back to ba(sex): a foray into polyamory, part one
‘Sex-crazed, emotionless boors’: this is just one insult levelled at people identifying as polyamorous. FYI, polyamory is more than fucking – but a diverse sex life is all part of the fun. Over the next two columns, we look at polyamory, a new paradigm of how to “do” relationships that has been growing in awareness since the 1990s.
According to awareness website More than Two, polyamory can be summed up as‘engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned’. For this instalment, I spoke with Jay*, a 20-something polyamorous man whose definition is pretty on par with this. He’d like to dispel some of the myths surrounding polyamory and, in particular, polyamorous men, namely:
- ‘Poly’ people are only interested in sex and not intimacy, and
- That they are a challenge to be cured of their ‘perceivably uncouth, “slutty” ways’ and broken into monogamous partnerships.
Jay says he has been aware of his poly inclinations all his life.
‘If you think about it we are raised – by our parents, institutions and popular culture – to pursue an “other half”, while our familial relationships, the first foray into loving somebody other than yourself, has no such restrictions,’ he says.
‘Nobody sits you down and says “you can only love one parent and not the other” because that would be cruel.’ In saying this, Jay only started to label himself after a date in 2014 indicated he could be poly.
A poly life, as Jay sees it, is a possible solution to many issues in our Western society preoccupied with ‘the fabled, infallible one’. Jay doesn’t speak for all poly people, but notes his shared ground with peers: ‘Their ability to openly, frankly and altruistically communicate with any and all of their partners’.This is different from typical open relationships or marriages, where alternate partnerships are not sought, just sex. The idea behind polyamory is caring for more than one person you are sexually involved with.
Altruism is a large part of polyamory. It is not a space for mirroring your ego in multiple partners, as Germaine Greer once argued of monogamy – and particularly of men – in The Female Eunuch. It’s about acknowledging your needs and those of your partners.
‘I found that being monogamous changes both people into one organism… it can create unhealthy issues of over-dependency, inequalities in libido, financial hassles and guilt surrounding desires that are natural and celebrated when somebody is single,’ Jay said.
‘It’s great to be able to express my desires, to have fantasies, fetishes and hobbies and not have to impede them when they don’t align in an otherwise beautiful relationship,’ Jay said. The reverse is true for his partners. He does not have to see partners with their other lovers, nor do they have to see him with his lovers; it’s not a swinging thing or even a friendship that explicitly involves all parties (though with some poly people, it can be.) Other partners can be anonymous to combat green eyed monsters everywhere.
‘Jealousy is something that can happen,’ Jay told me. ‘I’ve felt it once or twice but I’m very analytical and the enjoyment my lover feels through somebody else makes me happy by extension.’
Of course, like any relationship, if done haphazardly, things will fall apart and people will get hurt. Communication and informal contracts, on things such as condom use, are required. Jay practices safer sex, as caring for someone naturally extends to protecting their health (and his own). He schedules time in with people based on mutual availability and interest; if schedules clash he still drops them a line to let them know he cares.
Poly presents a new dynamic of sexual relationships. It’s a new paradigm where partners are invited to think of their libido without the confines of a traditional relationship. But it’s a place of mutual respect and open discussion, as Jay says cheating is still possible in polyamory as in monogamy.
Polyamory is about communication and consent, something often lacking in monogamous relationships. We see doctors, lawyers and cleaners for all different jobs. We see different friends for different advice we seek. So why not outsource your different interests to a lover with the same passions?
Jay says his poly lifestyle is working for him, and if you’re interested in the lifestyle, you should give it some thought.
‘Human lives are longer than ever and the world is a huge place with so much to offer, so give yourself the group hug you deserve.’
*Not his real name. Jay does not claim to represent all polyamorous people, but one voice in a diverse group of shared experiences of a new relationship paradigm.