The open relationship between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is frequently and wrongly written off. Such arrangements have women-friendly roots
by Laura Smith
“People have had open marriages for ever … But they never end up working long-term.”
That statement by the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher must have been news to Simone de Beauvoir, the famously non-monogamous French feminist existentialist.
Fisher’s pronouncement, quoted in the New York Times recently, would also be questioned by the numerous celebrities said to have “arrangements”, and the half million or so of Fisher’s fellow Americans giving polyamory a try.
De Beauvoir considered her open relationship with Sartre the “one undoubted success in my life”. In terms of longevity, they had about half of us beat: their relationship, which allowed for affairs while they remained essential partners, lasted 51 years until Sartre’s death in 1980. Now, 30 years after De Beauvoir’s death, many of the criticisms of polyamory are rooted in the same stifling beliefs about female sexuality that she strove to dismantle in her day.
Take for example, the bias that “women only open up their relationships to please variety-seeking men”, which Anna North admitted was often assumed to be the case in an article on why we should be less “freaked out” by polyamory. In a piece for the New Yorker, Louis Menand argued that Sartre was a “womaniser” and De Beauvoir a “classic enabler”, going so far as to suggest that she feigned bisexuality to please him, and that parts of The Second Sex were written as a plea to him, reducing one of the 20th century’s greatest intellectual works to a marital squabble. De Beauvoir’s biographer, Deirdre Bair, argued that she was “subservient” to Sartre, and Hazel Rowley, in Tête-à-Tête, leaned heavily on scenes of De Beauvoir crying in cafes. But at the core of the assumption that non-monogamous women are doing what men want – not what they want – is a more pervasive assumption about female sexuality: it is men who have complex sexual needs, not women.
But as Libby Copeland argued, polyamory has woman-friendly roots: “Free love rejected the tyranny of conventional marriage, and particularly how it limited women’s lives to child-bearing, household drudgery, legal powerlessness, and, often enough, loveless sex.”
In an article on straight poly-relationships in Seattle, Jessica Bennett writes that, “the community has a decidedly feminist bent: women have been central to its creation, and ‘gender equality’ is a publicly recognised tenet of the practice”.
The actress Mo’Nique says that her open relationship was her idea. Simone de Beauvoir didn’t see herself as a tag-along polyamorist either. Attracted to both men and women, her open relationship meant that she didn’t have to choose between them. She felt the “urge to embrace all experience”, saw the ability to act on desire as essential to liberating oneself from male sovereignty, and was seeking to answer the question that we still grapple with today: “Is there any possible reconciliation between fidelity and freedom?” Polyamory, according to Copeland, was not just about sex, but about “remaking one’s own little corner of the world”, a terrifying prospect to those who want the world to remain the same, especially when it comes to established gender roles. ...
Our vision begins with our desires. - Audre Lorde.
What vision do you have for your intimate relationship future?
What if you had a choice to structure, quantify, and love without another’s manufactured design?
With generous intention, this symposium celebrates the unique way that we love and relate. With enthusiasm, we express our relational intimacy, emotional capacity, and sexual fluidity with tenacity and fervor. The consequence of inhibition and oppression is to be held captive by socially constructed parameters. Our symposium aims to educate, expose, and disseminate the knowledge and expertise of the authors of Designer Relationships, national speakers, community organizers, mental health practitioners, and creative spirited individuals who have lived and advocated for surpassing those parameters.
Your celebratory experiences occur on July 22-23, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Our Saturday Night Keynote Speaker is innovator and educator Tristan Taormino. Our Friday Night Opening Speaker is very talented speaker and galvanizing force Joe Kort PhD and our Saturday Afternoon Jazz Brunch Speaker is the brilliant and very powerful force within black sexologist and sex therapy community, James Wadley PhD. Our symposium’s name “Designer Relationships” is inspired by the book of the same name, Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships, which was written by multi-award winning authors, Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson. The author’s approved our symposium using the name and both of the authors agreed to attend our symposium as our Banquet Q&A panelists! Our Friday Night Entertainment is Dem Damn Dames Burlesque Troupe with featured sensual, fluid, and gender bending performers: Tifa Tittlywinks, Onyx Fury, and Chess Shires.
The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), a San Francisco non-profit community research organization, announces that on April 1st, 2016 it will launch the first ever national survey to examine the impact of kink sexuality on health and healthcare usage.
Why the survey?
Patients who engage in non-traditional sexual practices, including kink, BDSM, and fetishes (see terminology, below), have been largely ignored by healthcare providers and clinical researchers. TASHRA’s research strives to explore the interaction between kink and health, and specifically to describe the physical and mental health of the kink population, their use of healthcare, and their experiences engaging with the healthcare system.
TASHRA’s pilot study (manuscript in review), was a qualitative study based in the San Francisco Bay Area, conducted from 2013-2015. The study concluded that patients have genuine healthcare needs relating to their kink practices and identities, and that they wish to “come out” to their clinicians about their kink sexuality. However, only 38% are out to their current primary care clinician, with most citing fear of stigma as the reason for their non-disclosure.
TASHRA’s pilot study was conducted in a single urban setting, and the results should be generalized with caution. As a qualitative study, the results serve to bring salient issues to light, but do not provide statistics relating to the frequency of the findings, nor do they permit comparisons between subgroups of study participants.
The next step in TASHRA’s research agenda, then, is to distribute a survey to a national kink population, which will allow us to quantify the impact of kink on both physical and mental health, and examine nation-wide issues of healthcare access, specifically as they relate to the experience of healthcare-related stigma.
TASHRA will be recruiting U.S. adults, 18 years and older, who practice at least one non-traditional sexual behavior or fetish, including but not limited to: bondage/discipline, sadism/masochism, domination/submission, sexual role-play, or sexual objectification.
The survey is available online at: http://tinyurl.com/kinkhealth. It will be advertised at kink conferences and community events across the country, along with kink-oriented social media sites and Facebook.
More about TASHRA:
TASHRA is a community-based organization whose mission is to improve the physical and mental health of people who engage in BDSM, kink and sexual fetishism. This is achieved by conducting community-based research, educating healthcare professionals and patients, and by fostering the development of kink-friendly healthcare services.
TASHRA was started in 2012 by Jess Waldura, MD, Richard Sprott, PhD, and Anna Randal, MPH MSW. Jess Waldura, MD, is a family physician, HIV provider, and researcher at UCSF. Richard Sprott, PhD, is a developmental psychologist and director of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS). Anna Randall, MPH MSW, is a clinical sexologist and researcher in private practice. TASHRA is guided and supported by a Community Advisory Board consisting of 16 kink-identified community members.
In the fall of 2009, I started Bay Area Open Minds a clinician networking group for psychotherapists and psychotherapy students who affirm that sexual and gender diversity are natural expressions of the human experience. Our psychotherapy practices welcome and serve clients who engage in consensual sexual behaviors, including but not limited to kink and polyamory and clients who are gender variant. One of our primary goals was to provide mentorship and community to students seeking support in working with these communities who may not be getting such support in their graduate programs.
We now have over 160 mental health professionals in our thriving group. We have an active listserv where we can seek consultation and referrals. And we have developed a brochure and website so that clients can find clinicians and graduate programs can advertise our group.
We’d love to help other communities to create their own groups. If you’re interested in starting one, here are our recommendations.
1. If you are a student, find a Kink Aware Professional or Poly-Friendly Professional in your community and inquire as to whether they are willing to be a support/contact person to initiate group. It can be very stressful to take this on as a student but immensely helpful to have the support of licensed colleagues.
2. Our approach was to send the announcement to local LGBT therapy groups, graduate programs, local Kink Aware Therapists and Poly-Friendly colleagues who were known to Dr. Kolmes, founder of our group.
3. We got some more visibility through newspapers, at some graduate schools, through Good Vibrations magazine, and social media.
4. The first flyer was a blog post on Dr. Kolmes’s website and a paper announcement posted in public spaces. It read:
Please join our group: Bay Area Therapists Affirming of Diversity in Sexuality
This is a free group for mental health professionals in the Bay Area of California. We offer support, networking, and consultation for Bay Area clinicians and mental health trainees who embrace the full range of sexual expression of consenting adults. Our respective practices explicitly welcome and serve clients who engage in alternative sexual behaviors and relationships, including kink and poly folks.
We offer an email list (no consultation takes place on-list) and meet every other month at a member’s office.
We are especially interested in reaching out to students who may not have mentors or support in their clinical programs around working with sexually diverse populations. Most clinical programs encourage students to explore their cultural identities and offer student groups organized around ethnicity, religion, LGBT-identity, disability, or other cultural affiliations.
But students who are kink or poly-identified or who want to work with these populations may have a more difficult time identifying one another and forming such groups. Many schools still don’t recognize these alternative identities as deserving of non-biased care and respect. We are seeking to bridge this gap. We offer a safe space to connect with other mental health professionals who are affirming of the full range of diverse sexual expression.
Contact me if you would like to get connected with us.
5. Our first meeting had 8 clinicians show up and the group evolved to monthly two hour meetings. Volunteer efforts started with naming of our group and we came up with Open Minds. After 3 years, we formed our Board of Directors and began collecting dues. At that point, we created a logo, website, and brochures.
Our aim was to keep membership fees low so as to make our group accessible to students.
6. Having funding became important because while our local queer therapist group was amenable to our sharing booth space with them at some events temporarily, we needed funds in order to be able to purchase our own booth space and have an independent presence at street fairs.
7. Towards end of the first year with Board of Directors (June, 2012) , we consulted with a Certified Public Accountant for pursuit of non-profit status and submitted forms to the Tax Board to become tax exempt professional organization. When we have funds in excess of $5000, we may apply for non-profit status, or we can donate to community groups to keep our funds in the $5000 range.
8. Over time, we found that there is a strong need for a social and networking component to our group. Additionally, the email list has continued to be a good resource for seeking referrals and information. We have also been able to offer educational offerings such as managing sexual transference and countertransference as well as business networking issues. We also had a discussion on working with mono/poly pairings.
We hope we can encourage other communities to develop similar groups. It is clear that clinicians serving altsex and gender diverse communities can benefit from support and networking.
Join us and help serve as role models to student therapists in your community.
DirecTV's new series You, Me, Her is testing the limits of television with its push for threesomes and beyond.
Created by John Scott Shepherd, the show hopes to normalize polyamory and “unconventional relationships” in the culture.
Shepherd confirmed to The Contenders Emmys panel Sunday that the show aims to paint polyamory in a realistic way. The average person such as the viewer could find himself or herself in this atypical situation, he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, You, Me, Her was inspired by an article in the raunchy Playboy magazine.
“I think people are going to be very surprised,” said Faia of her new role. “The show’s not about sex, it’s about connection and relationships."
Faia said she was aware of the nature of the show’s theme, but she hoped the audience could accept it.
“I think a lot of people have this expectation of what this show is going to be,” she said. “You see this guy, who’s married, who is possibly maybe having a threesome with these two women but I think it is so different from that. It’s totally told from a unique perspective. It’s about the average joe, this suburban couple that are really falling for this girl and she is falling for them.”
Faia said the show is not only funny but also relatable. She refrained from mentioning the commonness of polyamory in the United States, which is estimated to be around 4 percent of the population. ...
Cohabitators are outlaws again, but Utah says it won't go fishing.
A three-judge federal appeals court panel on Monday handed a setback to the burgeoning polyamorous rights movement, reversing a lower court ruling that decriminalized polygamous cohabitation in Utah.
The case was brought by the five-spouse Brown family of "Sister Wives" reality TV fame after local authorities openly investigated them for violating a state law against multispouse living arrangements. The family intends to appeal the latest ruling, their attorney Jonathan Turley said in a statement.
The Browns are fundamentalist Mormons who argue the U.S. Constitution allows them to live according to the teachings of their faith. They fled Lehi, Utah, in January 2011 after a deputy Utah County attorney quipped the family "made it easier for us by admitting to felonies on national TV."
In 2013, the family won a first-of-its-kind ruling from U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, who ruled the First Amendment protected the Browns from such a ban and that – in light of the 2003 Supreme Court decision shielding consensual same-sex sodomy from state laws – such a prohibition also violates the Constitution's Due Process Clause.
The law challenged by the Browns says "a person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person." Waddoups ordered "or cohabits with another person" be deleted and narrowed the meaning of "purports to marry" but allowed a ban on multiple marriage licenses.
Like most other polygamists, Kody Brown only is legally married to his first wife, Meri, though he has children and lives with each of the four women. The family currently lives in Nevada.
On appeal, state officials argued the Browns had no right to sue, as the Utah County Attorney's Office had adopted a policy mooting the case in 2012, after the lawsuit was filed but before Waddoup's ruling. The prosecutor's office policy allows for prosecution of bigamy only under two conditions: when someone remarries without dissolving their first marriage or when bigamous couples or unwedded cohabitators are "also engaged in some type of abuse, violence or fraud."
Though Waddoups dismissed the policy as an attempt to avoid a ruling on the Browns' claims, the appeals court judges found the policy did moot the case and overturned Waddoups' ruling without consideration of the consitutional issues. ...
The singer said she is “unafraid” of any criticism of her lifestyle
By ALISTAIR FOSTER
Vaults singer Blythe Pepino says she is happy to talk about being polyamorous and does not consider it to be “a big deal”.
The 30-year-old, who fronts the London-based electronica group, is in relationships with a man, a woman and another couple and insists she is “unafraid” of any criticism of her lifestyle.
Vaults — whose other members are Ben Vella and Barney Freeman, both 35 — have clocked up almost 20 million YouTube views without releasing an album.
Ellie Goulding, Alt-J and Bastille are among their fans and they had a song on the soundtrack to 50 Shades Of Grey.
Pepino said: “I’m quite a free person when it comes to relationships. I’ve got more than one relationship and as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. Because in my world I’ve been living like this for quite a long time, it’s not that big a deal. I’m big into open communicationand honesty between people and in relationships. I think a lot of people find that a crazy idea, but it’s not really if you just look into it. ...
Polyamory can come with many partners and many misconceptions. Newsy's Cody LaGrow asks a polyamorous unit what it's really all about.
By Cody LaGrow
Caroline is married to Josie. Caroline is also in a committed relationship with Adam. They share one house and two kids, and they all call the shots under the same roof. This is a polyamorous relationship.
Polyamory, the philosophy or state of being emotionally and sexually involved with more than one person at the same time, comes with many misconceptions. Caroline, Josie and Adam cleared up questions many may have about polyamory.
Newsy's Cody LaGrow: Do you think monogamy is unrealistic?
Caroline: "No. I hate the idea of polyamory and monogamy being pitted against each other. Obviously, one thing that makes polyamory different than monagamy is, in theory, you are having sex with multiple partners. But it's not just about sex. You are loving multiple partners. And that's really what polyamory is about. It's about love. And that expression of love usually leads to sex."
Cody: How often do you hear that you're having your cake and eating it, too?
Josie: "You hear it ... and that it's just different. I think a lot of people view us as these weirdos on the fringes of society, but to us, it feels weird to not have a choice. And just sort of default to monogamy because that's what everybody does."
Adam: "I found that monogamy, sort of, constrained my ideas about love. Like, I needed to find the one person for me. That is a huge thing to go about doing."
Caroline: "What do we in society call 'the one'? The one romantic person in your life, the one sexual person in your life, your best friend, the one person who is going to give you financial security, the one person who is going to give you family security, who you're going to have children with, who you're going to build all of these things with. And I think in a lot of societies and a lot cultures, we rely on more than one person to do that." ...