"Open relationships are becoming so common that when singer Robin Thicke gripped Lana Scolaro’s barely covered butt at a VMA afterparty at 1OAK last month," the tabloid wrote in October, "his indiscretion reportedly didn’t get him into trouble with his actress wife Paula Patton."
But if open relationships are becoming more common -- or, in any case, more visible amongst celebrities -- Tamara Pincus, a D.C.-based therapist with a practice advertised as "psychotherapy for the open-minded," says there's still a long way to go before polyamory goes fully mainstream.
Pincus, who hosts a monthly discussion group for people who are interested in, as she puts it, "consensual non-monogamous relationships," recently reached out to a group who might not realize they're interested in these relationships: She published a primer on polyamory aimed at clinical social workers.
That paper is behind a paywall, but here's a similar paper published earlier in the Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work's newsletter. Both start similarly -- here's the beginning of the new one:
Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and free consent of everyone involved. (see Wikipedia) In our culture, monogamy is generally seen as the only viable form of romantic relationship. Many people have never even heard of the concept of polyamory and often when they do come across polyamorous people they believe that their relationships are fundamentally and morally inferior to monogamous relationships.
For some, being polyamorous is an identity that they use to describe themselves along with their gender and sexual orientation. When a polyamorous client experiences this form of prejudice in therapy it can be highly damaging and cause them to quit therapy without addressing the needs which brought them in. Often if a therapist seems too closed off or if the client has too much shame their sexuality the client will not bring up their poly lifestyle or identity in therapy.
HuffPost caught up with Pincus to find out more. (This interview has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Why don't we start with you telling me about the paper you wrote -- what is it about, and who is it for?
It was a paper for social workers and psychotherapists about polyamory. Specifically giving them information on what would be good information to have in working with polyamorous clients.
Currently, there is not a lot out there for social workers about polyamory. A lot of them have never heard of it or think that it only happens when a couple is not doing well but not ready to break up. They don't understand the concept of poly identity and why people choose polyamory aside from a desire to have sex with more than one person.
This can lead to marginalization. A lot of poly clients in therapy don't come out to their therapists which means they don't work on a lot of the issues that come up. Also often when they do come out they feel judged by their therapists or misunderstood.
Often even the most well-meaning therapists will not understand polyamory so clients will end up spending their time educating their therapists which is not a service they should necessarily have to pay for. ...
Bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM) are occasionally practiced by 5-10 percent of Americans, according to a report by the Kinsey Institute.
“Human sexuality helps us to recognize what makes us feel good. It’s about learning about one’s sexuality,” said psychology professor Gidget Brogdon at an organized BDSM panel for her Human Sexuality class Friday. “This panel shows that there are a lot of different ways to explore sexuality.”
The panel consisted of four BDSM professionals ranging from a CSUN alumna, a former preacher, a retired school teacher and an adult entertainer. In the fall semester alone, the four panelists have participated in 20 panels at several universities and have presented BDSM panels at CSUN every semester for the past five years.
When the group of attendees were asked what BDSM was, words such as leather, chains, whips, pain and even plugging were yelled back at the panelists without hesitation.
The panel described that practitioners of BDSM have a unique vernacular, some emphasized more than others. Panelist Diana “Ms. Diana” Dee, president of Star Power Unlimited, refers to herself as a “dom.” A dom, short for dominant, is a person who exercises control during sex.
“One of the nice things about being a bitch is you have people doing things for you…I believe in hurting you not harming you, I’ve never sent anyone to the emergency room,” she said.
Dee added that she has no reservations when it comes to a sub’s (person that gives up control) sexual orientation, gender identity or background.
“Any warm bodies that want me to beat them are welcome,” Dee said.
Students had an opportunity to ask the panelists questions about the multitude of BDSM activities that had them intrigued. One student asked about blood sports, one of the many unconventional sex acts categorized under BDSM.
“Blood sports are any games that involve blood, piercings, cutting. Blood is part of energy and it’s primal. Blood is part of the interaction,” Dee said.
The panel also acknowledged that those who practice BDSM are not all alike and that like anything else, one’s sexual desires are based on preference. For example, the panel emphasized the fact that not everyone who practices BDSM enjoys blood sports, leather or bondage.
“I think the sophistication and intelligence that each individual articulated and conveyed was extremely professional and beneficial for the entire presentation,” said Adam West, 25, a psychology major.
Panelist Count Boogie, a musical comedian and massage therapist, thought that the class was prepared and had a lot of great questions.
“They were ready so we could move past the trivial and get into the application and philosophy, and that’s always fun,” Boogie said, as he broke the sound barrier with his dragon tongue crack whip.
Raquel Cockrell, 26, a psychology major said, “I feel like I know a lot about the presentation but the question and answer (segment) is really driving it home. I think (this presentation) opens up (students’) minds and makes them more aware.”
In the The Journal of Sexual Medicine’s May 2013 issue titled “Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners,” BDSM is described as a sexual practice characterized by suppression, physical restriction, practicing role playing games, power exchange and sometimes even the administration of pain. ...
If the success of "50 Shades of Grey" tells us anything, it's that there are plenty of people fascinated by the combination of pleasure and pain. But how does one explore the world of whips, toys and bondage? HuffPost Live asks the experts.
Originally aired on December 4, 2013
Claire Cavanah@Babeland_Toys(New York, NY)Co-Founder of Babeland
Guy Sanders(New York, NY)Member of The Eulenspiegel Society
Red Phoenix@redphoenix69(Denver, CO)Author of 'Brie Embraces the Heart of Submission: After Graduation'
Susan Wright@NCSF(Phoenix, AZ)Founder of National Coalition for Sexual Freedom; Author of 'Good Girl'
By day, Kathy Kulig is a photo technologist who looks for cancer under a microscope.
At night, she’s an author. But not just any author.
Her characters fly to another planet to engage in a ménage a trois with a shape-shifting dragon. In "Emerald Dungeon," erotic escapades take place in the nether regions of an Irish castle.
For the past nine years, this Easton woman has written erotic fiction about the BDSM lifestyle -- bondage, discipline and sado-masochism.
Her career and the careers of other erotic authors have gotten a boost from the success of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The three-part series has brought erotic fiction into the mainstream, Kulig said. James’ series of Grey books sold 70 million copies worldwide and the first installment is being made into a feature film.
“A lot of authors have to thank her for opening up this genre to a lot of people who didn’t know this was out there,” Kulig said.
Kulig’s latest e-book, “Summer Sins,” came out Nov. 15 through publisher Ellora’s Cave.
About the research
For Kulig, the lifestyle is about sensuality and getting out of your comfort zone.
“It’s just a deeper level of the emotional connection between the characters,” she said. “It’s much more intensified than your traditional romance.”
She wrote sensual poetry and romance stories before BDSM fiction piqued her interest.
“I was really tempted to write it but I wanted to do some hard-core research to get it right,” she said.
Her interest in the lifestyle is more as a voyeur than a participant. She doesn’t actively engage in BDSM practices, although she admits she has dabbled to better understand her subject matter.
“Let’s just put it that we have experimented,” said her husband, Joe Kulig. “It’s all part of the research.”
She regularly attends conferences for BDSM writers. In the name of research, she joined other writers during a conference last summer to visit Paddles, a BDSM club in New York City. Nudity is permitted in the club but intercourse and alcohol aren’t.
She was worried she and the writers would be seen as outsiders invading the BDSM inner sanctum, but that didn’t happen.
“They wanted to ask us questions,” she said. “Everybody was very warm and very open to talk.”
Confidentiality is important at Paddles. She discovered this for herself while watching a dungeon master wrap a submissive woman in sheets of blue cellophane and then hanging her from the ceiling. Kulig was tapped on the shoulder by someone wearing what looked like a fluorescent crossing guard vest.
She wondered what she had done wrong, but realized the crossing guard was warning her that a photo was about to be snapped and her image was reflected in a mirror. If she wanted to protect her identity, she needed to move. ...
With all the recent hoopla about the Fifty Shades of Grey movies currently in the works, now is an important time to discuss some of the biggest problems with the E.L. James novels – specifically, their damaging misrepresentation of BDSM, (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism). Never mind the laughable prose; the inaccurate stereotypes and bad BDSM practices portrayed in Fifty Shades are not only offensive to the BDSM community, but also dangerous for readers who are being newly exposed to BDSM and getting the wrong idea of what it is all about.
One of the biggest problems with Fifty Shades is its perpetuation of the mistaken belief that people who participate in BDSM do so because they are psychologically damaged. Titular character Christian Grey, who assumes the role of dominant in his sexual relationship with protagonist Anastasia Steele, is self-described as “fifty shades of fucked up” from having been abused as a child. This rationalizes not only his sexual preferences, but also his abusive, controlling, and stalkerish behaviour toward Anastasia, who haplessly spends the entirety of the novel trying to fix him.
This is a stereotype that wrongfully demonizes practitioners of BDSM. A 2001-2002 study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sexual Medicine concluded that “BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture attractive to a minority, and for most participants not a pathological symptom of past abuse or difficulty with ‘normal’ sex.” A 2013 study in the same journal found that BDSM practitioners were “less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive,” and “had higher subjective well-being.”
The stereotype of the Christian-Grey-esque damaged BDSM practitioner is a hurtful and inaccurate one that should be put to rest – not to mention that pop culture is already far too saturated with stories that tell women they can fix their abusers, a misogynistic trope with dangerous real-life consequences.
The Fifty Shades series also wrongfully conflates BDSM with abuse. It cannot be overstated that BDSM is absolutely not about abuse; it is about power, and it necessitates a high level of trust, communication, and respect between partners. This respect for boundaries and personal preferences is entirely absent between Christian and Anastasia, as throughout the story he constantly pressures her into doing things she isn’t comfortable with and that she does not enjoy.
An example of this occurs when Christian presents Anastasia with a contract detailing his demands for their relationship. While contracts are a common feature of BDSM—their purpose being to formalize an agreement of rules, goals, duties, and boundaries between partners—the problem with Christian’s contract is twofold.
First, the contract is all about his demands and his preferences; Anastasia does not get any input, and although she tries to negotiate, Christian does not give an inch.
Second, Anastasia has never been in any kind of BDSM relationship before (she’s never even had sex before); therefore, she hasn’t gotten the chance to explore and discover what she likes or does not like. She does not even know what half the terminology in the contract means and has to look it up on Wikipedia. The fact that her immediate reaction to reading up on this stuff is physical illness and the fact that she does not sign the contract are big red flags that this dominant-submissive relationship is not going to be a healthy one. ...
You can read about the origins of this series in the first entry. Today, the distinction between swingers and polyamorists—the groups overlap, but there are important differences—and a few neologisms invented by polyamorists to discuss their relationships. There are probably neologisms like these among swingers, too; I’m just not familiar with them.
The practice of pursuing multiple intimate, loving relationships. This term was coined in the 1990s, but it descends from the 1960s counterculture, and the “free love” philosophy can be traced all the way back to the 18th century, to people like Mary Wollstonecraft and her better-known daughter. During the 1970s, the Kerista Commune in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco coined the term polyfidelity to describe sexual freedom within the group while remaining exclusive with respect to non-members. In the modern poly community, you’ll sometimes encounter polyfidelitous triads or quads. However, I’ve observed a lot more people who form fairly traditional dyads but have agreements to allow additional relationships. The dyadic partners agree that while their secondary relationships may be important and emotionally fulfilling, they will never displace the primary partnership.
primary and secondary
I will note, before my poly peers show up to do it for me, that a fair number of people dislike the hierarchical sound of primary and secondary. The terms definitely miss something important. Relationships with different people aren’t better or worse, more or less important. They’re qualitatively different; they make you into different versions of yourself. Still, these words convey something true about how poly works for many practitioners. If you have a shared home and bank account with somebody, have bound yourself to them legally, and most especially if you’ve had children together, maintaining that relationship is going to require a special level of effort and attention.
There are cases where people end up having more than one relationship with this level of commitment and intensity. A triad or quad that develops when everyone is living separately may decide to move in as a group. An existing dyad may invite a third into their household or merge with another couple to form a quad. In such cases, two people who share a common primary may refer to each other as co-primary. On the other hand, some people practice solo poly, in which they consciously avoid settling into any one primary relationship. They may choose never to move in with an intimate partner, preferring to live alone or perhaps with roommates who are friends but not lovers. Or they may move in with one or more partners, but only after reaching a clear agreement that giving each other space and freedom will remain a high priority.
A secondary relationship may look pretty similar to how a monogamist might interact with a girl- or boyfriend at a stage of their relationship before moving in together—a couple might go out to dinner and a movie, or cook at home and spend the evening talking, or happily curl up together to read for a few hours. Different people have different arrangements about what happens physically, whether and when sleepovers are allowed, and so on. It’s fairly common to see primaries trying to set dates with secondaries for the same evening, thus reducing the number of evenings that they miss quality time with each other. This can lead to situations where someone three degrees away from you has some kind of crisis, and the effects ripple into your calendar. There’s a longstanding joke in the community that the hardest thing about being poly isn’t jealousy—it’s scheduling.
There are as many permutations of relationship agreements as there are couples making them. But, as is the case with gay families, if you observed a poly family at any given time, chances are it would seem pretty pedestrian. I go to work, cook dinner with my wife, deal with laundry and other chores, waste time in front of the television. I once spent a long summer afternoon with my secondary and her primary, helping to paint the apartment where they’d just moved in together. This sounds like the set-up for a Penthouse letter, but if things got steamy, it was only because of the weather.
According to the folk histories I’ve heard, the modern American culture of swinging developed among U.S. Air Force fighter pilots during World War II. (This story is reported in investigative journalist Terry Gould’s book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, and swingers themselves certainly seem to believe it.) Couples would engage in “wife swapping” with the understanding that they were developing intimate bonds; wives whose husbands died in combat would be taken care of, financially and emotionally, by the surviving men and their wives. ...
After the Supreme Court’s Prop. 8 ruling came down in June, LGBT people in San Francisco were able to get married – for the third time. Amid the celebration, there were some wistful sentiments that maybe queerness was waning and all the gays were – as my uber-queer thesis adviser once put it – “ready to go home and cook dinner, forever.”
Unambiguously joyful or painfully heteronormative, same-sex marriage is probably here to stay this time. But there are multiple other ways of fashioning a life with one’s chosen partner, or partners. I sat down with four families or member of polyamorous groups, two all-male and two male-and-female, to gain some better insight into just how happy (and gleefully sex-positive) these enduring arrangements can be.
Who are they?:
Richard, Steven, Rob, Eric, and Paul are all between 47 and 62 years old and live in San Francisco. Richard and Steven (the daddies) have been together for 23 years and legally married in 2008, while the three boys joined in the last five or six years. Rob and Paul are collared, wearing padlocked chains that indicate they’re boys in a daddy-boy dynamic. Additionally, Paul and his separate partner of 16 years wed in October.
Rob: If somebody has a thing going on, we all make a point to show up. We have scheduled dates because if we don’t, they won’t happen.
Eric: And we’re not [gestures to include the entire family] monogamous as well. We all have fuck buddies.
Paul: There’s a lot of focused one-on-one. Not necessarily having sex, but focusing on the relationship. Which usually involves sex.
Richard: We’re not “poly-monogamous.” We interbreed with regularity, though that certainly has diminished as the intensity of the relationship among the five of us has increased.
Richard: Getting the five of us together at one time is challenging. I invited everybody up to the hot springs last year, and that was the only time we’ve actually traveled. We’re fine with that. We have to be pragmatic. I’ve noticed there are friends I don’t see very much, because there’s just less time.
Are you out at work?
Paul: I’m a pornographer. Of course I’m out at work.
Eric: My relationships are of great interest and vast amusement to the people I work with.
Steven: I mostly say I’m married. When I worked for AT&T, they didn’t care.
Rob: I work at a large company downtown. I wear my collar under a shirt with a collar, so it’s not in everyone’s face but not that well hidden, either.
Does your family know?
Paul: When my mom was alive I didn’t really talk about it. It took her 20 years to get used to the whole I-have-a-husband thing. She was 85 and I didn’t feel the need to rock her world.
Eric: Lots of my cousins and my aunts and my stepmother and father are all on Facebook and they see all of this. A year or two ago, I started getting Christmas cards from various cousins labeled “To Eric and Family.”
Do you envision legalized polyamory?
Richard: Three years into our relationship, Steven and I had our own Jewish-pagan ceremony. Then we got domestic-partnered. Right now we’re trying to get the boys to find boys. They need support staff, so to speak. When I’m 90, Eric will be 77, and he’s going to need someone to push my wheelchair around.
Rob: I don’t think it’s something that’s likely to happen anytime soon. And it’s really hard to be someone’s top and daddy when you’re wearing a collar. Plus I fully intend to become a cyborg at some point.
Paul: The relationship’s so fluid, I don’t know that we’d need it to be recognized. The point of poly relationships is that you define it.
Who they are:
Together for three years, Liesl and Steve are a couple dating another couple, Megan and Nathan, along with several other lovers whom they see less often. All are in their late twenties and live in the East Bay.
Steve: If I’m dating a girl, usually Liesl ends up dating that girl, but most of the time, if she’s dating a guy, he and I don’t play too much. Except at either end of Liesl.
Liesl: Although I’ve had lots of guys say that if they were to experiment on a guy, it’d be Steve. I was the first woman Megan had ever been with. But that’s not surprising. All the straight girls, they’re like, “Well, I’ll try this.”
Steve: The reason we’re polyamorous isn’t philosophical, it’s that we’re terrible about monogamy. But in the Bay, people have a whole idea of what that means about our relationship.
Are you out at work?
Liesl: In Illinois, I was out to all my co-workers and was dating Steve and the guy I was living with. My co-worker asked me, “Do you love your boyfriend?” I asked which one, because I don’t think Steve and I had said that at that point. But I said, “Yes, the one I live with, I love him.” And she said, “No, you don’t. When you love someone, it drives you crazy if they even look at someone else.” And I thought, “I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with you.”
Steve: Most people at Google aren’t, you know, Haight-Ashbury natives. They’re more conservative than I anticipated. I’m out, but it doesn’t come up that much. It’s not information they need to interact with me. A couple of people have asked weird questions, but there’s no polyamorous slur that they could use to offend me. I do try to be out to as many people as possible because I do think there is an invisibility problem to open relationships, and people assume that everyone they know is monogamous. So they only hear about open relationships when they fail. It implodes, you hear that they were open, so that must be why.
Does your family know?:
Liesl: When I was going to come home for Easter, my mom said on the phone, “Oh, I’ll put the air mattress out for you and R.” I said, “Well, R. can’t make it…I am bringing someone though. I thought I should tell you: Steve is my other boyfriend. I’m in an open relationship with R.” And my mom said, “Oh, I’ll put the air mattress out for you and Steve.”
Steve: I said, “Hey mom, can I to talk to you for a minute? I’m bisexual and polyamorous.” She didn’t know what polyamorous was. I said it basically means I don’t do monogamous relationships, that I have multiple partners. Her first response was, “That sounds like something a man invented.”
Do you envision legalized polyamory?
Liesl: I think it would be so difficult to start. We’re both dating Megan, but Nathan’s pretty straight, so I wouldn’t say that Steve and Nathan are dating. And if we got married, would Steve and Nathan be married? What does that mean for them to be married when they’re not sexually together? And although it doesn’t really apply to poly people, I’m super-excited that in California, you can have three parents.