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Thursday, December 2, 2010

My poly isn't as fast as yours.

Recently Janet Kira Lessin, Center Holder, World Polyamory Association and apparently a founder of the WPA posted an excerpt from her book "Polyamory, The Poly-Tantra Lovestyle". The excerpt (which I can't post a link to here since it was on membership site and I can't find it elsewhere) briefly outlines how she and her husband view and have designed their polyamory. Here is a reprint of a piece of the article on which I'm going to focus:

"G & R came out of the closet, walked into our world at the Loving More
Conference. There I admired a beautiful Goddess, J, in the hot tub. As Sasha
hugged me, J noticed me, floated up and met me eye-to-eye. She "saw" me and
there was this knowingness. Sasha introduced us but my head spun; names and
words were meaningless. He pointed to her mate, B, who was every bit the God to
her Goddess, and I gazed from her to him, him to her, then to Sasha.
Simultaneously, all our faces lighted with smiles. Our hearts and souls rejoiced
with knowingness. Our soul groups celebrated with a new homecoming.

In my mind, I pondered, "What should I do?" I'd exclusively committed to G
& R. Yet here was amazing energy with these two new people. I followed my
instincts and leveled with them. "Sasha and I are here with our lovers, G & R.
If you'd like to meet them and we all click, well who knows?"

When we met, the connection was there, all the way around, all six of us!
Sasha, G & R and I invited the new couple to our cabin with (we said) no
expectations. With the freedom of no expectations came the bliss of six, my most
magic night of love thus far.

I fell asleep basking in the glow of our six-way love. We have fulfilled
the prophecy laid out by the late Robert Rimmer in The Harrad Experiment; a
vision of three couples uniting at graduation. Yes, thank you, Robert, we all
indeed had graduated."

As entertaining as the article is, and it sounds like Janet's life may be, I was left shaking my head. The story is presented as a beautifully wonderful and loving poly moment and to that end I wish Janet nothing but happiness and a nice memory. But seriously, she and her husband and the couple they are dating met J&B and ended up in a six-way sex fest with them the same night. Really? That is polyamory? Before I sleep with anyone we have some serious conversations, even if it is just going to be casual. I'd like to hear a brief sexual history, general outlook on sexual activity, promiscuity, safety, and expectations going forward. Then we can talk about sexual likes and dislikes and determine if it is just going to be casual sex, are we even wanting the same kind of casual sex?

Folks, that isn't a 20 minute conversation. It can often take hours. I have a hard time understanding how Janet, a supposed expert and experienced polyamorist, could meet a couple, have the necessary conversations, and engage in a six-way orgy with the couple the same day. Personally I don't believe I could establish an emotional connection that quickly let alone satisfy my safety concerns. In my mind her story doesn't fall in the category of polyamory at all, but rather much more solidly lands in the swing realm of things.

What are your thoughts on this one? Is the story swing or poly? Did you view the story more like I did, or did you read it as a Happy Poly Moment?


  1. I'm also a poly "slowpoke" so to speak. :)

    It's so hard to know what to think about this story when I haven't read the book. On the surface it does sound like a casual encounter. There's _nothing_ wrong with that, of course. Assuming there is consent and honesty about what everyone is doing, there's no One True Way (tm) to do polyamory!

    The problem is that the word polyamory is used to describe so many different, sometimes conflicting, things. Some people are polyfidelitious (not sure if I spelled that correctly?) with just a handful of significant others and other people are more comfortable having multiple casual sex partners. And there's a very wide range of behaviours & preferences between the two.

    It would be definitely easier if we had a few different words to describe various relationship styles under the umbrella of polyamory!

  2. The Preacher's Kid,

    Admittedly, I haven't read the book either. And after reading the brief excerpt that was posted, I don't think I'm interested in reading it either. Maybe that sounds harsh but I'm more than a little disillusioned. It feels like every time I see someone who seems to truly "get" polyamory or supporting concepts I learn a bit more about them and find it is actually more about sex than anything else. That's not to say there is "One True Way", I don't believe such a thing exists. But I do think that generally polyamory is about love and emotion, not about sex.

    I do agree, there is nothing wrong with her story assuming everything was consensual, but to me it doesn't belong on a social site about polyamory. It would be more appropriate on a swing site.

    You are right, the word polyamory often isn't used very specifically. I wrote an article about that a while back with my belief that the word is still evolving and may well end up not being the word used to describe the lifestyle in time.

    I know I don't always agree with the definition others have of polyamory and honestly, I'm okay with that. How others live their life is their choice. At the same time, there will never be good definition of polyamory if any and every variation under the sun jumps under the polyamory umbrella and nobody says anything.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. On the one hand, I for one get a little tired of people saying that polyamory isn't about sex. Yes, it's about love, in the sense that poly isn't just about how many people you can sleep with or about casual encounters. But it's about sex also, and while I know there's a difference between swing and poly, I think it's annoying how people differentiate them, as though swingers were somehow less than us.

    On the other hand, I find it precious and naive when people talk about instant soul connections and perfect moments of love with people they've just met. It's entirely possible that this group of six (I initially typed "group of sex," which is a rather amusing Freudian slip) stayed together as a poly network after this initial meeting. I even believe that when you have casual sex with someone, there can be a kind of love there, for a brief while, if the sex is connected and engaged with ecstasy and respect. But mostly her account sounds like wifty New Age-ism, unwilling to engage with the regular world.

    In both instances, though, it seems to me that poly people are afraid to talk about lust, lest someone think less of us. Do we really think that the sex-negative people who believe that homosexuality is a sin against God and that masturbators are going to hell are going to be all fine and dandy with us so long as we espouse love, but not sex? If not, then who are we trying to convince?

    (Hi, by the way; I write about open relationships at the links above.)

  4. Kamela,

    Thanks for the comment!

    I enjoyed reading a couple of articles on your Examiner page. I write for them as well but haven’t convinced them to allow me to write about poly under a pseudonym. (Using my real name isn’t possible at the moment unfortunately). I’ll be linking my blog to yours, feel free to do likewise :)

    Your comments made me realize that although I do write about sex once in a while, I don’t often write about lust or the pure physical pleasure. And I think you are right, a lot of poly folks avoid appearing lusty most of the time out of fear of being labeled as “just out for sex”. I think that is part of the reason I avoid many sex focused topics. The other has to do more with how I feel about privacy but thanks to your comment I’ve already made some notes to correct that in future posts and “come out” a bit.

    I do have to disagree a bit that polyamory is “about sex also”. My experience has been that most poly folks believe poly is about love but that their relationships will often include a sexual component. To say flatly that poly always includes sex is a bit stereotypical. Maybe that is why so many people differentiate between swing and poly, because swinging by definition does always include a sexual component? Hmm, I’m going to ponder that one a bit.

    Your comment about how swingers are often presented as being “somehow less” than polyamorists is interesting. I’ve noticed that poly folk are rarely happy to be confused with swingers but that swingers often don’t seem to mind being labeled as polyamorists. I’ve also noticed how some swingers when confronted with the idea that their lifestyle is just about sex with as many different people as possible will backpedal a bit and claim emotional connections in their relationships or even end up saying something like “Well, we are actually more poly than swing.” And as mentioned in one of your articles, swingers look just like everyone else. Those things give me the impression a lot of the time, along with the social stigma around swinging, that swingers aren’t necessarily proud of their lifestyle. To some extent they are hiding their lifestyle by trying to “fit in”, “look normal”, and when pressed often avoid coming out and saying directly, “Yes, I’m a swinger.” Because of those things I do think swingers are regarded as “somehow less” than polyamorists a lot of the time. But at that point, whose fault is that? Most of the poly folk I know when pressed about their lifestyle will defend it directly without excuses and aren’t nearly as hesitant to bring up their lifestyle as a topic as are swingers. Personally I think swinging is as incredible and mature a lifestyle as polyamory but it also bugs me when swingers present themselves as polyamorists. Much as it does when I find a self-professed “good Christian” never goes to church or has ever read the bible, or someone claims to be a computer geek but can’t fix the most basic of problems. (Note: the above are only my personal observations, not based on research, and may not be representational of the entire swing community).

    Thanks again for the comment! You made my brain wet :)


  5. I believe that the term "polyamorous" is often used incorrectly in place of "swinger". To me, polyamory is more about love and emotional connections (which often, but not always involves sex) and swinging is about people in "open" relationships having casual no strings attached sexual encounters.

    For example, I myself am polyamorous. I enjoy the emotional connection involved, and because of that emotional connection, the relationship evolves to the point of intimacy. I'm not sure that I would even desire a sexual encounter no matter how attractive I find a person without that emotional connection and bond. My Sir on the other hand, is a swinger. He enjoys casual sex, but only wants to be emotionally involved with just one primary person who is his priority.

    That is how I view those two terms. But then, everyone seems to have their own meanings of the different terms used in various lifestyles. I guess all that really matters is that all the people involved in that aspect of your life understand what those words mean to you.

  6. k!nkyNurse,

    I think you nailed it that "polyamorous" is often used incorrectly and I think "swinger" may be as well.

    I tend to agree as well that if everyone involved understands the terms being used that is what matters. That said, it is frustrating when meeting people and they saw they are poly but are actually swing, or vice versa.

    Assumptions also create problems. For example, your use of "My Sir" in some circles would indicate a D/s or Owner/Slave relationship paradigm. That may be unfair though as you could just be using that as a way of avoiding real names. The same problems come up with the words Poly and Swing since most people have assumptions around the words.

    Maybe we need to invent a new word like Polywinger? Swipoly? or even PolySwingAmory?

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. PP, this part of the discussion:

    "I do have to disagree a bit that polyamory is “about sex also”. My experience has been that most poly folks believe poly is about love but that their relationships will often include a sexual component. To say flatly that poly always includes sex is a bit stereotypical. "

    reminds me of the oh-so-interesting assumptions people make about bisexuals.

    I've been told that I'm:
    actually straight,
    actually a lesbian,
    clearly just trying to sleep with everyone I meet,
    etc, etc.

    I think sometimes it's painfully difficult for people to understand certain differences. They only have so many labels to paste on people and cannot comprehend why (the general) you doesn't fit into any of them.

    There have definitely been times when I've purposefully underplayed the sex part of my sexual orientation simply because to do anything else would solidify stereotypes of bisexual people in the mind of the person I'm talking to and make it that much more difficult for the next bi person to communicate with them.

    It seems to me like you may be doing the same thing?!?

    (It's completely understandable if you do this, btw. No one can be the eternally-patient "good example" of a minority group 24/7. :) )

  8. The Preacher’s Kid,

    Interesting comment!

    You may be right that I underplay the sexuality component of my lifestyle. It seems common perception of men is that most just want to put notches on their bedpost, polyamorous males even more so. As a male I am sensitive to that perception and try to avoid it or refute it if necessary. So yes, I have to admit you may be right.

    My intent with the comment you quoted however was to point out what I believe is a somewhat stereotypical comment that includes the assumption that polyamory always includes a sexual component. I believe poly *usually* includes sex, but not *always*. Something that is supported from personal experience and loving relationships I have that do not include sex.

    I read something somewhere that I can’t seem to find again but which I thought did an excellent job of identifying part of the communication problem when discussing polyamory and sex. Particularly the discussions of polyamory vs. swing. I think it also speaks directly to our discussion. I may not get this quoted exactly, and cannot take credit for it either. I think it was someone who posted here who had this posted somewhere on their own blog. What they said essentially was; “Polyamory is a lifestyle. Swing is a sexual orientation.”

    I really think that simple statement says volumes and explains a lot about the tense discussions around Polyamory and other lifestyles (orientations) such as Swing or Bisexuality. In those terms it makes a lot of sense that the Poly vs. Swing debates never seem to end. They are comparing a lifestyle to sexuality and while the two may be compatible, they may not. It would be like arguing that you can’t be a monogamous bi-sexual. Monogamy is a lifestyle, bisexuality is an orientation.

    I got off track there a little so let me get back on point. If Polyamory is a lifestyle rather than an orientation the inclusion of an assumed sexual component seems somewhat stereotypical. Personally I don’t mind being questioned as to whether my relationships include a sexual component but it does bother me when it is assumed. Particularly when the assumption is quickly and frequently followed with a (often negative) judgment by the person making the assumption.

    Do I wear that on my sleeve? Quite possibly. Thanks for pointing that out and keeping me grounded :)


  9. I think of polyamory as being a "relationship orientation", at least in my case -- I'm uncomfortable with the word "lifestyle" because it tends to imply that, for example, people who are poly also have to be _x_, _y_, and _z_ (i.e., Pagan, SF geeks, SCAdians, New Age, into Heinlein, all about the group sex, kinda hippie-ish, etc.) A "lifestyle" implies that there is some degree of homogeneity in terms of interests and behavior -- whereas an orientation just speaks to one aspect of a fully-realized life.

    (BTW, I was just throwing out common poly-"lifestyle" stereotypes above -- none of those are BAD things, but they're assumptions that tend to get mentioned, and not all of them are true of every poly person. I'm some of the above, but not all of the above!)

    I'm polyfidelitous -- I'm part of a triad, and I also have an awesome boyfriend. I'm really not into casual sex at all, and the scenario that you quoted is, frankly, the kind of thing that keeps me from going to poly conferences -- I am NOT available or interested, and I don't want to set myself up to get hit on repeatedly!

    (Doesn't mean that I haven't gone to poly events, but they've been picnics or workshops, where there's much less of a "hey, let's hook up in my hotel room" vibe.)

    My relationships have a sexual component, which is important and treasured, but they're primarily partnerships based on friendship, love, respect, and a desire to create mutual happiness in all of our lives.

    I've gone a considerable amount of time in a sexless relationship with one partner, which didn't end or change the loving aspects -- and when sex became a part of our relationship again, it was wonderful, but it wasn't the primary motivator. My partner was really appreciative of my support and understanding while they went through a period of low libido -- and my answer was that I was going to be there no matter what, and that while sex is amazing, it's not the sole source of our connection.

    So, yeah -- I do get a little twitchy about people assuming that all poly people are really into casual sex, or group sex, or whatever . . . on the other hand, I don't want to come off as judgmental of people who ARE happy with those things. And I know plenty of poly people (who have genuine, loving relationships) who ALSO like to swing, or pick up people for a night of fun, or whatever. Whether we like it or not, the line between polyamory and swinging is blurred to a certain extent, because it's wrong to say that someone isn't poly just because they don't practice it in the exact same way that we do. However, it's safe to say that people who SOLELY want casual sex and who aren't at all interested in building relationships from it qualify as swingers but not poly -- they can be "ethical nonmonogamists" or "in an open relationship" or "single", but I do think that the presence of a relationship or the desire to build a relationship needs to be present in order to claim the label of "polyamorist."

    Other people's mileage may vary, but that's where I draw the line.

    -- A :)

  10. Ashbet,

    I agree that “lifestyle” may not be a perfect word but I do think it does a good job showing the difference between Poly and Swing. “Relationship orientation” may be a better descriptor but feels cumbersome to me. I understand what you mean about implied homogeneity but I wonder if most people feel that way. I certainly don’t. Although there are sub-groups within polyamory and many tend to be outside mainstream I don’t make assumptions about people simply because they are polyamorous. I really don’t know how common it is that assumptions are made about religion, work, or recreation when people hear that someone is polyamorous. To look at it from a different perspective do most people assume when someone is living a monogamous lifestyle that they are blue collar, Christian, with 2.5 children and a dog? I’m not saying you don’t have a point about the word “lifestyle” but to me considering the differentiation it could provide against other “relationship orientations”, possible assumptions may be tolerable.

    Saying that the desire to build a relationship is what separates poly from some other orientations makes good sense to me. The argument I hear against that is that swingers often do form a relationship with their partners. It may not be a loving, committed, long-term relationship but it is a relationship and therefore qualifies as polyamorous. I have also heard those who say since they swing with their spouse, whom they love, they are poly because love is involved. I have absolutely no problem with those actions or configurations. It is simply that application of the term “polyamorous” in those situations, because they are outside what is generally understood to be poly, is confusing to me.

    You said “it's wrong to say that someone isn't poly just because they don't practice it in the exact same way that we do.” and in the past I would have agreed with that statement but I’m beginning to feel differently. Throughout history people have developed new words and mangled words to differentiate their identity from others. As I understand the history of the word Polyamory that is a good part of the reason the word was created. If polyamorists accept a very broad definition of the word and the inclusion of a huge variety of lifestyles/orientations it is likely the word itself will become largely meaningless. Its use for differentiation will cease to function. Much like the assumptions you mentioned about “lifestyle”, there will be a growing number of assumptions about the word “polyamory” as more and more variety is included. I’m starting to feel that rather than allow the word to be corrupted to a point it is useless, maybe drawing a line and saying “No, that isn’t polyamory” isn’t such a bad thing. I pretty much have a live and let live attitude and avoid excluding people but sometimes inclusion is a bigger problem. Maybe the question is; where should the line be drawn?

    Thanks for a very good comment! I loved hearing about your relationships and think we are similar in how we live our poly :)


  11. I've found this article and all of the comments rather stimulating. I think to some extent that the poly community at large seems to exclude swingers because they fear being compared to them and the stereotype which follows them and not being taken seriously.

    Poly people, like most, want to feel validated in their relationships, but as long as the stereotype stands that poly is about nothing but sex, it wil be extremely difficult to change this negative stereotype.

    Of course, some people will never allow themselves to think outside of the box. They fear what and who differs from them. Anyone outside this box threatens their very existence...threatens any truth they hold as concrete or absolute...threatens their ideas about life...and to them...this means they threaten life as they know it...thus threatening the world as they know it.

    To the mono world of one patriarch and one matriarch, especially the religious mono world, our existence means death to their own. An exaggeration on their behalf??? Of course, but that is how fear tactics work. The more the mono world can demonize us and make us into monsters the more fear they create against us in the hearts and minds of the society at large.

  12. Racheal,
    Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you are finding value with the conversation :)

    I agree about wanting to feel validated and that the sex stereotype is a concern. That stereotype is one reason I write this blog and am pretty vocal about my poly beliefs.

    Your mention of "fear tactics" was very interesting. The implication is that the fear tactics are being used with purpose and organization. I'm not sure I agree with that but I may not know enough about it either. Do you think mono or religious mono people are using fear tactics with conscious intent? If so I would love to hear more about it.

    Thanks again!

  13. PP,

    Once upon a time, I was deepseated as a Christian Baptist. I was raised up in this because my father was and still is a Baptist minister. I attended bible college and became a youth minister right out of high school. For the earlier part of my life I was homeschooled by my mom because my parent's feared that public school might brainwash me and turn my siblings and I away from God.

    My parents were also church planters, so we traveled the US with them helping to form new Baptist churches throughout our nation. We attended many revivals. My parents also worked as church saviors, which means they helped save congregations from falling apart. As a young person, I was part of this team, and I worked with the youth groups at the different churches.

    I have seen how many religious people, especially Christians, have manipulated the thoughts and actions of their congregations and even our nation by using the fear tactic. No, do they say to themselves..."Okay,,,not I must cause fear in the hearts and minds of others so I can get my way?" I do not know.

    The church has caused people to fear homosexuals, bi people, the transgender, omni or pan sexuals, and the polyamorous people as well. Homophobia rides rampant throughout our churches within our GREAT nation, and the church supports it. The churches my partners and I attended before becomming poly, told their congregations that they better not even talk to us poly people or they will be stripped from their ministries or excommunicated from the church. Is this a fear tactic? You bet! The pastors told the parents within the churches that they better keep us from any connection with their children because we may warp their minds through brainwashing and try to convert them over to poly. How crazy is that? It worked though. Even my own siblings, who attend church regularly, will not allow me to see my nieces or nephews because I might pollute them with "my poly sin".

    Needless to say, all of this caused us to pretty much walk away from the Christian church because they rejected and isolated us. Now, we believe in God and Jesus...but not the church nor their fear tactics.

    So I suppose, yes sometimes the "religious right" do use fear tactics. If you read your history as I assume you have, then you know how the church used fear in the Salem Witch Hunt and Trials and in the Crusades. The church has not changed much.

  14. Racheal,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I agree that in the past "The Church" (pick a flavor) has acted in a less than ethical manner. I don't have a church in my life right now which may be why I haven't seen discrimination from that perspective yet. What you describe would be about what I expect though. I'm surprised you weren't asked to leave the church. Though for different reasons, that's what happened to my parents when I was young.


  15. Coming back into the conversation a little late. Just wanted to say, PP, that this:

    " If Polyamory is a lifestyle rather than an orientation the inclusion of an assumed sexual component seems somewhat stereotypical."

    makes a ton of sense in light of the rest of your comments.

    I tend to hang out with people who view poly as an orientation instead of something they chose. I chose it...but there's no doubt that these views have influenced how I think about these things.

    Thanks for letting me take a peek in your brain! :)

  16. I was not asked: I was excommunicated. They gave my partners and I the boot. I guess when I said that we walked away from the church this may have confused you. I meant that after being excommunicated we tried other Baptist churches, but they are all part of the same association down here. Our congregation spread the word to the association which spread the word to all of its churches. We kept getting confronted. After our fifth Baptist Church, we just gave up and walked away from trying to attend anymore churches.

  17. The Preacher's Kid,

    You have touched on something that I've been thinking about which is the word "lifestyle" usually implies someone has made a choice whereas "orientation" implies a natural predisposition for something.
    Although I like calling polyamory a lifestyle because of the differentiation that can be made from orientations, poly is inherent in my being and not at all a choice. I'm going to have to chew on that one a bit longer I think.

    I hope the peek into my brain didn't damage yours! :)


  18. Racheal,

    Sorry, I did make the assumption you had left of your own choice. Thanks for the clarification :)