Polyamorists believe their time has come. But the fact is that Americans continue to see infidelity as an evil.
When the fight for gay marriage began to gain traction back in the early years of the last decade, social conservative critics usually went beyond denying that marriage could be redefined to include same-sex couples. Many of them argued that homosexuals were much less inclined than heterosexuals to valorize the ideal of monogamy. Allowing gays and lesbians to marry would therefore introduce a polyamorous option into the institution, and adultery would come to be viewed as an acceptable option for all marriages.
A spate of recent articles explicitly making the case for polyamory would seem to vindicate those conservative predictions and worries.
The latest example appeared a few days ago in The New Republic (reprinted from the New Statesman). Three and a half years into a relationship with a woman, author Rosie Wilby finds that "other people act as our kindling. Love breeds love." The experience leads her to ask rhetorically: What if we all came to view "our relationships as a pyramid structure with our primary partner at the top and a host of lovers, friends, spiritual soul mates, colleagues, and acquaintances beneath that?"
That's the polyamorist ideal, which Wilby defines as "consensual multiple loving connections, some sexual, some not, in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies." And, she insists, it's far better for everyone involved (including children) than the serial monogamy that she sees practiced by many straight and gay couples alike, leading to high rates of separation, divorce, and broken homes. "Instead of serial relationships one after the other," perhaps it would be better to foster "parallel ones running alongside one another." And anyway, we already act this way, fantasizing about sex with friends and acquaintances, making emotional connections with people other than our spouses or partners, sometimes cheating on them outright. So "why pretend" we're more monogamous than we really are?
A social conservative would probably note, correctly, that Wilby's essay is perfectly congruent with, and even seems to follow of necessity from, the sexual ethic currently sweeping the Western world — one in which the only valid moral consideration in a sexual relationship is individual consent. In such a moral universe, there is no reason not to embrace a polyamorous lifestyle. And since most human beings will find themselves emotionally and physically attracted to multiple people in the course of their lives, monogamy would seem to be doomed.
There's just one problem: There is not one shred of evidence to support that prediction.
Consider: In a poll conducted just last year, Gallup found that 91 percent of Americans disapprove of marital infidelity.
That's right. In a highly sexualized age awash in technological temptations and dominated by a nonjudgmental sexual ethic that increasingly encourages men and women to do whatever feels good, nine out of 10 Americans judge cheating to be wrong. That's higher than the rate of disapproval for human cloning and suicide. ...
A man told police a woman who had agreed to take $2,000 in exchange for taking part in an explicit video in which her head would be shaved took off with the cash before the cameras rolled.
Daniel Robertson said the woman had answered a Craigslist ad and he had picked her up at the bus station on Airport Road.
He said they went to LaQuinta Inn on W. 21st Street and she signed a contract and was given the money.
He said she then showered. However, she afterward apparently became frightened and bolted from the room, leaving her bags behind. He said the bags contained only some clothing and $2 in cash. There was no ID for the woman in the bags.
He said the woman bit him on the hand when he tried to stop her. Police said he had several marks on his hand.
Police said Robertson "was not forthcoming on what he had done to frighten her."
He said the film was intended for a fetish website and was to be "sexual in nature."
Police concluded that the woman "may not have been told the full extent of what he wanted from her."
As a professional dominatrix, I tie people up, spank them or humiliate them. Their joy is to submit to me; mine is the power rush of that control
I’m grateful for Fifty Shades of Grey. It is low-grade, escapist smut, filled with misconceptions and wildly inaccurate portrayals of BDSM but as the French dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet has said, it has “opened up new possibilities that did not exist before” to its female readers.
As a professional dominatrix and lifelong kinkster, I welcome this but also offer a warning. While Fifty Shades can be hot, it is designed to arouse, not educate, and in doing so it leaves out the things that differentiate BDSM from abuse, as the newly previewed film trailer has highlighted.
Foremost among these is consent. Consent isn’t merely the absence of a no, a contextless acquiescence. For the kink inclined, it’s explicit and ongoing. Consent can make anything within the bounds of safety and reason fair game – from an hour’s experimentation with handcuffs and a riding crop to a considered, long-term agreement to cede a great deal of your personal power to someone else.
It may be awkward to sit across from someone and admit you like a good spanking, but communication undergirds safe kink. Being open to talking about mutual likes, dislikes, needs and limits gives you and your potential partner the confidence to explore more fully when play begins. Over time, respected consent builds trust, which is what unlocks the true intensity and power of kink.
Consent must be informed. Before play, you should know what you’re getting into and with who. Thus, we kinksters have something else that is absent in Fifty Shades – a community. At regular casual meetups (called munches) and at organised play parties staffed with experienced monitors, we get to know each other. We teach and learn the skills of BDSM; there are practical lessons, such as caning or rope bondage, and intangibles such as negotiating a play or screening a new partner. We watch each other’s backs, freely offering a listening ear or frank advice. Our community is far from perfect, and it’s often a tall order for a socially anxious person – or one with a sensitive job or home life – to meet in public. But we give what has been a private practice an institutional memory and we self-police to keep bullies and predators out. ..
OHIO COUNTY, W.Va. -- A Washington County, Pa., couple could soon face indecent exposure charges in Ohio County after neighbors say a woman was walking a naked man on all fours on a leash. It happened Tuesday morning around 9:30 near Roney's Point in Ohio County. Sheriff’s deputies say they got several calls about the couple, but when they arrived to the scene the couple was clothed.
Officers say the two admitted to participating in the act and to "having a kinky sexual relationship." The couple was said to be visiting a friend on U.S. 40. The Ohio County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the matter.
Monogamy is rare, no matter what we might tell ourselves. We need a new currency of commitment.
by Rosie Wilby
Back in April, Helen Croydon’s New Statesman article entitled “Screw The Fairytale” sparked quite some heated debate from vociferous defenders of the ideal exclusive lifelong partnership. I too have faced occasionally challenging and often fascinating questions as I have toured my comedy show posing the question: Is Monogamy Dead? Yet I’ve come to realise that so many of us define fidelity along emotional rather than sexual lines, it becomes almost impossible to say with authority that anybody at all is monogamous... unless we can read minds.
I conducted an anonymous online survey as research for my show asking what behaviours would be considered infidelity. 73 out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 per cent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 per cent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable. How you would police this I don’t know.
Perhaps the only way to remain truly faithful would be to lock yourselves into a sealed box and both stay there without interacting with any other human beings. Yet this would be torture. Human connections are the lifeblood and oxygen that aid our emotional survival. Even the most fleeting kindnesses and flirtations with strangers enhance our wellbeing. These brief moments of love feed our key relationships. Three and a half years in, my girlfriend and I might not always find it easy to generate huge sexual energy in a vacuum on our own. But if we go off into the world and connect, communicate, flirt with and enjoy other people, become energised by them and then come back together, our passion can still burn strongly. Other people act as our kindling. Love breeds love. It isn’t a finite resource that we need to hide away in the attic.
I asked my ex, now good friend, if she would ever have an open relationship and she said, “no, I don’t think I could do that” then after a pause and a smile, “but what about love affair friendships?” She went on to describe an impenetrable fortress of female friendship, her own group of best mates who’d known each other since school and had supported and loved each other through almost all of their lifetimes. They sounded far more bonded to, and in love with one another, than their respective husbands. It struck me that we don’t have the language to reflect the diversity and breadth of connections we experience. Why is sex the thing we tend to define a relationship by, when in fact it can be simple casual fun without a deep emotional transaction? Why do we say “just friends” when, for some of us, a friendship goes deeper? Can we define a new currency of commitment that celebrates and values this? Instead of having multiple confusing interpretations of the same word, could we have different words? What if we viewed our relationships as a pyramid structure with our primary partner at the top and a host of lovers, friends, spiritual soul mates, colleagues and acquaintances beneath that?
This isn’t a million miles away from the central ideas of polyamory – consensual multiple loving connections, some sexual, some not, in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies. It was a new word and world to me, yet when I interviewed a few polyamorous women (meetings had to be scheduled months ahead due to their ridiculously hectic romantic and social diaries) it struck me that they weren’t behaving so differently to anyone else I knew. Yet instead of shrouding some of their most intimate connections in secrecy as many of my “monogamous” friends have to, boundaries and priorities were honestly negotiated and declared. ...
The small Valencian village of Vilafranca, with only 2,500 inhabitants, would have gained notoriety on Friday had the opening of Spain’s first BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism) hotel gone ahead.
“With the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon in full swing, I saw a business opportunity that hadn’t been exploited yet in Spain,” the businessman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Local.
The entrepreneur rented out Vilafranca’s L'Om del Llosar hotel with plans to cater the roadside property to a ‘niche’ market, announcing the launch on Facebook for August 1st.
Renaming it the Roissy Castle in honour of the French chateau featured in classic erotic novel The Story of O, he has told potential guests they’ll “be able to enjoy games, flaunt themselves and share experiences with other visitors” in the twenty hotel rooms and four dungeons, three of which are private.
Vilafranca’s town council representatives aren’t too happy with the news however, arguing that it is “unsuitable” to “have an establishment of this nature in the village” and so close to the “chapel where dozens of people come every day to visit the village’s patron saint”.
“Our restaurant and bar have been full of villagers since we opened at the start of the summer,” the savvy businessman told The Local.
“It wasn’t until just a few days ago that one of Vilafranca’s online dailies ran a piece on our plans to open the sadomasochist hotel and this huge uproar began.” ...
Why assume you need to make compromises to achieve connubial bliss?
In an article for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan profiles several polyamorous couples and wonders whether more families should consider open (non-monogamous) marriages. Khazan argues that polyamory’s great advantage is that practitioners better divide up and delegate the duties and pleasures of a relationship, mixing and matching for the best of all possible marriages. She writes:
Even many devout monogamists admit that it can be hard for one partner to supply the full smorgasbord of the other’s sexual and emotional needs. When critics decry polys as escapists who have simply “gotten bored” in traditional relationships, polys counter that the more people they can draw close to them, the more self-actualized they can be.
There’s an enormous assumption tucked into that first sentence. Monogamy isn’t premised on the idea that one person can ever be everything to a partner. When a marriage fails to fulfill “the full smorgasbord” it’s not a sign that anything’s wrong. An expectation that a partner (or full set of them) is meant to be a perfect complement is destructive to romantic and platonic relationships.
Unfortunately, the premises of Khazan aren’t confined to a negligible niche (polyamorous or otherwise). A survey commissioned by USA Network of 18-34 year olds in four cities (Austin, Omaha, Nashville, and Phoenix) found that 10 percent of respondents endorsed multiple partners within a marriage, “each of whom fulfills a need in your life.”
What does this mean in practice? One of the women profiled in the Atlantic story explains that she and her husband looked to add partners to their marriages because the spouses couldn’t fulfill all of each other’s needs. Her husband was interested in kinky sex, so he found a woman to practice BDSM with him, but the wife’s new boyfriend was picked for a more prosaic need: the boyfriend goes to the theatre with her and sees shows her husband wouldn’t enjoy.
The reporter asks what she calls “the logical, mono-normative question” why the wife didn’t simply leave her husband for her theatre-boyfriend, but the more relevant question is: why she didn’t just book season tickets for herself and a friend? Kinky sex is, well, sexual, but going out to the theatre isn’t an activity that’s reserved to lovers.
It’s natural for friends to fill the gaps in a marital relationship, indulging interests that aren’t shared with the spouse, providing emotional support, and simply varying our lens on the world. After all, C.S. Lewis’s observation in The Four Loves that “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other. Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest,” wasn’t meant as an aspirational image for spouses.
Spouses shouldn’t wind up completely sated by a relationship, able to retreat from the rest of the world. Married people, just like singles, have some needs that are best met by a friend or by a neighbor or by family. Our mutual, unsated needs draw us together in service to each other.
Few partners will be in danger of making a complete retreat, utterly emotionally self-sufficient as a dyad, but aiming at this goal is as destructive as achieving it. Spouses in this situation are likely to sell their friendships short, failing to rely on them, as the theatre-going wife does. ...
Since San Francisco’s infamous Up Your Alley (this weekend) and Folsom Street Fair (September) are upon us, it’s a good time to get into the photographic spirit of leather, flesh, and all things BDSM. Who better to help out than a German photographer, in this case Peter Lichreich?
“I call myself ‘body photographer’,” Lichreich tells Queerty. “I take pictures of men with no restrictions.”
Lichreich was born in Berlin and lives in Duesseldorf. He began working as a photographer in 2007 and has had exhibitions in Mannheim, Amsterdam, Rome, Israel and Monaco.
Lichreich’s models are often nude and bathed in shadow. There is a sense of seediness and sometimes even danger to his work, but it’s also very beautiful.
“My pictures are rather dark and gloomy and invite the viewer to look deeper beyond the flesh,” Lichreich says. “They obscure and stimulate the imagination.” ...