Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

October 6, 2015

"The Mass Exodus of Polyamorous People Towards Relationship Anarchy"

Postmodern Woman

Last April The Times in London published a seemingly nice profile of Louisa Leontiades, author of Thorntree Press's recent book The Husband Swap. The profile was prompted by the book's publicity campaign. The paper ran the story with the attractive family picture at left. Here's the article: The polyamorist’s diary: why I agreed to a ménage à quatre (April 27, 2015).

Louisa has been stewing about something ever since, and yesterday she wrote about it:

The Mass Exodus of Polyamorous People Towards Relationship Anarchy

A piece in The Times reviewed my book. It started,

“Imagine sitting on your sofa on a Sunday afternoon hearing a couple upstairs having boisterous sex. The person making the headboard rattle is your husband with another woman, but that’s OK: there is no deceit or recrimination here. Because alongside you on the sofa is said woman’s husband with whom, for several months, you too have been having an ebulliently sexual, loving relationship.”

Before I read the piece, I was overjoyed at the prospect of being featured in The Times. But I don’t know how the journalist came to this conclusion. I mentioned nothing of the sort. I do nothing of the sort. I don’t particularly want to imagine my partner and his partner having sex boisterously upstairs. Or, indeed anyone having sex boisterously within my hearing. I love sex, but I put it in the same category as Wagner: I have to be in the right mood for it. It’s not the soundtrack to my life I want on a Sunday afternoon.... But no, the media, even The Times, prefer to cast me in their Deep Throat scenarios and there’s not much I can do about it.

Despite the fact the polyamorous community says it over and over again — polyamory is ‘not just about sex’ — the monogamously inclined media (and indeed anyone who learns about polyamory for the first time) cannot get past the fact that sex is a potential component in several relationships. Yet polyamory is by definition ‘many loves’. Sex might be a component and it also might not be. So what?

Mainstream media perception and focus on sex as the principle driver of polyamorous relationships, is not only incorrect, but it has damaged the real meaning of polyamory to such a extent that I don’t know whether we can recover the word. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many previously self-defined ‘polyamorous’ folk are adopting the term ‘relationship anarchist’ instead, which we feel allows us the freedom – for the moment untainted by media misconception – to build intimate relationships and potentially a community where sex is only one of many forms of connection…. It’s a pity. Because for many this was the original intent behind the definition of polyamory in the first place.

...I have loving relationships with several friends and am developing a loving relationship with my new metamour (partner of my partner). I have a deeply loving relationship with my partner of eight years, the father of my children. I have a deeply loving relationship with my boyfriend of two years. And when I say loving, I (mostly) don’t mean sexual.

But people — even supposed friends of mine — can’t let it go…

‘We are together,’ I say, ‘because right now, we choose to be together.’

But apparently my response is not acceptable. I am not allowed to choose. The validity of my intimate relationships is only judged according to the presence or absence of sex. Here’s the thing. Polyamory might not ‘just be about the sex’, but apparently that’s all the monogamous mainstream cares about.

Go read her whole article (October 5, 2015).

This comes in the midst of a discussion in the Polyamory Leadership Network (actually a re-re-discussion) about exactly what precise definition of polyamory most of us might want to offer the public. A lot of this centers on how to say — briefly — that poly relationships are often sexual and also often not primarily sexual, in a way most people can grasp.

The thing is, most people only have one mental model where those two things are not a contradiction, and that's marriage. So, that's the model a lot of the media immediately glom onto.

But group marriages are far from the most common poly structure. And open marriages, which are almost necessarily hierarchical, are very open to mess-ups and abuses of third parties unless the couple are willing to examine and shed a lot of unspoken monogamous culture, and to study up on the hard-won poly-community wisdom on this topic. (The long-version book I recommend to people is More Than Two. The short versions are morethantwo.com and Cunning Minx's Eight Things I Wish I'd Known About Polyamory (Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up).)

Louisa comments about her piece above,

Over here in Sweden, relationship anarchy (for Relationship Anarchists) does not ‘fit inside’ polyamory. Rather, polyamory fits inside RA, given that RA does not prescribe monogamy (emotional or sexual) or polyamory (emotional or sexual). You can be a swinger and/or polyamorous and/or monogamous and any point on the LGBTQIA and Cis spectrum and still be RA. In Sweden, this movement is supportive towards less polarisation of poly vs mono and more ‘any-configuration’ living regardless of your sexual and relationship orientation. It is neutral.

It may be that Sweden is unique in this regard, but it is interesting nevertheless that this is the predominant thinking here, which is also the official (albeit not philosophical perhaps) birthplace of RA.

In my participation in the [Swedish] polyamory association, I’d say most if not all of those who attend the meetups prefer to self-define as RA.1 Our banner when we walk at Pride is "Polyamory & Relationship Anarchy" (and it’s important for many that they're separate).

Update November 3: A well-thought rebuttal, by Unquiet Pirate: Relationship Anarchy is Not Post-Polyamory.

Update November 6: Leona just posted a followup, The Appropriation of Relationship Anarchy by Non-Anarchists. She discusses whether RA is a misappropriation of the political term "anarchist," partly in response to the rebuttal above: Relationship Anarchy is Not Post-Polyamory.


1. The formulator of RA is widely taken to be Andie Nordgren in Sweden. Here's her revised definitional statement: The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy (July 6, 2012).


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Anonymous Liz said...

This is one of things that really irritates me about mainstream media and polyamory. My polyamorous experience thus far has more often involved having one serious, long-term sexual partner and then a relationship (or two) that is also serious and long-term, but either not sexual at all, or only slightly sexual (more cuddling/making out, than regular penetrative, orgasm-driven sex).

I've read about relationship anarchy, and while anybody who wants to identify as a relationship anarchist is (of course) welcome to do so, I don't feel that that phrase suits me. Polyamory does. Just as bisexual does, even though there have been a number of (ridiculous, in my opinion) commentaries about how the word is outdated, too old-fashioned, and should be abandoned for the word queer. I'm poly and bi. I'm happy with that.

For me, being poly and bi has been more the paradigm in my first paragraph than any other. That isn't to say that I would not welcome more than one sexual relationship that fulfills the "typical" sexual relationship criteria of regular penetrative sex. It just hasn't come my way yet. Maybe it never will. Who can know? The part that is important to me is that I can have multiple loving relationships, with different levels of commitment, sexuality, commingling of resources, differing types of cohabitation, etc, where the most important part is that all parties find agreement and harmony at the level/intensity/dynamic of all those different aspects.

Rather than abandon the word polyamory for relationship anarchy, I plan to continue to identify as poly, because it feels right to me, and demand that those in the media (or outside of polyamory) learn MY definition of the word that *I* (not them) choose to identify with, and alter their reporting accordingly. I know that's going to be an uphill battle, and it may seem a ridiculous one to some, but I refuse to stay silent and watch an outside group appropriate a word that has been (for decades, at least) about having multiple loving relationships (sexual OR NOT), and twist it so that it is primarily viewed through a sex-focused lens.

We need less words in this language that can speak to love and intimacy and not be sex focused or sex obsessed, not more.

October 06, 2015 3:16 PM  
Blogger Amanda on Maui said...

I also would not apply the title "relationship anarchist" to myself. I am polyamorous. Relationship anarchy seems more political, or an attempt to seem more "hard core." An anarchist is someone with a particular ideological perspective. Polyamory is an orientation.

October 06, 2015 7:26 PM  
Blogger jeremy clarke said...

Love the concept behind "Relationship Anarchy" and the attempt to more explicitly include untraditional lifestyles.

For me "Polyamory" is just as beautiful though, and less encumbered by other political movements that aren't directly relevant to many people. Polyamory is more specific in a useful way, since most people already have free relationships outside of "love". It's also really useful when contrasting with monogamy as a dead language word.

"Relationship Anarchy" does seem useful as a way to avoid triggering inaccurate assumptions people have about polyamory. If you use what they see as a whole new term they'll have to ask you what it means and you can describe yourself rather than a broad group. That said, if "relationship anarchy" became a common word that would end. People would develop bias against "relationship anarchy" fairly quickly and the cycle would continue. The hard work with either word is getting people to understand that every relationship is different because they are so used to conformity that diversity makes no sense.

I definitely like relationship anarchy as the "parent" concept of polyamory though and will try to frame the issue that way in the future. No matter what you need to disregard the "relationship authority" before you can live open lives.

October 06, 2015 9:19 PM  
Blogger adabeie said...

My sense of RA is that it's simply, as executed, a more free-form and non-hierarchical version of something that could also be called polyamory. I do sense the desire to move away from the almost pornographically-informed mainstream media image/popular conception of poly (like that terrible TV show a few years back which I'll not even name).. But RA appeals to me because of it's non-hierarchical, mercurial structure (or structurelessness, if you like..). I don't think highly structured poly would ever work for me, and it would take a huge toll on me emotionally and sap me of energy for many of the same reasons an overly structured life would. It doesn't strike me (either poly or RA) as being part of a political statement, although and suitably meaningful personal decision that is made by enough individuals to create a community of sorts will necessarily come to have a political aspect, even if such an aspect is neither intended nor internally manufactured by the community in question.

October 07, 2015 1:04 AM  
Blogger Eleri Hamilton said...

Realtionship Anarchy is just another shade on the spectrum of consentual non monogomy- just like polyamory, polyfidelity, swinging, and so on and so forth. All that matters is that the people involved know what they're doing, and are happy with it- what they call it is up to them.

October 07, 2015 2:10 AM  
Blogger Stentor said...

I'm extremely doubtful that pushing the term "relationship anarchy" will somehow stop the media from fixating on the details of our sex lives. It might even make it worse, because to an outsider the term "anarchy" could easily lead to visions of no-holds-barred orgies. Getting respectful treatment from the media is not a battle that can be won by picking the right terminology. It requires education and changing people's attitudes. Say "RA" when the term's actual definition fits, but don't expect that will make it any easier for other people to avoid misinterpretation.

October 07, 2015 12:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't mind what terms are used but I identify as R.A. because I like the non hierarchical relationship structure that it emphasises. All my relationships are unique and valuable in there particular ways, and I wish to honour all involved as completely as possible.
So I don't sort people into categories like primary partner and secondary partners. That personally feels like it's devaluing people I love. Hence I use R.A. rather than poly as poly seems to be a broader category.

October 08, 2015 8:26 AM  
Blogger Poly Wanna Answer? said...

Poly is a huge category, and those of us involved usually understand the nuances. Those on the outside looking in often see us as a caricature, spurred largely by sensationalist media which uses sex as clickbait. See the link below for an attempt to poly-educate those raised on MSM, feel free to pass on:


October 08, 2015 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Doctor X said...

Thank you for the most articulate sentence about poly I have read in a long time: "The part that is important to me is that I can have multiple loving relationships, with different levels of commitment, sexuality, commingling of resources, differing types of cohabitation, etc, where the most important part is that all parties find agreement and harmony at the level/intensity/dynamic of all those different aspects."

October 08, 2015 3:39 PM  

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