Note: This article only represents the views of those interviewed and should not be misconstrued as representative of all bisexual and/or polyamorous people.
You're poly? So...
- You're into group sex.
- You're a sex addict.
- You can't sustain an enduring, loving relationship.
These are just some of the assumptions and misconceptions that exist surrounding polyamory -- one of the most misunderstood relationship forms in our society. But is polyamory purely about sex? And if it isn't, then what else is it about? I spoke to five bisexual, polyamorous people about what being poly means to them. Their heartfelt answers might surprise you.
Is it just about sex? If not, then what is it about?
That is, of course, the question on everybody's mind. Each one of the people I spoke with was very clear that for them, poly was, or had the potential to be, about more than just sex.
For Kate, an English professor in her early thirties, polyamory means the ability to be in a serious, loving relationship with more than one person at the same time -- regardless of whether there's a hierarchical structure in place in terms of primary, secondary, tertiary and further relationships.
Anne (not her real name), also in her early thirties and from Somerville, MA, believes that what's so wonderful about poly is that it can be whatever the partners involved want it to be. "Your poly can mean that you and your primary are open to secondary relationships, or that you have an understanding that when you go out, you can engage with other people in emotional and/or physical ways." She goes on to say that for her, poly means love, connection, communication, creativity, intimacy, freedom and fluidity. "It's not black and white; it's multiple shades of gray with some rainbows mixed in and it's beautiful."
Is polyamory an orientation, a lifestyle choice or something else?
All five interviewees felt that polyamory came naturally to them when they were ready and the time was right. JC, a consultant from the East Coast who's been in a different-gender relationship for 30 years, tells me he simply isn't wired for monogamy. He and his partner decided long ago to open up their relationship, mainly to allow him the freedom to meet men. Over time, their relationship morphed and evolved according to their needs and external pressures. Now, it's mostly about being open to each other when it comes to potential secondary relationships.
Colleen, a computer app developer from Ontario, chose polyamory when her monogamous 32-year marriage ended and left her deeply hurt. She was afraid of repeating the experience and felt that she couldn't commit to one person. Interestingly, polyamory seemed to fit her right away. It quickly brought two steady partners into her life; a man she's been living with for three and a half years, and a bisexual woman who's also in another relationship.
Authentic Paint, a nanny in California, shares her insights on why polyamory comes so naturally to some. "Think about how much you love your parents, siblings or children. Would you be able to choose only one of them? If we're capable of feeling equal love in those relationships, then why not when it comes to romantic love for more than one partner?"
Do you think there's a stigma attached to polyamory? ...
Online dating is a concept that’s finally become a staple within our society. No longer is it considered “dangerous” or downright “creepy” to create bonds with people across wifi signals and meet up when the time is right. Now more than ever, couples are meeting within the digital space and walking down the aisle towards a lifetime of forever. Mainstream dating sites have done a great job at catering to the general desires of hopeful singles, but when it comes to alternative lifestyles, secondary sites have picked up the slack.
For the couple that seeks to participate in a relationship with more than just one mate, the option to search has proven difficult in the past within mainstream platforms, but that’s about to change. Online dating giant OkCupid.com is the first to offer the option for couples to search for a mate as a unit.
According to The Atlantic, the online-dating giant is adding a feature for its members that allows couples to list themselves as “in an open relationship,” which enables partners to link their profiles together in order to search for a third member in openness and honesty. This change comes from OkCupid’s recent data, revealing a rapid increase in the number of couples interested in entering into polyamorous relationships.
According to the data, 24 percent of its members have a serious interest in entering into group sex, and 42 percent would consider dating someone in an open or polyamorous relationship. These numbers are actually an 8 percent increase from five years ago according to OkCupid, but what’s even more interesting is the decrease in the numbers of members interested in strictly monogamous relationships.
OkCupid’s data say the numbers have fallen to a minority of 44 percent, down from 56 percent of members interested in monogamy in 2010. This shows a growing interest in polyamory within the American population, and according to the results of a recent national survey published on PsychologyToday.com, 9.8 million couples across the United States are in some form of polyamorous or open relationship currently—this includes heterosexual and homosexual couples.
As the world continues to move deeper into the millennium, people seem to be rethinking the traditional constructs of relationships that have been implemented by society and going with what “feels” more natural for their lifestyles and desires. This profile linking is the first of its kind for any mainstream dating site, and it may be the catalyst to spark a change within the market towards more accepting platforms. ...
Asking your partner to tie you to the bedpost, telling them to slap you hard in the throes of lovemaking, dressing like a woman if you are a man, admitting a fetish for feet: Just a few years ago, any of these acts could be used against you in family court.
This was the case until 2010, when the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would be changing the diagnostic codes for BDSM, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism (a variant of cross-dressing) in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in 2013. The new definitions marked a distinction between behavior—for example, playing rough—and actual pathology. Consenting adults were no longer deemed mentally ill for choosing sexual behavior outside the mainstream.
The change was the result of a massive effort from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997 “to advance the rights of and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities.” At the time, these types of sexual behavior, by virtue of their inclusion in the DSM, were considered markers of mental illness—and, as a result, were heavily stigmatized, often with legal repercussions. In family court, an interest in BDSM was used as justification to remove people’s children from their custody.
“A sexual sadist practices on non-consenting people,” explains NCSF founder Susan Wright, while “someone who is kinky is having consensual enthusiastically desired sex.” The problem with the earlier DSM: It didn’t draw a distinction between the two. A 1998 survey from the NCSF found that “36 percent of S&M practitioners have been victims of harassment, and 30 percent have been victims of discrimination.” As a result, the organization’s website says, “24 percent [have lost] a job or a contract, 17 percent [have lost] a promotion, and 3 percent [have lost] custody of a child.”
“We were seeing the DSM used as a weapon,” says Race Bannon, an NCSF Board Member and the creator of Kink-Aware Professionals, a roster of safe and non-judgmental healthcare professionals for the BDSM and kink community. (The list is now maintained by the NCSF.) “Fifty Shades [of Grey] had not come along,” says Bannon, an early activist in the campaign to change the DSM. “[Kink] was still this dark and secret thing people did.”
Since its first edition was published in 1952, the DSM has often posed a problem for anyone whose sexual preferences fell outside the mainstream. Homosexuality, for example, was considered a mental illness—a “sociopathic personality disturbance”—until the APA changed the language in 1973. More broadly, the DSM section on paraphilias (a blanket term for any kind of unusual sexual interest), then termed “sexual deviations,” attempted to codify all sexual preferences considered harmful to the self or others—a line that, as one can imagine, is tricky in the BDSM community.
The effort to de-classify kink as a psychiatric disorder began in 1980s Los Angeles with Bannon and his then-partner, Guy Baldwin, a therapist who worked mostly with the gay and alternative sexualities communities. Bannon, a self-described “community organizer, activist, writer, and advocate” moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and soon became close with Baldwin through their mutual involvement as open participants in and advocates for the kink community. “I’m fairly confident that I was the first licensed mental-health practitioner anywhere who was out about being a practicing sadomasochist,” Baldwin says.
The pair was spurred to action after the 1987 edition of the DSM-III-R, which introduced the concept of paraphilias, changed the classifications for BDSM and kink from “sexual deviation” to actual disorders defined by two diagnostic criteria. To be considered a mental illness, the first qualification was: ‘‘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.’’ The second: ‘‘The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’
“1987 was a bad shift,” Wright recalls. “Anyone who was [voluntarily] humiliated, beaten, bound, or any other alternate sexual expression was considered mentally ill.”
With the new language, Baldwin says, he quickly realized that laws regarding alternative sexual behavior would continue to be problematic “as long as the psychiatric community defines these behaviors as pathological.” ...
“I knew there were therapists around the world diagnosing practicing consensual sadomasochists with mental illness,” he says.
At the time that the new DSM was published, Baldwin and Bannon were planning to attend the 1987 march on Washington, D.C., in support of gay rights; after the new criteria came out, they decided to host a panel discussion for mental-health professionals in the State Department auditorium, where they announced the launch of what would come to be known as “The DSM Revision Project.” ...
Following the controversy prompted by Squirt’s recent outdoor campaign, fetish hook-up app Recon has launched its first outdoor series of adverts
Gay Star Business
by David Hudson
Gay dating app Recon has launched its first ever out of house (OOH) campaign. An OOH campaign is one that consumers see when they’re away when they’re outside their home (i.e. in a public space).
The campaign consists of images of guys in leather, rubber and other fetish gear and features on phoneboxes in 11 central London sites.
Recon was launched as a website 16 years ago, followed later by the launch of its app. In a statement to Gay Star Business, a spokesperson said it had approximately 175,000 active monthly users. It focuses on hooking up gay and bisexual men who have an interest in fetish wear.
Sandy Pianim, Marketing Manager for the UK-based Recon, said, ‘Our brand has always struggled to build awareness in the normal media outlets due to the content.
‘In the last year we’ve been around the world engaging with our members and other men into fetish. We’ve been lucky enough to photograph guys in LA, Chicago, Berlin, Rio, San Francisco and London which make up the basis of our new batch of images for promotions.
‘In a way the images are normalizing fetish. Fetish is a normal part of gay lifestyle and that’s why I wanted to bring it into OOH.’
The brand is inviting people to take a photo of themselves, wearing fetish gear, standing next to one of the adverts, and to post it on social media for a chance to win a limited period of premium membership.
The campaign follows a similar one launched by hook-up app Squirt, which has featured on phone booths, bus shelters and public transport. The Squirt campaign has prompted controversy and complaints. Promoting ‘Non-stop hook-ups’ and ‘Non-stop cruising’, and featuring topless male models, the adverts have been removed from bus shelters in Miami and subway trains in Toronto.
Complaints against the Squirt adverts were also lodged in the Netherlands, but in a recent ruling, the country’s Advertising Standards Board ruled them as acceptable. The adverts appear at major railway stations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
Pianim told Gay Star Business that Recon had thought carefully about what imagery to use to avoid causing offence.
‘We worked closely with ClearChannel to understand what we could and could not put in our ad. At the end of the day we just want to promote our brand with striking and stimulating imagery. There are ways and means to put across your brand without offending anyone.’ ...
Online-dating behemoth OkCupid is adding a feature tailor-made for polyamorous people. The new setting, which became available for some beta users in December, allows users who are listed as “seeing someone,” “married,” or “in an open relationship” on the platform to link their profiles and search for other people to join their relationship. It will be rolled out to all users on Friday.
A screenshot of the new feature obtained by The Atlantic shows a stock photo of a sample user listed as “in an open relationship” with another, whose profile is linked below his.
The move comes in response to a rapid uptick in the number of OkCupid users interested in non-monogamous relationships. According to the company’s data, 24 percent of its users are “seriously interested” in group sex. Forty-two percent would consider dating someone already involved in an open or polyamorous relationship. Both numbers represent increases of 8 percentage points from five years ago. The number of people who say they are solely committed to monogamy, meanwhile, has fallen to a minority of all users, 44 percent, down from 56 percent in 2010.
“It seems that now people are more open to polyamory as a concept,” said Jimena Almendares, OkCupid’s chief product officer.
From the pages of Time magazine to the rules of the new “Fallout” game, polyamory seems suddenly to be everywhere — and very present in the public consciousness.
When the Supreme Court extended marriage equality to same-sex couples in all 50 states, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum mused that same-sex marriage might soon lead to marriages of three people or more. Polyamory.
Also known as “consensual non-monogamy,” polyamory comes in a number of flavors, including swinging, polyfidelity, open relationships, and relationship anarchy. It is sometimes lumped in with polygamy — a tradition of husbands taking on multiple wives, practiced in many parts of the Muslim world and by some Mormon offshoots — especially by outsiders with only a glancing familiarity with the subject. But practitioners of both systems tend to see themselves as quite distinct, even if the general public does not.
Now the recent marriage of three women in Brazil has some activists wondering, “Is polyamory next?”
Exact numbers for individuals practicing non-monogamy can be maddeningly hard to come by. But most researchers estimate that a full 4–5 percent of Americans participate in some form of ethical non-monogamy. In her Psychology Today blog post on May 9, 2014, Elisabeth Sheff relates the findings of independent Australian academic Kelly Cookson:
“It appears that sexually non-monogamous couples in the United States number in the millions. Estimates based on actually trying sexual non-monogamy are around 1.2 to 2.4 million. An estimate based solely on the agreement to allow satellite lovers is around 9.8 million. These millions include poly couples, swinging couples, gay male couples, and other sexually non-monogamous couples.”
Who they are may surprise you.
A 2012 survey of 4,062 poly-identified individuals ages 16 to 92 conducted by Loving More — a polyamory support and advocacy organization — found a number of interesting data points.
There are more women than men: Essentially half of the respondents (49.5 percent) identified as female, while only 35.4 percent identified as male. The remaining 15.1 percent either declined to choose between male and female or wrote in “third” genders such as two-spirit and genderqueer.
The survey didn’t ask respondents to state their sexual orientation, but about half of the female respondents and about a fifth of the male respondents were actively bisexual, having had sex with both men and women within the preceding 12 months. When compared with the general population — by way of the biennial General Social Survey (GSS) — the self-identified poly population was slightly, but significantly, happier than the general population, and better educated.
At least 25.8 percent of those taking the survey, however, had personally experienced discrimination because of their lifestyle.
But the data from a March 2015 Gallup poll clearly shows a growing tolerance for relationships and situations outside the bounds of traditional monogamous marriage.
Compared with similar data collected by Gallup in 2001 and 2002, there has been a 15 percent growth in those who view sex between an unmarried man and woman as morally acceptable, and an increase of 16 percent in the acceptability of having a baby out of wedlock. Acceptance of divorce is up 12 percent. And tolerance for “polygamy” is up to 16 percent, which may not seem like much, but it’s more than twice the 7 percent who found it to be morally acceptable in 2001. Support for each of these indicators is at an all-time high.
In the court of public opinion, however, not all consensual non-monogamous relationships are created equal. A paper published online in September 2013 in the journal Psychology & Sexuality found that those in polyamorous relationships are seen in a more positive light than either swingers or those in open relationships. In 13 different areas there were significant perceived differences between the three consensual non-monogamy strategies under scrutiny. Those in polyamorous relationships were regarded as more moral, more motivated by duty (rather than pleasure), and more family-oriented than swingers and those in open ...
The depiction of BDSM in popular films suffered a blow from which it will not easily recover with the release of Fifty Shades of Gray. While it was unfortunately many people’s introduction to the topic, bloggers from all corners of the internet have derided the relationship pictured in Fifty Shades for what it really is: abuse masquerading as kink. But twenty-four years ago, a family comedy centered on a couple who liked to torture each other for pleasure gave audiences a much healthier glimpse at BDSM.
Netflix describes the movie as “Stepping out of the pages of Charles Addams’ cartoons and the 1960s television series, members of the beloved, macabre family take it to the big screen.” Some scenes from the 1991 film The Addams Family are indeed straight out of the Charles Addams comic on which it's based, like when the family douses a group of Christmas carolers with a cauldron full of steaming liquid. Others — like Morticia trimming the heads off of roses to arrange the stems in a vase — are exact recreations of the ‘60s TV series.
But what separates the film from the Family’s earlier iterations (besides, you know, colour) is the reciprocal nature of Gomez and Morticia’s relationship. The tired and offensive trope of an uninterested woman pursued by a lascivious man has appeared over and over again since the advent of television, and though Gomez and Morticia always exhibited a love and respect for each other stronger than nearly all TV couples, even the ‘60s version of Morticia had to rein Gomez in from time to time. Obviously this has a lot to do with the media mores of the time… but unfortunately, those sentiments still prevail today. And that’s why the The Addams Family film is so unique in its depiction of relationships.
The Addams’ lawyer Tully and his wife Margaret exemplify a sadly more familiar and cynical marriage: two people who ostensibly can’t stand each other but feel forced to stay together. The loathing is definitely mutual: when Margaret asks rhetorically, “Why did I marry you?” Tully responds, “Because I said yes!” The “unhappily married” cliché exists to varying degrees in most American media, to the point where Gomez and Morticia’s contrasting relationship is noteworthy.
The Addams constantly become enrapt with each other, getting sidetracked by each other’s allure, recalling their first meeting fondly, waltzing presumably numerous times a day. Morticia’s first lines of the movie, as the ever-present ghostly light with seemingly no source illuminates her eyes, describe Gomez’s sexual behaviour the night before: “Last night you were unhinged. You were like some desperate howling demon. You frightened me.” The camera zooms closer while she adds: “Do it again.” That’s right: the very first lines between the couple aren’t just a rare example of a man and woman who have been married for some time who can actually stand to be around each other. These lines, and the couple themselves, are an example of consensual BDSM. ...
The year 2015 was a landmark one for same-sex couples in America—the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, and even before the decision, some 390,000 gay couples had already gotten hitched in states like Massachusetts and New York. The Washington Post projected that number would increase nationwide to 500,000 by the end of the year.
What makes these newly married couples unique is more than their gender. Surveys indicate that a high percentage of same-sex relationships—particularly among queer men—are non-monogamous, and often even after marriage.
Over the past decade and a half, studies from San Francisco State University and Alliant International University have found that around half of gay relationships are open. This rate is considerably higher than for heterosexual and lesbian couples, but it’s difficult to say by how much exactly, due to the widespread lack of substantive research on the subject. (After all, SFSU’s Gay Couples Study was back in 2010.)
Conservative estimates suggest that less than 1 percent of all married couples are in an open relationship, but other approximations are much higher. Back in 1983, the authors of American Couples, Phillip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, found that around 15 percent of committed partners—whether homo or heterosexual—had agreements that allowed for some degree of flexibility.
Writer and sex columnist Dan Savage famously described these arrangements as “monogamish”—“mostly monogamous, not swingers, not actively looking.” And even more couples are in them than you think. I’d say that the Alliant and SFU figures are a tad low, at least for gays. I can’t speak for lesbian couples, but few queer men I know—including myself—are in relationships that are exclusively, 100-percent monogamous. Some couples occasionally invite a third into the bedroom for a night of play, while others independently arrange their own casual hookups. Some men might even have long-term partners outside their primary relationship.
In a 2013 column for Slate, Hanna Rosin called non-monogamy the gay community’s “dirty little secret,” citing a study from the ’80s, which showed that up to 82 percent of gay couples had sex with other people. That number sounds about right to me, but here’s the thing: It’s not dirty and it’s hardly a secret, at least if you know where to look.
Monogamish couples are a constant presence on apps like Grindr and Scruff, which allow gay men to connect with other men to chat or hook up. Users commonly describe themselves as “dating,” “in an open relationship,” “partnered,” or “married,” while others set up an account with their partner if they’re looking to play together.
I spoke to one couple that hasn’t let marriage get in the way of their Scruff account. Eric, 34, and Martin, 33, walked down the aisle last October after dating for five years. Like many gay couples, they were initially monogamous, although with “infrequent and informal” exceptions. “Think post-bar bathhouse outings,” Eric explained. But after creating a profile together on Scruff a few years ago, the couple agreed on a set of boundaries. “We only sleep with people together, we have to both communicate with the person to some extent before we meet up, and the guy has to very clearly be attracted to both of us,” Eric said.
Like nearly everyone I spoke to, the pair had few gay friends that were in monogamous relationships, and Martin believes it’s because there are fewer rules and expectations around gay relationships. “I think we don’t have heteronormative templates that we have to subscribe to,” Martin said. “There’s just not that same kind of pressure to be monogamous when you’re gay.” ...