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

January 21, 2012

Newt Gingrich case prompts (some) excellent non-monogamy coverage

The Newt Gingrich open-marriage story is creating a huge public opportunity to talk about, in pointed contrast, ethical and successful non-monogamy. The Polyamory Leadership Network (PLN) is buzzing right now about all the coverage and opportunities.

For instance, Sarah Taub and Michael Rios got themselves into a press release put out by the Institute for Public Accuracy, which promises reporters "reliable independent sources for breaking news":

"Open Marriage"?

SARAH TAUB, sarah@sarahtaub.com, http://www.sarahtaub.com
MICHAEL RIOS, michael@rios.org, http://www.michaelrios.com

Taub and Rios teach workshops on relationships including on open relationships and polyamory and are frequent presenters at polyamory conferences, such as those put on by Loving More, a national polyamory organization, which just released a statement on Gingrich: http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/2012/01/loving-more-responds-to-newt-gingrich.html

Taub said today: "Successful open relationships are consensual and based on trust, mutual respect and lots of communication. It’s very difficult (though not impossible) for a cheater to 'come clean' and create an open marriage with his or her spouse, because the initial situation is inherently non-consensual and trust has already been broken. Some extraordinary people can make it work, but the cheater must have a huge amount of humility, patience and respect for the other partner, including respecting his or her right to say 'no.' This is not how Marianne Gingrich described Newt Gingrich’s approach."

Rios said today: "Open marriages are consensual, honest and based in love. Saying 'let me have an affair or I'm going to divorce you' is not consensual -- it’s coercive.... If Gingrich had approached his wife with his feelings beforehand, perhaps she would have said, 'yes, well, actually I’ve been thinking about that possibility myself,' and then they could have honestly had a healthy, open marriage. But what we're hearing about is an affair that started in deception and ended in coercion -- and that's neither loving, nor honest, nor consensual. It's not an open marriage or polyamory by any stretch of the imagination.”

As a result of this, Sarah and Michael got booked for a radio talk show: at KSCO in Santa Cruz, CA, for two whole hours. I listened in. What a great show! Michael and Sarah, and callers alerted by the poly internet, just totally astonished the host, blew his mind and won him over with our awesome goodness and clarity. For two hours! (listen here.) We're such a great bunch.

Meanwhile, much bigger fish are frying. The BBC is running a fine article on its website featuring PLN mainstay Anita Wagner Illig and open-relationship book authors Tristan Taormino and Jenny Block, with pictures of each, plus poly-movement éminence grise Deborah Anapol:

Is it possible to have a happy open marriage?

By Daniel Nasaw | BBC News, Washington

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's ex-wife has said they divorced after she rejected his request for an "open marriage".

People in open marriages have told the BBC that if her version of events is true, the former House Speaker broached the subject the wrong way.

Several years after their wedding, Jenny Block realised that even though she loved her husband and wanted to be with him, she needed more.

Today, Ms Block, a writer, lives with Christopher in Dallas. Her girlfriend Jemma does not live with the couple - but spends a lot of time in the house.

"It's been me and my girlfriend and me and my husband, and the two of them are really good friends, but they're not sexually involved," says Ms Block, 41, author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage....

Polyamory versus swinging

In interviews, people in open marriages say that although it is not for everyone, it is absolutely possible for adults to be in committed, emotionally satisfying relationships with more than one person at a time.

The preferred term is polyamory, a word coined in the early 1990s in the US in part to distinguish from swinging, in which couples approach sex with other people as a joint endeavour, or arrangements in which partners are allowed to have sex with other people without romantic attachments.

"Polyamorous relationships tend to be ongoing, sustainable, emotionally bonded, committed relationships with more than one person, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved," says Anita Wagner, who says she has been in polyamorous relationships on and off for the last 15 years.

"When it works, it's wonderful. It's an abundance of love and affection and experience."

The keys to a successful, happy polyamorous relationship are up-front consent and negotiation of ground rules and boundaries, say relationship counsellors, sex educators and polyamorous couples.

"That can range anywhere from 'you can only have sex when you go on business trips and you're out of the state', to 'you can have another girlfriend but I'm the primary partner, so I come first'," says Tristan Taormino, a sex educator, writer and feminist pornographer.

..."It would sound more like, 'I've been feeling like I've been wanting to open the marriage, can we talk about that,'" says Deborah Anapol, a San Francisco psychologist and relationship therapist who has been coaching polyamorous couples for three decades....

...Even couples who believe in polyamory in theory find it difficult to broach the subject.

"It takes a lot of courage to look someone you love in the eye and tell them that you fancy another person, even if you've agreed already that you're going to do this," says Ms Wagner.

"It's not something we're used to doing. We have no role models for this."

...Describing her relationship with Jemma, [Block] says: "I just always say picture your best friend, only you have a romantic relationship as well.... This is so much less about sex than people who aren't in these relationships know."

Read the whole article (Jan. 20, 2012).


The New York Times site quickly put up a remarkable collection of eight articles on open relationships (January 20) in a pro-con debate format — though only two could be construed to say that open marriage is always bad news. The others range from pretty much “it can work really well and this is how you do it” to “wouldn’t it be great if people could discuss and consciously choose the type of relationship they are creating.”

One of the articles is by Dan Savage. He nails a crucial point:

Voters Accept Adultery, but Not Honesty

My favorite moment in Thursday night's GOP debate: Newt Gingrich angrily denying his second ex-wife’s account of the end of their marriage — “Let me be quite clear: The story is false!” — and the socially conservative South Carolinians in the hall rewarding the former speaker of the House with sustained applause.

...Gingrich wasn't denying that he had a six-year-long adulterous relationship with a Congressional staffer, a woman 20 years his junior, an affair that he conducted while overseeing the impeachment of Bill Clinton after his affair with a White House intern. Gingrich’s affair with a Congressional staffer is a long-acknowledged fact. That former Congressional staffer was sitting in the audience last night: her name is Callista, she’s the third Mrs. Gingrich, and she is — according to every profile written about her — a “devout Catholic.”...

All Gingrich was denying with that “false!” was the allegation that he had asked his second ex-wife for an open marriage.

...The lesson in Gingrich’s angry denial and the applause that greeted it: An honest open relationship is more scandalous, and more politically damaging, than a dishonest adulterous relationship. An honest, mutually consensual nonmonogamous marriage — which is not what Newt was proposing (you can’t negotiate an honest open marriage with your spouse six years into an affair) — is newer and somehow more threatening than the “traditional” cheating Gingrich engaged in....

Read the Whole article.

Also in the NYT collection are Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, authors of The Ethical Slut:

The Right Way to Try Openness

Open marriages can work, and have worked for thousands of couples over decades if not centuries. However, there’s much more involved in maintaining an open marriage than simply asking for one. Such relationships require an ongoing commitment to communication and mutual support, and will almost certainly involve some journeying in the vulnerable territories of jealousy, insecurity and anger – but what marriage does not?

Opening a previously monogamous relationship is customarily negotiated before the openness occurs. Polyamorists consider it bad form to introduce one’s spouse to one’s secret lover with a cheery, "Honey, I've been thinking we should open our relationship!"

Much pain could be avoided if couples discussed monogamy as an option during the dating phase of their relationship, rather than assuming it as a default....

Whole article.

And so are the Sex at Dawn authors:

No One Approach Is Ideal

By Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

In Spanish, the word for wives, “esposas,” also means handcuffs.

The key to loosening the handcuffs of marriage is open communication between two (or more) open-hearted people....

Just as it took Nixon to open relations with China, maybe — just maybe — Gingrich’s Shakespearian mendacity will finally crystallize a “thou dost protest too much, methinks” meme in American political consciousness. How many cases of red-faced homophobes must be exposed as closeted self-hating homosexuals before advocating anti-gay legislation raises too many eyebrows to be worth the risk? How many outspoken defenders of “traditional marriage” (whatever that is) must be exposed as adulterers before voters just roll their eyes at those two words?

...For all the oft-repeated claims to the contrary, civilization doesn’t depend upon the sanctity of any particular form of marriage, but upon honoring the dignity intrinsic to any mutually respectful, mutually beneficial relationship....

Whole article.


In The Guardian in Britain, one of the world's major progressive newspapers:

I could teach Newt Gingrich a thing or two about open marriage

My husband and I feel desire for more than just each other – and act on it. But polyamory is about informed consent

By [pseudonym]

Today I should have been spending quality time with my girlfriend while waiting for my husband to join us, but instead I have been thinking Newt Gingrich's marriage....

I consider myself "polyamorous". The word is a fairly recent creation, coined in the early 90s to mean: "The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved."

The way that this works in my life is that, instead of there being two of us, there are five....

About three years ago, we came to know another couple.... We have all had other relationships with other people through this time too, but we have decided that we all want to grow old together. Although it might be difficult to understand, despite being legally married only to Alan, I view my relationships with Ben, Catherine and Dan as equal.

Living like this enables us all to have all our relationship needs met, without having to put all that expectation on one person – and not having to be that one true love for anyone else. We love one another because we know one another – not because of who we wish the other person was, or because if they lose us they lose everything. It's so freeing, and at the same time a huge commitment. Freeing because you don't have to be everything to one person, but a commitment because you are signing up to be one of the most important people in many lives, not just one.

Last summer, we finally had the conversation about the rest of our lives....

Read the whole article (Jan. 20, 2012).


At Slate:

Do Open Marriages Ever Work?

By Brian Palmer

It works for some people. There has never been a scientific study of the success rate of open marriages, because different couples work out their arrangements in different ways. A marriage can be polyamorous from the beginning, or a couple might experiment only after tiring of monogamy. Some spouses have purely sexual relationships outside the marriage, while others have lasting emotional commitments to third parties. Lumping all of these together and comparing their aggregate divorce rate to those who have traditional marriages wouldn’t give an accurate picture.

A couple of points are rather clear, though. There’s strong anecdotal evidence that open marriages can last for decades, but one that’s born of an ultimatum — like the threat that Newt Gingrich allegedly made to his ex-wife — would be unlikely to succeed.

According to psychologist Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, gay men are more likely than any other group to practice polyamory. For a forthcoming study, she asked 120 cohabiting couples in the Salt Lake City area whether they had explicitly agreed to have sex outside of their relationships. Almost one-quarter of the gay male couples said they had a polyamorous arrangement. That’s compared with about 7 percent of the heterosexual couples and 3 percent of the lesbians. Previous studies have suggested similar proportions, although none is large enough to state the prevalence of open marriage with any certainty....

People involved in open marriages and relationship counselors have a few tips for anyone who is considering such an arrangement, based on their personal experiences. First, they point out that open marriages work best when both partners are committed to the idea of non-monogamy in the abstract.... Second, polyamorous couples who have a secrecy policy — in which the partners are free to pursue outside relationships but are forbidden to discuss the trysts — re tempting trouble. Third, it’s worth testing the waters before committing to an open relationship: for instance, going with your partner to a bar and behaving as though you’re both single, but without going home with someone else, to see how that feels for both of you....

Whole article.


At the influential gay site The Bilerico Project a blogger posted Polyamory, thy name is Newt. To this, Christina at JT Eberhard's Freethought blog reacted with rage:

...As my friend TheNerd said, “Comparing Gingrich to polyamory is like comparing wife-beating to BDSM.”

I’ll say something perhaps stronger: Newt Gingrich is to polyamory as rape is to “making love”.

...I don’t want to play the no-true-polyamorist card, but polyamory is the ability to open your heart to multiple loving, consensual relationships – built upon ideals such as honesty, respect, consent, ethics, communication, trust, and love.

What’s missing from Newty are most of those things. He got the “multiple” part right, but failed miserably at the rest....

She goes on with more great talking points that you can lift and use. Whole article.

More coming for sure.


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Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

Well done, Alan! What an amazing collection of articles, and as you point out, they're surely going to keep coming.

January 21, 2012 1:38 PM  
Blogger Full Marriage Equality said...

This entry is a good example of why I love this blog.

January 21, 2012 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Alan_and_Anna said...

Kudos, sir! You remain the best and most consistent source of poly news.

Poly people everywhere are doing the loveliest possible thing with Newt's ugliness.

Alan and Anna

January 21, 2012 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Kellie Lynch said...

Great collection of articles! It's good to see that at least a few places are approaching this reasonably.

January 21, 2012 5:14 PM  
Anonymous fearlessknits said...

The Guardian one is me. Although it was awesome that they commissioned the article in the first place, the best bit for me was the almost complete lack of trolls in the comments. I think the tide is starting to turn.

February 01, 2012 7:05 AM  

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