"Polyamory in practice"
An old and venerable alternative magazine in Canada ("fighting the war on error") conducts a long discussion with poly authors Tristan Taormino and Jenny Block:
Polyamory in practice
By Mandy Van Deven
Conversations about polyamory the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time are slowly finding their way into public consciousness. Two [recent] books, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage and Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, reflect an increasingly popular postmodern view of love and relationships led by post-second-wave feminist and queer communities.
In Open, Jenny Block uses personal narrative to shed light on the complex normality of open relationships. Her book nicely complements Tristan Taormino’s “how-to”-style Opening Up, which provides practical advice on making open relationships work....
Briarpatch: Open relationships seem to be making their way into mainstream media of late. Why do you think that is?
Jenny Block: People are becoming more open-minded about all sorts of things. They are also becoming more and more fed up with relationships that never seem to work for them. I believe that, ultimately, all most people really want is to be happy. People have that right, and they are coming to recognize that right....
Tristan Taormino: As long as people have had relationships, some of those relationships have been consensually open. Many things that were once considered taboo queer sexuality, anal sex, BDSM gradually gain more visibility and acceptance in the mainstream. Open relationships are part of the shifting dialogue about love and sex in our society.
How do you each define “open relationships”?
Taormino: Definitions of polyamory usually characterize polyamorous relationships as both sexual and loving, because polyamory involves not just sex, but emotional relationships. But based on my research, “sexual and loving” doesn’t capture the nuances and complexities of polyamorous relationships. Those terms also don’t communicate how polyamory can not only reject mainstream models, but expand ideas about what constitutes a relationship.
I define polyamory as the desire and practice of having multiple significant, intimate relationships simultaneously; the relationships may encompass many elements, including love, friendship, closeness, emotional intimacy, recurring contact, commitment, affection, flirting, romance, desire, erotic contact, sex, and a spiritual connection.
I use “open relationships” as an umbrella term to encompass many different styles of non-monogamous relationships. There has been a lot written about swinging and polyamory, but people who are practicing non-monogamy who don’t identify with those terms... identities and communities have been left out of the discussion. I wanted my book to cover a diverse array of styles of open relationships.
Block: My husband and I are open to change. We are open to new ways of seeing ourselves, of viewing sex, of defining marriage, and of being. We are open to outside partners. But more than anything, we are open to thinking about new ideas and looking at the world in a new way instead of simply saying, “That’s the way it is, so I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be” when it comes to love and sex and marriage and relationships....
What fears do people have about open relationships?
Taormino: People fear they will be jealous, that their partner will find a “better” partner, that they will be replaced, that their relationship will end. These are pretty deep, intense fears that are intertwined with our feelings of self-worth and security. It takes a lifetime of work for people to work on their self-esteem, but it’s a crucial part of maintaining healthy relationships, whether they’re open or not.
Block: People are always comparing the worst of open relationships to the best of closed ones. I challenge those comparisons by living openly and honestly....
You both suggest that open relationships may be an antidote to the decline of marriage and the prevalence of adultery. Why is that?
Taormino: The decline of marriage and the prevalence of adultery are two strong indications that traditional monogamous marriage does not work for a majority of people. Cheating is a way that some people identify that they are unhappy or unsatisfied in their relationship, but it’s by no means the most common way people come to choose an open relationship. Some people begin as open, others discover it after many years of monogamy, and some are faced with a significant change that compels them to open their relationship. Open relationships aren’t the only antidote; crafting unique relationships, letting go of the happily-ever-after fairy tale and working hard at your partnerships are really the antidote.
Block: ...Heterosexual, monogamous marriage simply doesn’t work for everyone, but society all but demands that we live in one - or, at the very least, in the illusion of one....
There are currently very few, if any, scripts or models for open relationships. Do you see your book as the beginning of script creation?
Taormino: I hope so. Society still does not accept or support non-traditional relationships. Many people feel that there is too much at stake - friends, community, parents, custody, employment - for them to come out about being non-monogamous.
Block: Open is an invitation for others to share their stories and experiences. So many people write me and come to see me at readings and say, “Thank you for being visible. Now I feel like I can be visible, too.”...
Read the whole interview.