Nonmonogamy research, gender, self care, and HIV

Links to share:

This is a pretty fascinating summary of research done on the perception of different types of nonmonogamy; spoiler alert, poly folks were perceived to be more moral while swingers were perceived to be more adventurous.

A pretty awesome piece written on the lessons to be gained from dating someone in an open relationship

A fun compilation of vagina facts

Ginny on using language to be more gender-inclusive

The Gottman blog on self care, autonomy, closeness, and relationship interdependence

Interesting ideas on why childfree couples seem to cheat less than their counterparts with children

I love this infographic from The Lancet on HIV and sex workers:

Lancet-sex-work-infographic_930px (1)

Sexual Agreements

A good friend sent me a book about a month ago, and I’m almost done with it: Sexual Agreements by Amara Charles. (I haven’t found it online, which is why there isn’t a link to it). However, Amara’s website is here.

I’ll post a full review once I’m done reading it (probably next Friday), but here are my initial impressions and responses to the book:

-I appreciate her unwavering focus on honesty, emotional boundaries, communication skills, and self awareness. All of these are essential in having positive conversations about sexual needs, desires, and preferences.

-I also appreciate that her book seems to be built on the idea that two people in a relationship deserve to be sexually compatible, and thus deserve to have honest conversations with each other about their sexual identities.

-She has really particular ideas about what open relationships are, and even mentions at what point that “there isn’t a word to describe being involved with more than one person” (something along those lines)…. I’m pretty sure that there are dozens of words to describe those different kinds of relationships. So far, I have only seen her reference or discuss open relationships that are built on a primary dyad in which each person only has casual sex with other people.

-She offers excellent questions for self reflection and reflection with a partner surrounding comfort levels, jealousy, and what kinds of agreements make sense for you.

Next week I would like to offer my favorite passages with further thoughts. 🙂 Let me know if you have read it, or her other book The Sexual Practices of Quodoushka, and what your thoughts are!

Happy Friday!

More Than Two & Independence

Happy Independence Day! How are you celebrating your freedom today? Do you feel free? How can you if you don’t?

I finally finished Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s Book More Than Two. Whew. That was a journey for me. Read on for my quotes of note and other impressions. (And please! Someone else read this soon so I can discuss it with someone!) My favorite quotes are bolded.

The most useful parts of this book for me:

-Distinguishing among boundaries, rules, and agreements. Having a really clear sense of what each of these things are and what they mean is really helpful to me. Boundaries are those things you get to set for yourself: you get to decide how and when others enter your space, mind, heart, and body. Rules are about controlling someone else: rules are about you telling someone else how and when others enter their space, mind, heart, and body. Agreements are broader and more general, and as such, allow you to have flexible and negotiable conversations with a partner. Ready for some examples?

  • Boundary: I will only have sex with you if we use a condom. I will only date someone once they have met my partner.
  • Rule: My partner is not allowed to spend the night with another partner. My partner is not allowed to have condom-free sex with another partner. * Rules are, according to Franklin and Eve, acceptable if they are time bound and specific and allow you to process yucky emotions before moving on without the rule. An example of this might be: My partner won’t spend the night with his other partner for two weeks. In two weeks we will check about how I am feeling; likely, they will spend the night together at this time. (This looks much less like a rule, and more like compassionate negotiation and agreement setting. But because you are controlling someone else’s behavior, it is still effectively a rule.)
  • Agreement: We will discuss what it would mean for one of us to have condom-free sex with another partner, and agree to get tested before that happens. If one of us wants to date someone, we will let each other know before anything sexual happens.

-Having a reminder that my personal boundaries (or lack of) and who I have given power to, deeply impacts my sense of agency and ability to stay happy, regardless of what is happening in my relationships. This is related to this quote:

“There are many signs of a harmful relationship dynamic, but the most unmistakable one is fear. Why am I so afraid in this relationship when there’s no imminent physical danger? If you find you are asking yourself this question, check your boundaries. Do you know where they are? How much power have you given to others to affect your well-being, you self-esteem, even your desire to live? Remember, when you give someone the power to affect you and to come into your mind, you are only loaning what belongs to you. If you are afraid, you have given too much. When you look forward, do you see choices? Is leaving the relationship a viable option? Is changing the relationship a viable option? Is setting new boundaries an option? What happens if you say no?” p159
-And, for the first time for some reason, being really deeply hit with the idea that my self esteem, confidence, and self efficacy (the belief that one can do something) is what is at the core of my insecurity in my relationship. My BDD has played a large role in this, but so has a generally low self esteem. I have heard that working on one’s self esteem is the number one thing you can do to increase your sense of security within a relationship for a long time, but for some reason, it finally hit me somewhere much deeper. They also hammer home the idea that truly believing that one can “do” polyamory is more than half the battle: do you truly believe you can do it? Because if you do, then you are far more likely to succeed in working through difficult situations while giving your partners space to be them and have the relationships that they want and need, and giving yourself the space to be yourself, too.
Quotes of note:

“Nor is happiness actually a state of being. It is a process, a side effect of doing other things…happiness is something we re-create every day. And it comes more from our outlook than from the things around us.” p9

“Polyamory is not right for everyone. Polyamory is not the next wave in human evolution. Nor is it more enlightened, more spiritual, more progressive or more advanced than monogamy. Polyamorous people are not automatically less jealous, more compassionate or better at communicating than monogamists.” p12
“It’s useful to think of polyamory as an outgrowth of a certain set of relationship ideas. Rather than asking, ‘Am I polyamorous?’ you could ask yourself, ‘Are the tools and ideas of polyamory useful to me?'” p12
“This cookie-cutter way of looking at relationships is so ingrained that we often try to hang onto it even when we discover polyamory” p18
“Above all else trust that you don’t have to control your partner, because your partner, given the freedom to do anything, will want to cherish and support you. And always, always move in the direction of greatest courage, toward the best possible version of yourself” p39
“Minding the gap is being aware of where we are now and striving to move in the direction we want to go. That’s part of living with integrity” p55
“Compassion means coming from a place of understanding that others have needs of their own, which might be different than ours and extending to them the same understanding, the same willingness to appreciate their own struggles, that we would want them to extend to us” p83
“We recognize that the work it takes to become secure and confident is hard. In some situations, rules that are specific, narrow in scope and, most importantly, limited in duration can be valuable tools for problem-solving. If you’ve found that something your partners are doing just absolutely drives you crazy, asking them to temporarily stop doing it can give you the emotional space to process whatever’s underneath” p172
“If we’re setting these rules because we are afraid, deep inside, that we aren’t good enough and out partners might replace us, a self-reinforcing cycle can develop. We feel low self-esteem, so we make rules to feel safe, and then we don’t want to develop self-esteem because if we do that, we won’t need rules anymore, and if we don’t have rules, we won’t feel safe!” p235
“Simply being in a relationship with someone is not a commitment to the traditional relationship escalator. A pattern is not a commitment—and an assumption that it is can lead to a feeling of entitlement on one side and confusion on the other” p263
“…when you understand that time spent with a partner is a gift and not an entitlement, this will help you cultivate a sense of gratitude for it, and gratitude is a powerful shield against jealousy and fear” p287
“If you love someone, set them free. If they fly away, they were never yours to begin with. If they come back, be grateful and sweet and happy they are near you, and recognize that they can fly away any time, so just don’t be an asshole, okay?” ~Edward Martin III p296
“Surely the most ubiquitous misunderstanding of love it ‘love hurts.’ Loving never hurts—it’s wanting others to be different from how they are, and not getting what you want, that we find so painful” ~Christopher Wallis p313
“In an ideal world, we poly folks could be sure that all our partners would always be thrilled with each other and enjoy spending time together. In such a world, leprechauns frolic with unicorns under trees that blossom with cotton candy. The fact is, sometimes people just don’t like each other. Columnist Dan Savage has said that all relationships have a ‘price of admission.’….In the poly world, sometimes a person’s other partner might be that price of admission” p410

What didn’t I like about this book?

I kept getting the sense that the authors see “good”, ethical polyamory operating in one way. I felt defensive reading a lot of the book, and I know it’s from experiences I have been through in which I didn’t behave in ways that I liked. So I’m not sure if it’s just me feeling defensive, or if there really was this theme that there’s “one right way” to do polyamory. For instance, the authors are pretty anti-hierarchical polyamory. I totally understand that it is disempowering to say to another party, “Look, you don’t get any say because you’re a secondary partner. If my wife wants to veto our relationship, we have to break up.” I get that that sucks… and I also would like to think that hierarchical polyamory can work well for all partners involved, as long as it is done in a compassionate, transparent way. But I don’t know.

Check in if you’ve read this one! I’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s really thought-provoking, clear, and directed in its approach, and I definitely recommend it to folks exploring multiple intimate relationships.

Ginger at atheist, polyamorous skeptics just recently reviewed the book as well, and she clearly didn’t have the same, strong emotional reactions as I did- so it’s definitely worth reading her in-depth and lovely post here.

Intro to BDSM

My newest DA post is live today: This Intro to BDSM Is So Good It Hurts

Hahaha. Cheesy!

My intro is below; make sure to go read the rest!

“Consider this a very brief introduction to BDSM, often called kink.

BDSM stands for:

  • Bondage/Discipline
  • Domination/Submission
  • Sadism/Masochism

BDSM relationships, or kinky relationships, may or may not coincide with open/ethically nonmonogamous relationships.

You will find because BDSM relationships require a great deal of explicit communication and negotiation, partners in those relationships have consented to some kind of open relationship as well (the explicit communication style tends to bleed over.)

However, there also are plenty of sexually monogamous kinky couples.”

What is your experience with BDSM like? Is it icing on your cake, the whole cake, or perhaps a sprinkle in your erotic life? Or do you just like it vanilla all the time?

What Does it Mean to Be Monogamous?

I was reading my friend’s recent blog post (Question: Can being monogamish help you be monogamous?) and it inspired this post. Thanks Lo! 🙂

I think it is worth taking some power away from language at times, and in the case of “monogamy” and “monogamous,” it’s time to share the power. Why does the word hold so much weight and meaning and emotion? That’s obviously a long conversation that gets into religion, patriarchy, purity, virginity, etc. But why does it still have to hold that kind of weight?

We were talking with some friends recently about whether choosing to have a nonmonogamous or polyamorous relationship is actually devolving from monogamy- whether somehow we might be giving up an evolved aspiration to be monogamous. My response to that train of thought is generally: humans are rarely “monogamous,” and over the course of time that humans have been around, I don’t think our species has ever been largely monogamous. And yet the word remains and gets thrown around with so much importance.

In order to take away some of its power, I think it would be helpful to talk about monogamy in different ways. Here are some different definitions that I have read, heard of, thought of. Some of these overlap/mean the same thing:

-Monogamous: one sexual partner for life

-Socially monogamous: a couple presents as sexually/romantically/emotionally monogamous to their larger community but in practice has other partners, rules, boundaries, etc.

-Emotionally monogamous: a couple retains certain boundaries around their emotional and romantic connection, but leaves the door open for other sexual partners/encounters

-Sexually monogamous: a couple retains sexual exclusivity, although they may have leeway for developing deep emotional relationships with other people

-Serial monogamy: one sexual/romantic partner at a time

-Monogamish: a couple behaves monogamously most of the time, with exceptions given for certain behaviors/events (a once-a-year threesome, traveling out of town one night stand, etc.)

The interesting thing to me about the term “monogamish” (coined by Dan Savage) is that it offers the privileges of monogamy to couples and helps couples retain couple privilege while also allowing them to explore the expansiveness of nonmonogamy, albeit with many limitations. I don’t know how I feel about that privilege piece, from a macro perspective. It gives me a similar feeling as those who are bisexual and choose not to come out because, since they are partnered to someone of the opposite gender, don’t have to. To essentially practice nonmonogamy and yet retain the privileges of a monogamously presenting couple is troubling- when will we all realize how many of us don’t fit into the mainstream ideal of a lifelong Disney relationship? And when will nonmonogamy become more mainstream? Perhaps “monogamish” relationships are part of how nonmonogamy will enter the mainstream, though- maybe it’s just what the nonmonogamous community needs to become more respected and recognized. What do you think?

In terms of the question that my friend received on her blog- what do you think? Can practicing “a little” nonmonogamy help you stay monogamous? Is that even possible? Can you really consider yourself monogamous if you aren’t really practicing monogamy? I think this is where the term “social monogamy” is helpful, although I don’t really know 🙂

3 Years of Openness

J and I have been together over 7 1/2 years and now open/poly for 3 years today! I love that April Fools is our open anniversary. 😀

I feel like we nurture two overlapping relationships. One is the relationship we have had since we met in college. I hold dear the history we have together, the knowledge we have of each other’s ins and outs and highs and lows, the presence we have in one another’s families and daily lives. The other relationship is this dynamic poly relationship that is growing and changing and will forever continue to do so. We have had that relationship for less time than the other and so I know we will continue to experience growth and setbacks and more growth. These two relationships intermingle and give each other support: our monogamous beginnings give me both a sense of stability and motivation for moving away from monogamy, and our open/poly relationship gives me excitement and introspection and fire.

Phoenix

Happy Anniversary, Lover Boy

and Happy Love, however it comes to you, my dear reader

Normaling

This post has been percolating in my mind for a few days, and I’m just getting around to writing it.

J and I have been normaling: ripping up carpets and painting and going to Home Depot have been, largely, exciting and fun. Because of all of the changes in our lives in the past six months, we have also been much more sexually monogamous of late (and I say “much more” because the frequency of extra-dyadic sex for us has gone way down in the past few months, but not down to zero). We’re still nonmonogamous at heart (J still checks the Craigslist ads and I still fantasize about others) but I also know that for me, my desire for others goes way down when I haven’t gotten my fill of J.

It’s been hard lately. He’s commuting two hours each day during the week and is understandably totally exhausted. And I’ve been in the pit of body image horror. Put exhaustion and emotional wreckage together and I think it makes sense that sex is difficult to attain.

But back to the normaling thing. I just love this scene from 30 Rock- leave it to Jenna and Paul to kinkify “normal” (vanilla, straight) relationship-y things. I feel like they’re on to something.

What do you think? Are you able to find the sexy and pleasurable and connecting parts of everyday vanilla life? Can you maintain some separateness and mystery in the midst of totally-togethering activities?