Nonoppressive Poly

I recently read this piece titled “9 Strategies For Non-Oppressive Polyamory” on the Black Girl Dangerous blog. It is from a few years ago, and completely thought-provoking. I shared it with my innermost open family and had some lively discussion about it. I write this piece from my position as a middle class, white, cis, queer, femme woman.

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with the author when they write:

“Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions.  It doesn’t stop with being open and communicative with multiple friends, partners, lovers, etc. We’ve got to situate those relationships in broader systems of domination, and recognize ways that dating and engaging people (multiple or not) can do harm within those systems.  Our intimate politics are often the mostly deeply seated; it’s hard work to do.”

It is deeply important to me that my partners and I, my poly family, and my larger poly community continue to find value in self-growth, self-awareness, and becoming healthier in communication and relating to one another. Dating as poly does not automatically mean that someone is “healthy” or “open-minded” or more self-aware than someone else, and it is not some destination that one reaches in personal growth and evolution. We must continue to deconstruct and reconstruct our relationships so that they are as healthy and compassionate as possible.

Go take a look at the piece and then come back.

To start, here are the two points that I take some issue with:

“4. Remember that polyamory doesn’t make you radical all on its own, regardless of which directions your desire is oriented.   We all have these preferences based on race, class, ability, gender, etc that need deep work and questioning.  Dating 5 White cisgender people at once isn’t necessarily a radical act.”

I basically disagree. I think daring to show love, commitment, and care to more than one romantic or sexual partner IS a radical act in a capitalist and patriarchal society, especially for women, as we have historically been tied to monogamy (whereas men have had much more freedom to experience nonmonogamy). I also do not think that one must date people who hold marginalized identities in order to “prove” to anyone else that they are radical lovers. Please, do your work on uncovering your biases and prejudices and intentionally educate yourself and use your privilege to support people from marginalized communities. Again, though, daring to be honest and authentic and sharing that authentic self with the world IS, in my opinion, a radical act that I wish I saw more of in the world.

“7. Keep in mind that ‘poly’ is not a category of oppression in and of itself.  This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.  There are material privileges that support your access to the possibility of non-monogamy–ie the fact that you are able to make this choice.”

This one is pretty dicey to me. I have had experiences coming out to people as open/poly that support me in thinking that I was being intentionally hurt because I was not monogamous. Our culture and society, too, privileges those in monogamous relationships and marriages. I do think that the system of monogamy is intertwined with the systems of patriarchy and sexism (and all of the other systems of oppression in various ways), and that perhaps it cannot stand on its own like patriarchy can. I think that for people who are rejected from their families of origin or denied child visitation rights because they are in nonmonogamous relationships, it is too black-and-white to say that “This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.”  In addition, while there are material privileges that may make nonmonogamous pursuits easier (more money and time off for dating), there is also the argument that having nonmonogamous relationships supports families in lower income positions.

To close, I do want to highlight a couple of points that resonated with me:

“1. Don’t treat your partners like they’re less or more than one another based on super hierarchical divisions.  Numbering and ranking don’t make for resistive queer relationships; openness and compassion do.  Your secondary partners are not secondary people–they’re just not the folks you might devote the most time or energy to in a particular way.”

Yes, yes, yes. A partner may be more primary because I share a home, finances, and long-term goals with them, as well as a longer history and the intimacy that comes from having navigated many ups and downs with them. That does not mean that another partner does not have value or priority in my life, and it is important to find the specific ways of communicating that to people in my life. I like this recent Kimchi Cuddles comic addressing the issue of “primary” relationships.

“9. Finally, remember that polyamory is not a new or edgy concept invented in the Western world.  It’s a millenia-old idea to have and value multiple relations.  Let’s avoid perpetuating that cultural erasure.”

Again, yes. Nonmonogamous relationships and cultures are much older than 1960s swinging in the U.S. Just as we can find evidence of patriarchal and monogamous relationship structures and cultures dating back as old as humans, so can we find evidence of matriarchal and nonmonogamous relationship structures and cultures just as old.

Women in Crossfit

Last week I was at the gym and was completely captivated watching the women crossfit games on the TV. It was like something shifted deeply inside my gut watching buff, strong, muscle-y women lift weights, run, and be all-around bad asses. I am so used to the small and petite women gymnasts, ice skaters, cheerleaders. While I know buff women athletes abound during the Olympics, it’s something different to watch women do typical “manly” exercises like lift massive amounts of weight versus running around a track or swimming. I just loved watching these super fit, but not tiny, women compete with one another. That whole mantra, Fit is the new skinny, could be the tagline for crossfit. It’s not just “fit,” though- it’s “built.” It was inspiring.

Another experience from the week that I felt was worth sharing: I didn’t wear a bra to work one day. I don’t have large breasts, and so I know it’s far less noticeable, but I felt self-conscious the whole day. Upon telling J this via text, he responded with the best thing: “Just treat it like a feminist thing and be proud! You shouldn’t have to wear a bra to make other people comfortable.” When I read that, I sat up a bunch straighter, and felt immediately better. Yeah! Thanks J!

And, for the second very noticeable time in the past couple of weeks, I had an experience that is hammering home one of my most salient personal lessons right now: I’m not the center of attention all the time. I know that sounds juvenile and dumb, but that’s often where personal insecurities lie at their root I suppose. They are complaints from being two years old that have never quite grown up. Realizing that a new love has other new loves and isn’t as interested in creating something deep, and realizing that a new flame has other connections right now- examples of experiences that are hard for me to digest. But the simplicity of being honest about these feelings has helped immensely. I have just felt for moments here and there like this: What? What about me? Pay attention to ME! Hey, come on! I’m not the center of your world?! And then moments later, I snap out of it. It’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth. It is helpful to meditate on the scarcity versus plenty model of life, but only after I’ve snapped out of it.

Besides all that, my fabulous weekend consisted of yummy, hot casual sex, seeing friends, painting, dancing for buku bucks, and beaching. Thank goodness for ten hours of sleep last night!

More On Sexual Agreements

Okie dokie, more discussion on Amara Charles’ Sexual Agreements.

Like I do, I have pulled out my favorite passages to share with you all, and bolded sections that I found particularly powerful. I enjoy sharing directly from the author, so you can get a true sense of their words and intentions.

Adding on to my general impressions from last week, I will emphasize again that while Charles has a specific viewpoint of what open relationships look like (you always put your partner first, having multiple partners has no name and is necessarily casual, etc), this book is a fresh and fast read for thinking about how, when, and why one would have honest conversations with partners about sex, freedom, and security. I recommend the book as another approach to kick-starting sexual honesty within relationships.

Favorite passages and notes:

“…there is no simple answer to the question of sexual freedom within a relationship. It is a very private and personal agreement between partners. One thing I do know is that when one begins exploring outside the accepted rules that most people live by, serious questions arise. As soon as some of the long-held inhibitions about sex start to shift, a new curiosity sets in. Many partners want to try different things and explore new sexual possibilities. An idea of greater sexual freedom arises. There is the idea of greater communication and more sensitivity, but there is little experience. A lot of miscommunication, fear, and deep emotions can rise to the surface.” (pxv)

“For whatever reason, honest communication about sex can trigger emotional upheavals within our relationships. When we begin to express intimate sexual feelings our fear, jealousy, possessiveness, or anger can easily arise. Sexual energy is very powerful, making it important that we be patient and tolerant with our self and our partner. It takes time and great care to make changes in our sexual ways. There are going to be doubts and mistakes. I haven’t met anyone who started creating sexual agreements without making some mistakes along the way.” (pxvi)

“Consciousness within our relations is the great awakening. It is only because of fear that consciousness remains cluttered. At some point, however, one notices how much of our precious life is wasted by living in the confusion and doubt we carry about sex.” (pxvii)

“Broken agreements can foster tension and mistrust. There is a way, however, to bypass all the drama and emotional battles that ensue. Rather than argue over who did what or who said what, determine why the agreement is not working in the first place. In other words, it is useless to blame each other. Take another look at the agreement itself.” (p4)

“You will know when you have created an understanding between you that is mutually beneficial because living these agreements will generate greater trust and intimacy, and more love between you.” (p5)

Common mistakes made when making agreements: misunderstanding the agreement, boundaries versus agreements (analogous here to to what Veaux and Rickert in More Than Two would call rules versus agreements), making agreements at the wrong time, keeping true feelings hidden, assuming the agreement is finished, ignoring small transgressions, forgetting agreements between self and spirit,

“Treat the fulfilling of agreements as sensitive journeys into new territory, even if you have had the agreement for years.
Talk to each other every time something within an agreement is put to the test. Do this all the time, not just the first time. Even though this may seem obvious or trivial, many forget to connect intimately and thank their partners for their trust and care.” (p15)

“A powerful way to alter patterns of broken agreements in your relationship is to completely honor all your personal agreements. The more care you give regarding your own honesty, truth, and integrity in all matters, the more grace you will have within your intimate sexual agreements. Honor the spirit and the letter of every single agreement you make, and the level of integrity with your intimate partner will increase.” (p16-7)

Sexual agreements within monogamous relationships:

“Agreements that are mutually beneficial nourish each part- ner and allow the deepest gifts of both to flourish. They are not about trapping one another into staying faithful or roping each other into a tangle of heavy obligations. A good agreement is continually clarifying why you want to be together.
To stay with anyone, it is important to keep asking yourself why you want to be together. Most people assume they know. It seems obvious because there are children, a house, and career(s). All these things may be the fruits of your relationship. But if outer things are the reasons you are together, then monogamy will get stale and old—and the sex gets boring.” (p29)

“Being faithful and loyal, making a daily decision that “this is the one person I want to be with intimately” is a profound choice, but only when it’s chosen consciously.” (p30)

Sexual agreements within open relationships: “Freedom in relationships is a consequence of under- standing, care, and sharing good experiences with each other. Freedom does not come from demanding it. Neither does love.” (p41)

“Statistics show that most car accidents happen within 25 miles of home. Something similar happens with the people we are closest to. We relax our communication and we get lazy. We will often say or do things to an intimate partner we wouldn’t dream of saying or doing to a stranger. While we often reserve our “best” for our loved ones, unfortunately we dole out our worst qualities as well.” (p61)

“It’s important to have patience with this, because we were taught that agreements are about telling each other what we can and cannot do. We were not included in making the rules we live by, and we were not taught to create the kind of lives that include enjoying our lovers’ happiness and freedom. Most of us have inherited agreements that were attempts to limit, regulate, and guard what we think belongs to us. We have very little experience with being generous, tolerant, or wise with regard to each other’s feelings and needs—especially when it comes to sex.
Most agreements are efforts to make something turn out the way you want it to. They are attempts to possess someone, maintain the status quo, avoid discomfort, and lessen the shock of the unknown. The desire for some kind of guarantee that “we will be together forever” is actually the ego’s way of expressing its infantile, self-centered feelings of entitlement. Especially in the sexual arena, deep down one feels entitled to affection, love, and sex. The ego tries to protect itself by seeking to obtain a guarantee in hopes of getting what it wants. Making agreements from this position is nothing more than an attempt to get from people what you think they owe you.” (p61-2)

“As a thunderstorm leaves clear fresh air in its wake, the upheavals in our intimate relationships generate waves of opportunity that carry the promise of improving our lives considerably.” (p64)

“The secret to keeping casual sexual experiences as harmonious and empowering aspects within our sexual life is to be clear about what each encounter is, what it is for, and to be clear about what it is not.” (p74)

“…the sweet intimate companionship that an enduring love relationship provides, a casual encounter cannot. Whereas waves of sexual passion will ebb and flow like seasons during the span of an enduring partnership, the whole beauty of a casual encounter is its brevity.” (p75)

“Transformational sex can range from enjoying a cozy evening with our lover, to self-pleasuring with images of the moon and stars, to an unusual encounter with a stranger. It all depends on the intention you carry in your mind.” (p80)

“It is important to understand the difference between our body’s need for sex, and the need we have for intimacy in a relationship. When we are healthy our body has surges of sexual feeling. Totally ignoring the body’s needs is as harmful as carelessly indulging in every sexual urge. Women and men need both emotional intimacy and physical sex. There is no need to feel guilty about either one. At times our needs for intimacy and sex may converge, but at times we can satisfy them separately. It is beautiful when they are met at the same time with the same person, but this may not always be the case. Be clear about the differences and do not mistake one thing for another. What matters is understanding that both our sexual needs and intimate needs are equally important yet different. Sexual passion is as important as sensuous intimacy. They may not always be equally expressed or satisfied and may be met together or separately in different ways.” (p83)

“It is as if we are simultaneously wired to seek the safety of an intimate relationship while at the same time we also want the freedom to enjoy whatever we find attractive. Unless we learn to consciously create both the security we need as well as the room to explore the variety of what arouses us, our agreements are destined to confine us rather than become platforms for lift off into deeper experiences of life. Good sexual agreements ensure that we will have the comforts of intimacy and the freedom to explore our natural sexual attractions as well.” (p85)

FlowerDrops

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!

Events

For those of you in Portland:

The next Mystery Box show is August 9th.

Upcoming SheBop workshops include a workshop with Sex Nerd Sandra (sadly, full already, but still cool to know that she’ll be here!) and a reading in September with Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert on their new book  More Than Two.

I still want to make it to Gallery Sesso one of these months. The next one is Thursday August 7th at 6pm.

Any sexy fun events you want to share?

From Oh Joy Sex Toy, in promoting SheBop and all its awesomeness:

2014-07-15-shebop

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.