For growing numbers of people, monogamy just doesn't work. So what happens when you throw out the rule book? Tanya Sweeney meets the couples in love with polyamory
Much as its name suggests, polyamory is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of everyone involved. It's a different entity to 'swinging' (which is simply sex with different partners), or having a bit on the side (most polyamorous people see their partners as equal in terms of love).
Catalina Vieru, a 29-year-old European Voluntary Service worker from Dundalk, first heard the word 'polyamory' six years ago. As it happens, she was already in an open relationship with another man.
"I never felt like I could be monogamous," she explains. "With my ex-partner, we decided that the safest for us would be to have a sexually open relationship, meaning that it was okay for both of us to date or have sex with others, as long as we didn't get involved emotionally.
"During that time, I started wondering about what would happen if I'd allow myself to develop feelings also.
"After we broke up, I started dating a woman and we talked a lot about polyamory and we started dating different people and creating different bonds. What helped a lot (and still does) was a very real, authentic communication.
"We've been together for two years," she adds. "At the moment, I am also involved with three more people and a couple, and I have a different type of connection, all very special, with each of them."
Certainly, Catalina could be onto something: it's not likely that one lover will fulfill all needs (romantic, intellectual, sexual, emotional), and having different lovers to fulfil different needs sounds like a good way of getting most needs met. And, contrary to popular belief, a poly relationship can be every bit as loving, honest and committed as a monogamous one.
Part of the power of polyamory, say its practitioners, is that honesty, respect and communication are paramount to keeping the wheels of the relationships greased. Polyamorous people aren't oversexed or promiscuous, and no one is cheating or coercing a partner into a relationship they don't want. There is no need for clandestine encounters or affairs, because everyone in a poly relationship is on the same page.
Monogamous relationships aren't without their complications, certainly, but the fact that three or more people are involved in a poly relationship means that the interpersonal combinations are plentiful.
There is a 'V' (one person is the 'hinge', and has two lovers who aren't romantically involved with each other), a 'triad' or 'quad' (a relationship between three or four people). A 'W' denotes a fivesome in which two lovers have their own separate lovers.
"I do believe they all have the same potential of being as honest or dishonest as the monogamous relationships," says Catalina.
"If you nurture a safe space for all the people involved to feel supported, listened to, respected and valued, then you will have a committed and honest relationship, regardless of its type."
IT engineer Balazs Balogh, 31, originally from Hungary but living in Galway, became aware of the concept through a web-comic, and found his mind sufficiently 'blown'.
"Up until that point I believed I came up with the whole thing, then I discovered there's a worldwide community with more or less the same idea," he explains.
"My first tries were far from perfect; in hindsight they were rather set up to fail as my partners weren't explicitly poly themselves while being okay with the general concept.
"That's how we learn I guess.
"I'm married and have two kids, so that forms a foundation to build on," he adds. "I usually meet my other partners separately, and have time dedicated just for them.
"We've had a partner living in with us full time for a few weeks once, and I still hold that time dear. If people would've seen it they would be surprised how 'ordinary' it all was.
"One thing that particularly stuck with me was when they were cooking together while having a chat, it was so heartwarming I could've watched them for hours. There's this saying that gets thrown around a lot by poly people that by loving more, love doesn't run out, but multiplies. I felt exactly that."
That's not to say that complications don't arise: "Some poly people say they just don't feel jealous and never did - God, I wish I was like that, because feeling envious or jealous is really not fun," Catalina reflects.
"I think most of my current partners feel the same way. Once we get emotionally involved with someone, we start feeling envious when that person is seeing other people and spends time with them. I deal with it by being very self-aware and knowing that envy appears because of my fears and it has nothing to do with my partner or their partner." ...
In a decision that begs to be characterized as “First Amendment gone wild,” an appeals court has all but struck down a 1988 law that requires pornographers to maintain records showing that actors aren’t underage. For good measure, the court said it violated the Fourth Amendment to require the documents to be available anytime for government inspection. These twin holdings are both plausible applications of recent Supreme Court doctrine. But the results are so absurd that they call out for review by the highest court itself.
The laws in question appear in section 2257 of the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988. They arose from Congress’s desire to fight child pornography when the First Amendment has been interpreted to protect adult pornography, including depictions in which an adult actor is presented as underage.
The 2257 laws essentially require anyone making sexually explicit films to keep records documenting the identity and age of all performers. The records in turn must be available for inspection by the attorney general of the U.S. “at all reasonable times.”
Since 1988, these laws have applied without causing any crisis for constitutional free speech or privacy. In 2012, free-speech advocacy groups acting on behalf of pornographers brought a challenge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit -- and lost. But in 2015, the Supreme Court decided a major free-speech case as well as an important Fourth Amendment case. Buoyed by new hopes, the challengers returned to the courts.
They were right to do so: The Third Circuit reversed its 2012 holding on both fronts. The free-speech holding is probably the more shocking, so I’ll start with that.
The plaintiffs’ core argument was that, under a 2015 decision called Reed v. Gilbert, the 2257 laws are not content-neutral, and therefore must be subjected to what the courts call strict scrutiny. That means the law must be justified by a compelling state interest, and must be narrowly tailored to that interest. This standard is so high that in the free-speech context, it is almost always fatal to the law. Holding that strict scrutiny is necessary is almost (but not quite) a holding that a law is unconstitutional.
In 2012, the Third Circuit had held that section 2257 was content-neutral because the purpose of the law was to protect against child pornography. That was correct under then-existing precedent.
But the new Third Circuit opinion says that the 2015 Reed case should be read to say that purpose is irrelevant to content neutrality. The Reed case said that a sign-display ordinance in an Arizona town wasn’t content-neutral because it created different rules for different signs. The Third Circuit held that section 2257 is similarly not content-neutral, because it applies only to sexually explicit speech.
The government tried to save the statute under a doctrine that the Supreme Court has only ever applied to adult theaters and nude dancing. That doctrine says that when speech or expressive conduct is regulated for its “secondary effects” not its content, it can be subjected to lower level scrutiny known as “intermediate” -- much easier to survive.
The court flatly rejected the invitation to extend the secondary-effects doctrine to other free-speech contexts. It said, somewhat plausibly, that doing so would endanger much free speech, because the government could almost always say its goal wasn't to ban some type of speech but the effects of the speech. ...
It wasn’t always Fred Hoverman’s intention to sell sex toys. Originally he was a mechanical engineer. A combination of boredom with his work and a desire to enhance people’s lives through pleasure prompted a career switch.
In 2012, Hoverman opened Kink Shoppe, the 2016 Reader’s Choice Shopping & Style winner for both Women’s Clothing and Giftware, at 126 Market Street. The high-end adult boutique aims to welcome customers for an experience that is comfortable and educational.
Some considered quaint, tourist-heavy Old City to be a surprising location for a store that sells vibrators and bondage gear. Hoverman was excited to set up in this neighborhood and says, “It encompasses everything I love about Philly in general: history, culture, great shops & restaurants.”
Previously the space served as a gallery and Kink Shoppe honors that legacy by maintaining an open floorplan and showcasing the work of local artists on the walls. There’s also the store’s contribution to First Fridays, where patrons are invited inside for wine samplings and product demonstrations.
Initially there was hesitation from some residents, concerned about the stigma associated with adult businesses, but Kink Shoppe’s community involvement, product quality and educational focus ultimately won them over.
Commitment to sexuality education drives Hoverman’s business practices. “Sex is seen as taboo, but we've created a safe space for people to explore and learn,” he says, “whether it be taking a class we offer or just coming to ask questions about the products and being able to get a knowledgeable response.”
This commitment to making customer visits an educational opportunity starts with the store’s hiring process. “Our staff includes well-tenured members of the industry and individuals degreed in teaching and human sexuality,” says Hoverman. “Everyone goes through a training period when they learn about products, safety, and how to interact with customers. We also provide resources for our employees to increase their knowledge, including books and free access to our own classes.”
So they feel more receptive to learning, patrons are first giventhe space to comfortably warm to the store. Customers are greeted when they arrive, but given an opportunity to peruse the shelves without pressure. The employees make themselves available for questions, to provide information about the products, and make suggestions based on the person’s needs. Some customers want very little input while others want an experience that’s more akin to personal shopping. The mission is to make shopping an illuminating, stress-free experience that customers will want to repeat. ...
e first time you heard the word “Oneida,” it was probably in the context of silverware. Perhaps it was before a Christmas dinner, when your mom or grandmother instructed you get out the “good silver” made by Oneida Limited. Even though it was only silverplate rather than sterling, your family probably stored it in a velvet-lined wooden case. Or maybe you saw an ad depicting an elegant table set with Oneida flatware while flipping through the pages of “Good Housekeeping” or “Better Homes and Gardens.” You might also have encountered Oneida while watching “The Price Is Right,” enthralled by the model wowing a studio audience when she opened a chest of gleaming Oneida cutlery for the contestants to bid on.
In fact, Oneida is the name of a First Nations tribe that occupied much of upstate New York long before it was called upstate New York. Given those deep roots, along with its later symbolism as the brand of flatware most associated with American middle-class aspirationalism and traditional gender roles, it’s doubly ironic that Oneida Limited actually emerged from a 19th-century polyamorous communist Christian utopia known as the Oneida Community.
Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights. At the commune headquartered on the Oneida River in upstate New York, women cut their hair short, ditched the corset, and did the same work as the men. Everyone worked four to six hours a day, and no one accumulated any material possessions—not furniture, not fine clothing, and certainly not silverware.
Most scandalously, commune members engaged in a system of “complex marriage,” believing that loving, open sexual relationships could bring them closer to God. They believed the liquid electricity of Jesus Christ’s spirit flowed through words and touch, and that a chain of sexual intercourse would create a spiritual battery so charged with God’s energy that the community would transcend into immortality, creating heaven on earth.
Ellen Wayland-Smith, a descendant of members of the Oneida commune, delves her into family’s history in her new book, Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table. Oneida’s early enterprises included canning fruits and vegetables and manufacturing animal traps, chain link, and silk sewing thread. It was Wayland-Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Cragin, who in 1877 suggested the community start making spoons at its colony in Wallingford, Connecticut, near the rushing Quinnipiac River. The original polyamorous religious commune broke up in 1880 and reorganized its assets into a corporation. In the 1890s, Oneida Community, Limited, started to drop its other products to focus on the cutlery market. For roughly 100 years, the silverware corporation—which was eventually renamed Oneida Limited—thrived under the leadership of the Community’s descendants. However, the 2000s weren’t kind to Oneida, so its executives had to file for bankruptcy in 2006 and sell the brand, which is owned by a houseware conglomerate now.
Wayland-Smith’s book begins in July 1948, when Oneida Limited flatware manufacturer celebrated the Community’s 100th birthday and the company’s reputation as—forgive the pun—a “sterling” example of American industry. On a grandstand outside the original community’s 93,000-square foot Victorian brick home called the Mansion House in Oneida, New York, the crowd enjoyed a soprano and organist performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowning of a “Silver Queen,” and a string of circus and daredevil acts. At the end of the day, attendees danced to the music of Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. At the festivities, the company touted its patriotism and contributions to American capitalism, as well as its devotion to social equality and the golden rule. What attendees didn’t know was that a truckload of papers documenting the Oneida Community’s spiritual-sexual experiments had—just a year before—been taken to the Oneida town dump and set on fire.
“The burning of the papers, which happened in 1947, included original members’ diaries, letters, and the community notes and logs in terms of their sexual practices,” Wayland-Smith explains. “All of these sensitive materials were in that collection. The Oneida descendants knew about the burning, obviously. At the time, they had people knocking at their doors, trying to get access to these papers, and they thought, ‘You know what, we’re going to put an end to this for good.’ In some ways, they were intensely private people.”
Fortunately for Wayland-Smith, previous Oneida chronicler Spencer Klaw, and anyone else who wants to dig into the community’s history, it wasn’t all lost. While the large archive accumulated by Oneida descendant, George Wallingford Noyes, was burned, other family members held onto diaries and letters. Those, along with the myriad publications like books and newspapers the Oneida Community put out into the world, are now housed at the Oneida Community Collection at Syracuse University.
Oneida began—as most utopias do—with the vision of one charismatic leader, in this case, a preacher named John Humphrey Noyes. Born to a well-off family in Putney, Vermont, in 1811, Noyes, an awkward and introverted redhead, grew up lamenting his feelings of sexual frustration. When his religiously devout mother sent him to a tent revival in fall of 1831, the 20-year-old virgin discovered he could channel all his erotic energy into Christianity. ...
There are many forms of consensual non monogamy, ways which people in a relationship negotiate sex and intimacy outside of traditional norms. From car keys in the middle of the room swinging through hand-fasted triads, to relationship anarchy, people have been saying for a while now that there are other ways of doing relationships. Of course, as many advocates of polygamy will point out, traditional depends on where you are standing, and there are a number of cultures across the world who have had different models of how adult relationships can work
Whatever someone calls their way of doing relationships, they encounter the same questions, preconceptions and stereotypes from monogamous people.
1. You must be sex mad!
Some forms of consensual non monogamy are based around sexual encounters, swinging for example. In swinging single people and couples believe that sex is not just reserved for those with whom you have an emotional bond. However, many swingers will only “play” (a term which highlights the easy going, light hearted attitude taken to sex) with those they have built some form of an emotional relationship with. There are very few hard and fast rules around swinging, other than the golden rule of consent.
Many non monogamous people however do not see their relationships as about more sex, but more love, that is what polyamory means after all — “many loves.” For them the idea that they are just looking for more sexual partners is hurtful, it’s about love, emotional connection, not bed hopping. A joke in policy circles is that you need google calendar more than you need a bag of sex toys!
2. I could never have an affair
So often people confuse being unfaithful with polyamory, and its probably the statement which causes more anger than any other. Poly, or whatever form of consensual non monogamy someone practices, is consensual, but people seem to skim over the all important “c word.” If you are deceiving a partner, going behind their back, it’s not polyamory, it’s not consensual for all parties involved. If you ever want to see sparks fly, mention those on poly forums and sites who claim to be poly, but without the consent of their partners. Whilst it is of course difficult if you realize after marriage that you and your partner have different views on monogamy, the ethical solution is to talk, and negotiate. I know from my client work that this is not as impossible as some might suppose. If you are meeting others without the consent of your partner, its a lot of things, but it is not poly.
3. It must be wonderful to never get jealous.
There are some people who don’t seem to get jealous. There are far more people who know that jealousy is a destructive emotion, which eats away at our joy and happiness. Choosing non monogamy does not mean you do not get jealous, there isn’t a handy switch you can turn off. For many poly people it’s about accepting that jealousy isn’t a positive emotion, and working through their feelings rather than giving full reign to them. They may well be jealous, but, they choose not to let the emotion control things. The lovely polar opposite of jealousy is compersion, a beautiful concept, pleasure in a partner’s relationship with another. ...
Judges will rule on appeal concerning positive obligations of men charged with rape
by Mary Carolan
The Director of Public Prosections wants the Supreme Court to clarify the law when men accused of rape claim the woman consented to sex.
The seven judge court will rule later on an important appeal concerning what positive obligations apply to men charged with rape who plead they believed there was consent to sex.
The DPP wants the court to consider whether, in particular cases of alleged rape, an accused is obliged, before any sex, to ascertain there was actual capacity to consent.
Tom O’Malley BL, for the DPP, said consent is “the minimum required of any respectful interaction between human beings” and there has been a “massive change in attitudes” to rape.
It would be helpful for the Supreme Court to clarify there must be a genuine basis for consent in circumstances including where some hold views a woman may be so “out of it” consent is irrelevant, he said.
The court’s consideration should be shaped by “fundamental” values, including rights to sexual autonomy, bodily integrity and human dignity, and also address the meaning of consent.
The appeal, before four male and three female judges, concerns a man jailed for 12 years after being convicted by a majority jury verdict of raping his mother, aged in her sixties.
He denied rape and pleaded he honestly believed she consented to sex, a claim she rejected.
After the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal against conviction, he sought a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
It agreed to hear an appeal after stating, given the importance of the protection of women from sexual violence, the precise definition of the mental element of rape is “a matter of general public importance”. The presentation of that definition to a jury was also important, it said
Consent, as a matter of fact, “may carry positive obligations for a man to ascertain where the issue of consent by the woman to sexual intercourse stands”, it added.
It certified two questions for determination in the appeal, heard and concluded on Monday. The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said the court was reserving judgment.
The first question is whether the mental element of rape can excuse a situation where, on unreasonable and irrational grounds, a man genuinely believed a woman consented to sex when in fact she had not.
The second asks whether, within the legal definition of rape, there is a legal requirement for a man to ascertain, prior to sex, the woman is (a) capable of consenting and (b) she has consented. ...
"Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll."
BY ANDREW GURZA
I’d never considered the price of intimacy until I hired a sex worker. Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll. Even so, I didn’t come to my decision lightly. I was worried about shame, stigma, and fear, and concerned I’d pay for time and still not get what I needed. I spent weeks quieting the voices in my head telling me that using the services of a sex worker was not a good idea. Would this be the only way I could find intimacy? Would someone even want to do this with me, or would he only view it as a charitable opportunity to help a cripple? Despite all these questions, I sat in my apartment reflecting on my nearly year-long celibacy. It was time to take care of myself.
After scouring site after site with rows and rows of horny men holding their hard-ons, I found David. His smile was warm, inviting, and intriguingly devious all at once. He was older than me, in his mid-40s, and his photos showed off a powerful body, a strong charisma, and an undeniable charm. I’d often felt physically invisible within the mainstream LGBT community, but David possessed everything I longed for.
I sent David a cursory email, telling him that I was interested in using his services, but that I had never done this before, that I was nervous. I also casually explained as best I could that I lived with a disability and used a chair. He emailed back some hours later, letting me know that he had experience working with clients with disabilities. David wrote bluntly: “If I’m unsure of something, I’ll just ask.” It was a refreshing change from all the guys who tripped and tumbled over their discomfort.
We ironed out the logistics—a time, a location, a fee. Knowing that my sexuality would be broken down into a succinct session was daunting, and it took away from the fantasy and spontaneity I had dreamed of. But this, perhaps, was the cost of getting what I wanted, what I needed. David gently reminded me that I was paying for his time, and whatever happened happened. On our very last exchange, just a day before we’d meet, he called and asked me a simple question, though one I have never been asked before: “What do you want?”
Shyly and nervously I outlined my likes and dislikes as well as my abilities. I wanted kissing. I craved body contact. I couldn’t bottom for him because of my spasticity and tight muscles. I’d need help undressing and being put in bed. I paused, smiled. My needs were at the forefront.
On a rainy, blustery Saturday afternoon, my iPhone blinked with the message that David was in my lobby. I looked at myself in the mirror: a long-sleeve shirt, cozy winter sweats, a baseball cap. I headed downstairs in the elevator. When the door opened, I recognized him immediately. “Hey there! How are you?” he said, giving me a big hug as if we were long-lost friends. I kept watching him, in part because I still couldn’t believe this was happening, and because he looked really good in those tight blue jeans and that leather jacket.
A sexy man was in my house. We made small talk, waiting for someone to strike. He led himself into my bedroom and asked me about the transfer device I use to get into bed. I told him he would have to lift my legs while I held on to two gymnastic rings fastened to a hydraulic lift in my ceiling. I continued babbling, watching him get closer to me, taking off his coat, revealing a tank top and thick, muscled arms. He then straddled my chair, bent down, and kissed me. As I reached and pawed at him—my limbs flailing, not wanting to miss an inch—he stopped me. He looked into my eyes, past the rejection and pain caused by other lovers, and spoke with a firm honesty. “It’s OK.”
David drank in my disability and I dared not stop him. He lifted me out of my chair and held me in his arms. He grabbed me, cradled me, and kissed me. I curled up into him so he could feel the scars, curves, rods, and contractures that inform my disability. I felt sexy. He took off my shirt, and together we revealed my skin. As he moved down my body, and took off my pants and shoes, I worried what he would do when he saw my leg bag and my toes, which curled into each other. But David made this act of care exciting and real for me. When I was finally naked with him on the bed—my body going into spastic fits as a result of CP—I started to tense even more as I neared climax. In a piercing moment of release, I felt my two identities collide: queer and crippled came together in a surge of pure, uncomplicated pleasure. ...
Over the past few years, sexual assault has gone from something in an after-school special to a very real problem plaguing college students across the country. While it’s a widely accepted truth that parents and teachers must do a better job teaching young people, and in particular young men, about sexual consent, every time an assault happens, we are reminded of how badly these young men need coaching on what to do when the lines may be blurred.
Never has the need for this coaching become more apparent than two weeks ago, when the news of former Stanford athlete Brock Turner’s crime, in which he assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, sickened the nation. In her powerful statement, Turner’s victim reveals that “the night after it happened, he said he thought I liked it because I rubbed his back. … Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub.”
Is it possible Turner had never explicitly been taught the importance of getting a clear “yes” from a partner? Or did he learn but chose to ignore it? The victim’s account got me thinking: How many men in this country know better, and how many just don’t know at all?
With Turner’s case as the catalyst, I set out to capture a snapshot of the way men were taught about the concept of consent, and when they learned it. Through Twitter, Facebook, and email, I was able to connect with 48 guys, aged 18 to 49, in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. about when or if they formally learned about consent—and the numbers paint a grim picture of the state of sex education. Of the 48 surveyed, more than three quarters said that before college, they hadn’t even heard the word “consent” or been given an explicit explanation of how you must ask for a partner’s permission. And of the remaining 11 who said they were taught about consent, most reported learning from parents or siblings.
Paula Madrigal was not surprised by my findings. She’s the assistant director of a sex education program at Buffalo State University in New York, and each year she meets young men and women embarking on their adult lives. In a 2015 episode of the podcast This American Life called “Birds & Bees,” you can hear Madrigal begin a conversation with her students about the concept of consent.
“It doesn’t sound right, it’s like you’re messing up the mood if you ask [for consent],” one student comments on the podcast. But Madrigal says that she has far bigger concerns than teens worrying about the mood.
“From what we have seen, it doesn’t appear as though they are familiar with what the basic premise of what consent even means,” Madrigal told me in a phone conversation. And by the time they reach her workshops in their late teens, many students—particularly the male students—aren’t able to see why this lesson is so profound.
Madrigal recognizes an education gap between the sexes about consent. But even more pronounced, she said, is the perception gap. “Statistically, men are typically the perpetrators [of sexual assault], and women are statistically the victims. So it’s almost natural that once you start talking about this, men are going to get defensive…It’s not so much from an educational standpoint, it’s that they start to personalize things. They’re not necessarily looking at the larger picture.”
A culture of male entitlement
For many of the men I spoke with, the void created by the absence of formal education on consent and how to treat a partner was filled in by their peers—and the result was rampant misinformation, and a culture of dangerous male entitlement.
Richard, 33, who grew up in the Bay Area, says he could remember when he started attending house parties in 8th grade, where drugs, alcohol and unsupervised spaces were readily available. This was the period of time when boys like him were becoming men, their sexuality awakening, and their views toward women were being molded—in other words, the time when a conversation about consent would have been crucial. ...