Follow-Up Post: Polyamory Identity/Orientation

Dan Savage posted this today:

Is Polyamory a Sexual Orientation?

Posted by on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 10:23 AM

I said “no” in last week’s Savage Love, kicking off a shitstorm in the comments thread, in my e-mail inbox, and here and there on the interwebs. (Even the right-wing nutjobs have taken notice.) At least one poly person agrees with me:

There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.
Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.
A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to coopt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.

I’m hearing from lots of poly folks who disagree. I’m going to let them have their say in next week’s Savage Love.

Thank you, Dan, for giving J and I a voice in the camp that disagrees with your view. 

A big thing that I find issue with here is that polyamory, to me, is not a sexual orientation, but rather, a relationship orientation to have Dan continuing to describe it as a “sexual orientation” is a tad annoying for me. An individual can “orient” poly and, for whatever reason (by choice or circumstance), have one partner. I really appreciate Anita Wagner Illig’s comment from Dan’s post. A lot of what she wrote resonates with my own perspectives, and I find her explanation quite articulate: 

Dan, thanks for being open to all the feedback, including my own, and thanks for giving our community the opportunity to address this question in your next column.

I agree, as I did in my blog post, that polyamory is not per se sexual orientation. And you are quite right that PP uses the word poly incorrectly. Still, I don’t want to be too hard on poor PP, he has enough to deal with without our taking him to task for misusing words. I created and moderated a very large yahoogroup for several years that serves people in PP’s situation (LivingPolyMono). I have seen SO many people come into the polyamory community trying to work out this kind of conflict, and I know we will continue to see it happen as more and more people realize that monogamy isn’t their only option.

As to the question of orientation, it’s important to acknowledge that for a significant number of polyamorists, having more than one romantic partner with everyone’s knowledge and consent truly is something they experience as a part of who they are. Like being gay, it doesn’t go away if they happen not to have other partners at any given time, so it’s not to them about what they do. It’s still how they see themselves, the way they frame their lives, or at least the part of their lives that have to do with love and intimate romance. Yes, they can make a choice to not have other partners. Some do so more comfortably than others do. Some have happy monogamous relationships regardless – and some don’t. The choice is definitely much more difficult for some than for others. And just as regardless of your sexual orientation you can choose not to partner with men, polyamorists can choose not to partner with more than one – but it doesn’t change their orientation toward nonmonogamy.

I believe we need new language for this. Sexual relationship orientation or romantic relationship orientation is a mouth full, but it’s all I’ve got. I’ve been using those terms to refer to myself for lack of anything better for a few years now.

5 thoughts on “Follow-Up Post: Polyamory Identity/Orientation

  1. Thanks so much for the kind words and for including me in your part of this conversation. It's actually one that needs to take place – ironic that Dan Savage is fostering it. Or perhaps not, he's nothing if not a mover and shaker, and his cultural reach is extensive.

  2. I feel really grateful to be part of this larger conversation as well, especially alongside you. I have enjoyed perusing your blog! I am glad you posted a comment on Dan's blog because I don't think I could have posted anything more thoughtful and articulate! Thank you for the comment! I love feeling connected to the larger open and poly communities 🙂

  3. I agree that it doesn't fall into the category of “heterosexual, gay/lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, etc.” and I do like referring to it as a relationship orientation. My main concern when people who DON'T identify as polyamorists say “It's not an orientation” or “It's not the same as being gay” is that they are about to say (or are thinking, if left unspoken) “…so there should be no right to polyamory.” I really don't care if something is “natural” or genetic, or we are “born that way.” I maintain that either way, an adult should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with ANY consenting adults without prosecution, bullying, or discrimination (or, to be unmarried, single, or what have you).

  4. I (K) completely agree with you. Even if being gay/bi/pan etc were a choice I would want that choice protected. Same goes for poly folks- I want the decision (regardless of whether it's informed by a “choice” or not) to love and live with any number of consenting adults protected.

  5. I'd agree that polyamory isn't an orientation. Though I think it deserves to be better elucidated to the public, grouping it with orientation labels only serves to get it attention in the way that gay and bi sexuality have. They're really apples and oranges as ways to describe sexuality/love. I'm glad that polyamory is beginning to enter the public discourse more though, I actually didn't know much of it until I read this article ( recently that explained it well to a monogamous guy like me.

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