.
“We made some very important discoveries about this large sample of the polyamorous community,” says Jim Fleckenstein. “Our findings refute a number of negative stereotypes about openly non-exclusive relationships, especially in terms of reported health and happiness. Sharing these findings with the therapeutic community is an essential part of NCSF's service to our constituents.
Susan Wright was the presenter on Understanding Consent in a BDSM Practices, a workshop presenting survey data from the NCSF Consent Counts survey assessing kinky peoples’ attitudes on consent in a BDSM context.
The NCSF booth in the Exhibit Hall featured free copies of NCSF’s newly refreshed guide: "What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory" courtesy of a grant by Alan of Polyamory in the News (http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com), as well as brochures on NCSF’s projects and programs.
This year for the first time at AASECT, two of the plenaries dealt with kink issues: Dr. Ken Zucker and Dr. Michael First discussed the DSM-5: Implications for the Field of Sexuality that explained the process by which the paraphilias were separated from the Paraphilic Disorders. As the plenary description stated, the “(DSM) has proven both helpful and hurtful for addressing sexual concerns throughout history.”
The plenary held on Friday afternoon was “A Journey into BDSM & Race” by Mollena Williams, who discussed her personal narrative of being a black submissive (a minority within a minority group) in the kink world. Mollena’s plenary drew hundreds of people and was well-received by the attendees.
Please help NCSF continue our important outreach at events like the 2013 AASECT conference. Please join as a member now, go to our donation page, or encourage your group to hold a fundraiser for NCSF. Your support is critical to NCSF and we need it to continue to help the BDSM, swing and polyamory communities. www.ncsfreedom.org
1. How many people do BDSM? There’s only one good random-sample survey on this question. It was taken in Australia a decade ago. Nearly 20,000 people between the ages of 16 and 59 were interviewed by phone. In the whole sample, 1.8 percent of men and 1.2 percent of women answered yes to the question, “In the last 12 months, have you been involved in B&D or S&M?” (The question went on to explain, “That’s bondage and discipline, sadomasochism, or dominance and submission.”) Among respondents who were sexually active, the BDSM minority barely increased, to 2 percent of men and 1.4 percent of women. Among those who had a sexual partner in the previous year, the figure was 2.2 percent of men and 1.3 percent of women.
That’s roughly equivalent to the sexually active gay population, as measured by similar self-reporting. In the Australian survey, the authors reported “less than 2 per cent of men and women” said they’d “had sex with a same-sex partner in the past year.” The percentage of respondents who said they’d ever had a gay sexual experience (not just in the last year) was higher—6 percent of men, 9 percent of women—and presumably the same is true of BDSM. In the Dutch study, for instance, 448 respondents accessed and completed a BDSM survey through a website devoted to personal secrets. Of these, 3 percent “indicated having had previous BDSM experience.”
2. Is it an orientation? Previously, I argued that homosexuality is fixed (an orientation) but that BDSM is flexible (a lifestyle). Kinksters replied that BDSM, too, is an orientation. What do the data show? Mostly flexibility. In a study of Finnish BDSM enthusiasts, 27 percent “endorsed a statement suggesting that only sadomasochistic sex could satisfy them,” but only 5 percent “no longer practiced ordinary sex.” Furthermore, 40 percent had changed their “preference” or “behavior” (in the authors’ words) from sadism to masochism or vice versa. In another study, conducted in southern California, “32% of the sample indicated that BDSM play occurred less than half the time they spent in sexual activity with partners, and just 11.2% indicated that BDSM play was their only form of sexual activity.” The core group, dedicated to BDSM, seems vastly outnumbered by dabblers.
3. Is it physically dangerous? That depends on what you’re doing. In the Finnish study, bondage and flagellation were standard: More than 80 percent of the sample had done them in the preceding 12 months. The riskier stuff was far less common: piercing (done by 21 percent of the sample), skin branding (17 percent), hypoxyphilia (suffocation games, also known as breath play—17 percent), electric shocks (15 percent), and knives or razor blades (13 percent). The California study found a similar pattern: Bondage, flogging, and spanking were standard (more than 80 percent had done them), but other practices—“fire play” (20 percent), “piercing play” (20), cutting (14), branding (9), and scarification (5)—were rarer. Some potentially dangerous activities were surprisingly common—“electric play” (42 percent), “knife scenes” (40), and “breath play” (27)—though in many cases, the implements were probably just props. It looks as though about 20 percent of these folks are actually cutting, burning, zapping, or partially suffocating each other.
That’s a minority, but it’s still worrisome. In the Finnish sample, those who said they’d previously suffered sexual abuse—23 percent of the women, and 8 percent of the men—were particularly problematic. According to the authors, “Visits to a physician because of injuries obtained during sm-sex were significantly more common among the abused respondents (11.1%) than among the non-abused respondents (1.8%).”
BDSM community leaders preach the importance of “safe words”—prearranged signals that the restrained, flogged, or dominated participant can use to withdraw consent and stop the action. In the Finnish study, 90 percent of the sample said they “sometimes” incorporated such words in their encounters. But less than half did so “without exception.” That, too, is a problem. ...
SAGINAW — The family of Alanna Gallagher, who was found murdered and wrapped in a tarp last week, addressed for the first time speculation swirling about their home life.
Miles McDaniel, listed on the six-year-old's obituary as one of Alanna's two fathers, explained that he, Karl Gallagher and Laura Gallagher are in a "polyamorous" relationship and co-parent the family's children.
"Anybody who knows the family knows there are three parents in the family," McDaniel said. "Talk to school; talk to the church."
McDaniel made the statement following a marathon question-and-answer session with investigators at the Saginaw Police Department.
He said he was requested to come down, and spent the afternoon and early evening hours on Tuesday talking about Alanna.
"There were a lot of questions," McDaniel said. "I think they might be cross-checking answers given by Laura and Karl when they did interviews."
Police have said since last week that no one in the family is a suspect in the murder case, but details in a search warrant first obtained by News 8 on Monday showcased a long list of items — more than 100 — that FBI and other investigators removed from the family home. ...