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Intro to Polyamory

Less than two full days after beginning book promotions on Twitter, I received an unexpected request. Someone contacted me about writing a regular blog for their BDSM toy site. I dropped a few other responsibilities and devoted my free attention to this person's request, trying to meet it as quickly as I could. In the end, it didn't work out professionally between us. I won't go into details, but it is one less deadline I have to meet.

Still, I have this unpublished post, an odd one. See, I seriously considered many subjects for the first installment for them, but settled on none. So I just asked, "Are there any specifics you want for the first post?"

“Yes,” came the reply. “I would love a piece on the poly lifestyle.”

Interesting. In fact, anyone who has read my book, Ignite35: My Life in the Sex Fetish Community will automatically see the irony in such a request as my initial entrance into the BDSM community found me deeply confused, and even put off, by polyamory. However, I did invest a great deal of time and energy since then into learning to understand it as a monogamous person. So, I wrote a post where I attempted to try to explain the poly lifestyle to those who don't practice it in ways that they can comprehend. And since toy man didn't seem to need it...well, here you go.

First, let's define polyamory. While the term has been hotly debated throughout poly and monogamous circles alike, Dictionary.com defines it most simply as, “the practice or condition of participating simultaneously in more than one serious romantic or sexual relationship with the knowledge and consent of all partners.” Those who indulge in it often chop that up into a series of mini-explanations, qualifiers and exclusions. Some go so far as to sound like heavy metal musicians claiming that their band is true metal while the other guys are simply hard rock, or even posers. The truth is though, all the musical groups have way more in common with each other than the overwhelming majority of the population who don't even play an instrument. And if anything holds true in alternative lifestyles it's that everyone gets to identify however they choose. Put simply, a variety of people refer to themselves as poly, mostly under the category of having more than one intimate partner. The true motivations for the practice do vary but, after countless interviews with polyamorous individuals, I have found that it usually comes down to just a couple of factors.

Sexuality- While many polyamorous people will vehemently argue that there is a difference between things like swinging and what they practice, the simple truth is that sex is often a strong motivation for exploring open relationships. Many poly people that I have spoken to tell me that they and/or their partners are bisexual or pansexual. Therefore they have agreed to allow each other to pursue physical intimacy with other genders. One couple that I spoke with, who attend gangbangs, said that the activity turned them both on and brought them closer together than most vanilla couples could even imagine. Voyeurism can play a factor. One fellow, whose wife works in the adult film industry, claimed that he loved watching her have sex. Another group—a “house” of BDSM practitioners consisting of two men and three women—stated that it allowed them to pursue, literally, any fantasy that entered their minds. My former mentor had two female, bisexual subs. One of them told me that she was never alone unless she wanted to be and that whenever she wanted sex, it was always available in almost any form. Still another guy I spoke to said that he often fantasized about his friends, wondering what they were like in bed and polyamory allowed him to find out. So, basically, for some people, it just turns them on.

Emotional/Spiritual Growth- To the novice, monogamist bystander this may seem like rhetorical nonsense. However it's true and comes from just as honest a place as the admission from others that it's mostly for the sex. For polyamorists who explore for emotional and spiritual reasons, their view of romantic relationships is not so different from other loving relationships. Do you love your mother, but not your father? Only one sibling? Just your best friend, while the others don't really matter to you? Of course not. So why, the argument goes, would you limit yourself to allowing for feelings of love for only one person romantically? Anyone who's ever had their heart broken, only to find a new love down the line, can tell you that the human heart is capable of more than one love interest. Many people in monogamous relationships commit, what is often termed, emotional infidelity. However, if you and your partner have an understanding that caring for other people intimately is, not only acceptable, but a positive thing, you can develop a stable polyamorous relationship. The people I know who have successfully done so have a bond with their lovers that seems to go way beyond what your average romantic duo do. Constantly learning new ways to love and facing how that influences their other relationships also seems to put them on a path of self discovery most would never get close to. It's for these reasons that many hardcore, long term polyamorists embrace it.

All that being said, monogamous people usually still don't get it. Rather than see the rewards, they tend to focus on the potential problems. Ironically, it's often addressing and dealing with these problems that nurture the poly crowd, and I would argue that the rest of us could stand to take a page from them in many regards. So what are the usual problems? Three surface more than any other.

Jealousy- You knew that was going to be first, right? Every single poly person you meet will tell you that the question that they get more than any other is, “Don't you get jealous?” It's a fair one. However, what the people asking tend to forget is that the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head just as much—if not more—in monogamous relationships. In fact, monogamists are more often caught off guard by it, refuse to acknowledge it, let it consume them or do something rash because of it. Polyamorists are generally more prepared to deal with jealousy because they have already accepted that it is a pitfall and have committed to addressing and conquering it.

STDs- It's a valid concern, but again, it's one that affects the monogamous side as well. There's a simple solution to it, however. As the old saying goes, “When it rains, you wear your raincoat.” Safe sex—in every aspect, not just using condoms—is critical in all relationships. Any sane and responsible polyamorist knows this and practices it religiously.

One Person Could Feel Left Out or Overlooked- Yeah, that's a problem and it happens in poly relationships more than most would care to admit. But, once again, it's not really that different with monogamous ones. Your husband devotes more time to his hobbies or friends than to you. Your wife is more concerned with her job or charity work than she is with you. How do you address things like that when they come up? Ideally, you talk about it and try to make it no longer an issue, one way or another. The answer is no different in poly relationships.

This brings us to the final elements we have to discuss and that's the tools that are required to make polyamorous relationships work.

Honesty and Communication- These are critical. As I keep saying, it's no different in monogamous relationships, but poly practitioners have to be on their game with these two all the time. They have to make sure that their partners are aware of what's going on and feelings have to be free to be expressed. When everyone has their cards on the table then, and only then, can problems be addressed and worked through.

Self-reflection and Patience- Many poly people that I have spoken with have declared that they know themselves better than they did before becoming open. This is why. When struggles, new feelings or new situations arise, they have to give deep consideration to them and come to terms. When the new feelings or situations are good ones, they get to grow from the positive aspects. When struggles present themselves, they have to deal with them. And when any of that becomes confusing, they have to take their time and carefully negotiate through it, ideally alongside their partner(s). How can such an approach not build strength of character?

Learning “Compersion”- Compersion is a relatively new term and is defined, very loosely, as, “taking pleasure in another person's joy.” More specifically though, it's taking pleasure in watching someone's joy at loving another person. It's profoundly helpful in exploring open relationships whether they are exclusively sexual or go much deeper. Think of it as being similar to the pleasure you get when you see that your partner has made a new best friend who makes them smile and will go shopping or fishing with them. And, the best part is, they still come home to you, just happier.

It's estimated that roughly 5% of the American population is polyamorous. In kink circles, for obvious reasons, that number is considerably higher. If you operate in an alternative-lifestyle community you will encounter poly people, even if you are not one of them. Understanding and acceptance are things you'll need to develop if you want to comfortably acclimate. And, who knows, you may find a whole new way of living and loving yourself.

To everyone, kinksters and vanillas alike, I wish you luck in your exploration. ...and, as always, be safe.



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