“Polyamory is a challenging lifestyle to live. We are not socialized to live this way and there are very few media models that demonstrate people actively living these lifestyles,” says Dr. Danielle Duplassie, a Burnaby registered clinical counsellor and sex therapist who works with non-traditional couples.
This weekend the University of California, Berkeley hosts the International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Non-Monogamy, devoted to scientific and academic research on polyamory, open relationships, swinging and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. (Sample session titles include “Are Polyamory and Cheating all That Different,” “Jealousy Management,” “Issues in Polyamorous Parenting” and “Love Is Always Non-Monogamous.”)
Traditionalists view those practising polyamory with incredulity – “I give them a year,” being the common refrain. But it’s also no cakewalk for its own practitioners.
“Finding a good fit for two people is challenging. Finding a good fit with more than two people is even more challenging, even if sex isn’t involved in the dynamic for everyone,” says Duplassie. Here, the sexologist talks myths, realities and challenges in polyamorous and open relationships.
Pathologies To the outside world, non-monogamous couples often appear in denial about their own imperviousness to jealousy, and worse: “The biggest misconception is that people assume that these types of relationships are an indication of pathology. I’ve heard both academics and lay people question those in open relationships, making assumptions about their ability to make commitment and questioning their attachment style.”
Different strokes Some couples forge a primary union with outside partners serving sexual or platonic needs. Others practising non-monogamy prefer multiple relationships that are independent of one another. “Sometimes people will negotiate certain sexual roles with different partners as a way to get a variety of sexual needs met,” Duplassie says. “Maybe the primary partner will serve as the ‘home base’ for the sexual relationship, while a secondary partner is strictly for particular forms of sex play.”
Rules of the game Open communication and rule-setting are cornerstones of polyamory. Some rules are simple, such as “no sleepovers.” Others regulations seem laughable, such as “no falling in love.” But Duplassie says even here, there are some common workarounds. “For those who are consensually non-monogamous, the rule of ‘no falling in love’ is tricky to abide by. Most people are not aware of how attachment and bonding occur at a neurobiological level. Humans start falling in love when they spend increasing amounts of time with one another and touch one another. These acts release oxytocin in the brain, which is the hormone associated with bonding. By limiting time spent and limiting physical proximity, people can reduce the likelihood of falling in love. It’s not something that works all of the time. If people are not getting basic emotional needs met within their primary relationship, this puts a person at risk of falling in love.” ...
Sadomasochism is defined as sexual behavior that involves getting pleasure from causing or feeling pain. Previously thought to be a pathological practice, current research has found no evidence of harmful effects as a result of sadomasochism.
Scientists have found sadomasochism may actually lead to a meditative experience and that such practices are not entirely about sex. Two studies, one conducted by James Ambler of Northern Illinois University and the other by Brad Sagarin of Northern Illinois University, have found that these painful, sexual practices actually contribute to an altered state of consciousness.
The first study involved participants who were assigned to either the "receiving pain" role or the "giving pain" role. Before and after the sexual tests, the participants completed a cognitive test as well as questionnaires that sought to examine their brain function. Results of the cognitive test revealed that the "receiving pain" participants had poorer results, which led the researchers to believe that the pain caused by the sexual experience actually may have caused blood to flow away from the region of the brain that is responsible for executive control and working memory. This is believed to alter one's state of consciousness, particularly to a state of focus and enjoyment.
The second study focused on a pain ritual in a nonsexual atmosphere. Sagarin's participants were involved in a ritual called the "Dance of Souls" in which people received temporary skin piercings that were pulled by rope while music was being played. These "energy pulls," as they are called, were shown to make the participants feel less stressed after they filled out surveys about stress, emotions, and flow (the state of focus and enjoyment).
The researchers found that these practices may elicit similar feelings that one experiences during yoga or meditation. Additionally, the participants reported that they feel more connected to others when experiencing pain. While this may shoot down previous beliefs about sadomasochism, Ambler and Sagarin believe that further research is needed. More specifically, they want a closer minute-by-minute monitoring of these participants.
Many couples are finding meaning in loving, open relationships.
Mail & Guardian
By Rosemund Handler
The Ravenhearts, a polyamorist couple, defined polyamory for the Oxford English Dictionary as "the practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved".
On a recent visit to a well-established centre of polyamory – Berkeley, California – I was instructed in the norms and bylaws by a long-term polyamorist who is clearly convinced it's the way to go: "It's perpetual harmony between the sexes, man, amazing sex in an atmosphere completely lacking in the negative and destructive emotions."
"Sixties free love in disguise?" I suggest. My adviser disagrees vehemently. "Polyamory is nothing like free love. It's about honest communication with good, loving intentions; it's about eroticism in all its forms; it's about inclusivity."
"No swinging at all?" I ask.
He frowns. "Swinging is just expenditure of energy, man. No love there, just raw physicality – like let's do it, then move on and do it again, maybe with two or three others."
He tells me he has been poly for years and that polyamorists "connect and communicate. We value the integrity of our connection".
Ryam Nearing of the organisation Loving More agrees. He says polyamory is about powerful sexual and emotional relationships.
I ask my expert about married people. Married is fine – if the partner agrees to participate, or agrees but refuses to participate.
"I used to be possessive about my girlfriend until I found out that her polyamory didn't turn me off; rather the reverse. And the more I thought about it the more I wanted some of her genuine cool about loving other people as well as me. It took a while but it worked for me."
I ask whether they're still together (they're not) and whether she is still polyamorous. He shakes his head. Apparently she wanted something different when she had a kid.
Is the child his? He shrugs. "I don't think so. She doesn't know for sure who the father is. Which is fine too; for a while I contributed financially, as did the others."
The Jim Evans poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal stripes, with a symbol in the centre. Blue is for honesty, red for passion and black for solidarity with those who must conceal their relationships because of social pressures.
Most of mainstream established religions do not accept polyamory. But recently a prominent New York rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, said that biblical patriarchs had many wives and concubines, and there is no reason for the practice not to work today.
In 1929, Marriage and Morals by Bertrand Russell questioned Victorian notions of morality regarding sex and marriage; his views prompted vigorous condemnation. Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence and others provoked a similar reaction. ...
Sadomasochism, or sexual enjoyment from giving or receiving pain, may be a meditative experience and in some cases may lead to an altered state of consciousness, new research suggests.
Consensual sadomasochism was long considered pathological, but psychologists studying people interested in BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) have failed to find evidence that these sexual practices are harmful. One study, published in May 2013, actually found that practitioners of BDSM were better off than the general population in some ways, including having secure relationships and lower anxiety. Currently, the psychiatrists' definitive handbook, the DSM-5, lists BDSM as a paraphilia, or unusual sexual fixation, but only classifies it as a disorder if it causes harm.
If sadomasochism is not a pathology as once believed, the question is why some people engage in these painful sexual behaviors, said James Ambler, a graduate student in psychology at Northern Illinois University.
"It seems, on the surface, very paradoxical," Ambler told Live Science.
To find out, Ambler recruited "switches," or people in the SM community who like both receiving pain and giving pain. Fourteen switches, 10 of whom were women, agreed to be assigned one of those two roles for the night by roll of the die.
Before and after their sexual experience, the volunteers completed a cognitive test called the Stroop task, in which they saw a word for a color written in a color other than what the word said ("blue" written in red, for example). It's hard for the brain to read the word correctly when the color of the letters clashes with the meaning, making this a widely used test of cognitive abilities. The volunteers also filled out questionnaires about their feelings of "flow" during the sadomasochistic experience. Flow is a state of focus and enjoyment that people feel when fully immersed in a task.
The results showed that people playing the pain-receiving role showed poorer Stroop task scores, which are seen with short-term reductions of functions in a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortexAmbler said. This region is linked to executive control, working memory and other higher-level functions.
The pain that comes with sadomasochistic sex may cause the brain to shunt blood flow away from this region, causing a subjectively altered state of consciousness — and the appeal of SM, Ambler said.
"Part of the reason these SM activities may be so extreme, at some level, is that they're particularly effective at causing the brain to change its distribution of blood flow," he said.
People on the giving end of the pain got benefits, too. Both sides of the equation reported similar levels of flow during their sexual "scene."
Spiritual, not sexual
The findings hint that sadomasochism isn't entirely about sex. A second study, conducted by Ellen Lee, a graduate student in psychology at Northern Illinois University, with her advisor, Brad Sagarin, and their BDSM Research Team, focused on a nonsexual — but very painful — ritual performed by some in the community.
Called the "Dance of Souls," this ritual involves people getting temporary skin piercings, through which hooks attached to ropes are placed. The ropes of one person are connected to those on others in the group or to a fixed object and are pulled taut as music or drums are played. These events are also known as "energy pulls" and are seen as primarily spiritual, not sexual, Sagarin told Live Science.
The researchers surveyed 22 participants in one of these rituals at a kink community conference in California. Five participants who were hooked agreed to participate, as well as nine supporters (who make sure group members are OK during the ritual) and eight observers. The participants filled out surveys about their stress, emotions, flow and the extent to which they felt their own selves overlapped with others at the event. They also gave saliva samples to test their cortisol, a hormone that spikes during stress.
Unsurprisingly, given the pain, cortisol levels went up during the ritual. But something odd happened: Participants reported feeling less stressed.
"We see this interesting disconnect," Sagarin said. "We think this may be indicative of the types of altered states of consciousness people might be seeking."
The effect might not be so different from what people experience when they push their bodies during yoga, or even during meditation, he said. People who complete the energy pull ritual also report feeling more connected to others, he added. ...
How one lawyer helps those, like her, in non-traditional relationships
by Roc Morin
“When I was a child,” Diana Adams began, “I had a doll house and a rich fantasy life. I imagined that I was a cancer-curing surgeon, a world-class ballerina, and a TV show host all at the same time. I was also an amazing mom to all my dolls, but it was always a little mysterious about where they had come from and whether they all had the same father. A little neighbor boy once said to me, ‘I’ll be the daddy.’ I thought about that for a moment. I said, ‘No, you can be my gay lounge singer friend. That’s much more fun.’ I’ve always liked boys. I just like them better in groups.”
Why does polyamory work for you?
I remember from a very young age realizing that I was bisexual, and that I tended to be attracted to many different people at the same time. I really think that polyamory for me is an orientation, like being heterosexual or homosexual. Humans in general have a hard time with monogamy. That’s always been the case. We used to have a sense that it was acceptable for husbands to go out and have other lovers, but with the shift to egalitarianism, rather than to say that woman could do that too, we’ve gone in the other direction.
What are the consequences of that, do you think?
I think it's interesting to see the way that when people get into a monogamous couple dynamic, they often have to neuter their sexual desires. As the initial intensity of a relationship shifts to feelings of long-term love, you can end up in a sexless marriage, and I think that’s a huge contributor to infidelity and the breakup of a lot of families. We put so much emphasis on a partner being everything—that this person completes you—and when that doesn’t happen it creates a lot of pressure. I don't think that open relationships are for everyone but it's something that you should no longer feel ashamed to talk about at a time when so many marriages are failing.
What do your other lovers give you that your primary partner can’t?
Well, for example, with my female partners, I feel a different kind of power dynamic. I feel a protective impulse toward women I’m involved with. It's a different kind of love feeling. My partner Ed is a wonderful feminist man, though sometimes I’d really like to be out on a date with the kind of man who wants to open car doors for me and treat me like a princess. I don't want that all the time, but I might want that once a month.
How do your different lovers get along with one another?
They’re really good friends. The men even have a name for themselves. They call themselves “The Man Harem.” Sometimes they’ll play with that. They’ll all show up in matching clothes – wearing all pinstripes, or all red shirts, for example. They’re friends and they help each other. For instance, I just had my birthday and my partner Ed is off doing amazing work as a scientist. As a consolation, my long-term boyfriend is staying in the house for the week. So, rather than my boyfriend saying, “Wow why's your partner going out of town when it's your birthday?” he’s asking if my partner is okay having to be away for so long, if he needs support. And my partner is saying, “Thanks for taking care of Diana since I can’t be there.” There’s a real feeling of compersion. Compersion is the opposite of jealousy. ...
To obtain licensure as a mental health professional, virtually all clinicians go through a process referred to as “supervision.” Having a supervisor is best described as a formal mentoring process requiring hundreds of hours of observation, training and coaching. One problem faced by the kink community is a shortage of therapists that have clinical awareness in basic sexuality, let alone advanced expertise in fetishes, cross-dressing, gender-variance, BDSM and open relationships. For clinicians seeking certification as a sex therapist, finding a supervisor is no easy trick.
One reason NCSF has made such a large commitment to Kink Aware Professionals (KAP) over the years is to facilitate the process for those in the kinky village to locate qualified professionals quickly during a time of need. That’s why I’m a long-time member of KAP, so I can help make a difference.
And that’s one reason why, a few months ago, I became Certified as a Supervisor of Sex Therapy by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors & Therapists (AASECT). Now, along with being a Certified Sex Therapist, I can supervisor other mental health professionals seeking certification as a sex therapist anywhere in the world via Skype.
Most therapists are kind people with the best of intentions. However similar to physicians, most therapists lack training in the vast nuances of human sexuality. Nothing breaks my heart more than when people tell me they were made to feel bad by their very own therapist who judged them or lacked skill in the way they dealt with the delicate subtleties of sexuality. By supervising the next generation of sex therapists, I really do get to bring sex positive methods of therapy to individuals, couples, families, and villages across the globe.
I first became involved with the NCSF in 2001 when the NCSF filed suit along-side famed fetish photographer, Barbara Nitke, in a case involving censorship and the Supreme Court. I recall feeling deep admiration and respect that a gifted lone artist (Barbara Nitke) and a small but incredibly determined non-profit (NCSF), who stood fast in their values to take on the Attorney General of the United States. It was a stand to keep government out of our bedrooms and although we didn’t win the case, Barbara and the NCSF made a difference. I’ve had a special fondness and affinity for the NCSF ever since.
Neil is in private practice as a Certified Sex Therapist in Denver, Colorado. He is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Professor of Marriage & Family Therapy. In addition to a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Neil has post-graduate certification in treating LGBT Family Systems. Neil teaches and donates his time lecturing to graduate level counseling students at virtually every leading college and university throughout Colorado. He takes great delight in helping graduate students to embrace sexual diversity rather than be intimidated by it. http://doctorcannon.com/
When you first walk in, you'll be amazed by just how gorgeous the home is. Hardwood floors, modern-day appliances, black granite countertops, and a beautiful outdoor patio with a hot tub for up to several people.
You may also be amazed by how many naked people there are.
"Mr. Sparks" — whose real name Business Insider agreed to conceal — organizes sex parties for up to 150 people at this house in Brooklyn, New York, about once a month.
Although the idea of a gigantic orgy of more than 100 people might seem intimidating, it's more likely that you'll feel right at home once you get there. The dingy stereotype of New York swingers' clubs — Plato's Retreat, the infamous 1970s swingers' club, was held in a basement — is swept away by the tasteful interior of this brick row house.
Sparks started throwing the parties about four years ago, after attending one in Manhattan. He loved the concept, but says the execution was severely lacking. He felt the dancers were terrible, and didn't like the way the hosts made fun of some the guests.
Luckily for him, he had a wealthy friend who wanted to help him with a new venture, and offered up his house to host the parties. The pair live in apartments above the main living area of the house.
Plenty of parties to choose from.
In Brooklyn alone, there are now a slew of different sex parties for the adventurous to choose from.
Submit, for example, is a sex party for women and trans-gender people in Park Slope. That means no "cisgendered" men (men who identify with the male gender) are allowed. Chemistry, on the other hand, is only for single women and couples.
People who come to the Sparks house either come alone or with like-minded friends. This isn't your average swingers party, where couples come to find a third — or fourth — lover. They come for a fun night of conversation and usually sex, but are not required to participate. Sometimes, people go simply to make new friends.
Unlike other sometimes gender- or sexuality-exclusive sex parties, Sparks says, there are people who may identify as gay, straight, bisexual, queer, or even "awesomesexual."
There's also a mix of professionals who attend, like lawyers, doctors, and teachers. Everyone is accepted, as long as you're at least 18 years old.
"We're a bunch of adults and we've come together because we're all slutty and want to rub our genitals against each other in as many extreme ways as possible," Sparks says. "That's funny. You get to laugh about it. If you can't laugh at sex, you're missing out. Sex should not be hyper-serious. It's real funny." ...
Despite taboos, some students delve into kink, group sex, polyamory or open relationships
The Brown Daily Herald
By Emily Wooldridge
Lynne could not decide what color to wear to the stoplight party. An open relationship doesn’t come in colors red, yellow or green.
“Do I wear green because I can hook up with people or yellow because maybe I can’t?” she asked herself. Lynne is a female undergraduate whose name, like those of several other students interviewed for this story, has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
For the multitudes of alternative relationships and sexual practices on campus — including group sex, kink, open relationships and polyamory — there is no cruise control. These practices can be difficult to navigate or understand, because every experience is different.
“There is no such thing as normal sex,” said Anica Green ’17.
Instead of worrying about what color to wear, “why don’t you ask him?” Lynne’s friend suggested.
“Gossip Girl” warns, “Inside every threesome there is a twosome and a onesome,” but what about a fivesome?
In a dorm room, there are 10 condoms on the floor. When first-years walk by, they ask, “Is this the room where the orgy happened?”
For Dominic, a male undergraduate, that threesome was “the climax of a term where everyone is having meaningless sex,” he said.
For others, group sex is “the best thing that has happened in their lives,” said Andrew, a male undergraduate, or “their two favorite things at once — boobs and penis,” said Emma, a female undergraduate.
Dominic said the threesome was more relaxed than having sex one-on-one. When the responsibility of pleasure is shared by multiple people, there is not as much individual pressure to perform, he said.
For Emma, the threesome turned into a text message that made its way around campus. By daylight, everyone knew.
Andrew’s date and his friend’s date hit it off at the formal, he said. After the party, the pair of couples took a cab back to Andrew’s room — jazz, flameless candles and an L-shaped futon next to the bed.
“Sometimes you couldn’t tell whose lips were whose,” he said. “We didn’t know how much we could get away with.”
“There was no penetration involved,” Andrew added.
“During one-on-one sex there is clear intention,” Andrew said. During the foursome, “there was neither intention nor destination — you could be more present.”
When Oliver, a male undergraduate, opened a door at a party, he found three girls making out. One of them was his girlfriend.
Oliver and his male friend, whose girlfriend was also participating in the makeout session, decided to join.
While the friend performed cunnilingus on Oliver’s girlfriend, “it was difficult to wrap my head around it,” he said. But having the fivesome did not ruin the chemistry between Oliver and his girlfriend.
“It made our relationship more official, because we were part of (the fivesome) together,” he said. “We can laugh about it.”
Kinks and high jinks
In 2012, Harvard recognized Harvard College Munch as an official student organization.
Members of the group gather weekly in dining halls to discuss kink, consent and safe practices over lunch. There are around 70 students on the group’s mailing list and around 25 regular attendees.
“There are no trolls in our dungeon,” said group president Cleo, whose name has been changed for confidentiality. For the most part, the “liberal utopia” of Harvard Square offers students interested in kink “a positive and respectful environment,” she said.
Columbia’s Conversio Virium, which means “exchange of forces” in Latin, was the first kink organization for students recognized by a university. College Hill Kink — a subgroup of Queer Alliance comprised of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design undergraduates — also offers a safe space for students interested in kink. Other colleges in New England and across the country — including Tufts University, Iowa State University and Reed College — have similar organizations.
The New England Leather Alliance was established in 1991 under a different name, according to the organization’s website. This nonprofit organization strives to raise awareness and create a safe space for those interested in leather, fetish and BDSM, which Cleo defined generally as “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.” ...