NCSF on Twitter   Subscribe to the NCSF RSS Feed   NCSF Blog

"A Lexicon of Alternative Sexualities, Part 2: Two Tribes of Non-Monogamists"

on Wednesday, 27 November 2013. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates

Slate

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.

polyamory


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.

swing


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. ...

Social Bookmarks

Comments (0)

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest. Optional login below.

Cancel Submitting comment...

Latest Reader Comments

  • My life partner and I have been together since 1961, and polyamorous since 1967. We have had a number of lovers over the years, an...

    Silenus

    20. August, 2015 |

  • WRONG. once she knew that his mental capacity was compromised by his health she needed to acknowledge that. He wasn't fully able to give...

    TURN ON YOUR BRAIN

    19. August, 2015 |

  • I've been watching for the last decade how gold digging exploiters have found bdsm as a means to pad their pockets especially women using...

    TURN ON YOUR BRAIN

    19. August, 2015 |

  • I am a long time fetishist and a pro Dominatrix. I purposely choose to have my studio in an industrial space more than 1000 ft from any...

    TURN ON THE BRAIN

    19. August, 2015 |

  • What we have here is a he said/she said issue. Until a formal investigation is completed nobody knows who is telling the truth or what...

    Dirk Pitt

    12. August, 2015 |

  • I was enlightened. It gives me an incentive to return to the adult entertainment industry. I really enjoyed this article.

    chris bacos

    05. August, 2015 |